Should I Fix Up or Trade Up My Old Car? |

Should I Fix Up or Trade Up My Old Car?

Weighing Car Repairs Against a New Car Purchase


Your car broke down and now you're faced with a high repair bill. This isn't the first time it's happened, and you're getting tired of pouring money into an aging machine. A new car would be nice, but is that the smartest decision? Would you be better off fixing your current ride, or is it really time to buy a new one? There's no clear-cut answer to these questions, but we can show you several sides of the issue to help you make a more informed decision.

The Costs of Wear and Tear
Even if you've taken good care of your car, some-high priced repairs are unavoidable, sometimes due to excessive wear or time itself. Rubber belts and hoses dry out and crack, metal on rotors warps or wears too thin and electrical parts stop working. Wear-and-tear items such as axle boots, belts and brake rotors will eventually need to be replaced. The timing belt has long been a big-ticket item on high-mileage cars. On many cars, it needs to be replaced at around 100,000 miles. Dealership service advisors will often recommend replacing the water pump and the other drive belts in the car at this point. This "timing belt package" can cost between $600 and $1,000. Repairs like this begin to surface between 90,000 and 120,000 miles.

"It's around this time that people decide what they'll do with the car," says Marc Uchuiyama, assistant service manager at Honda of Santa Monica. "Is it going to be a hand-me-down to your kids?"

Arguments for Fixing Up
Buying a new car may not be right for you, for budgetary or other reasons. Here are a few examples of why it might be a good idea to get the repairs done.

  • It is almost always less expensive to repair a car than buy a new one.
  • Although something as severe as a blown motor or failed transmission will run you between $3,000 and $7,000 to replace at a dealership, such repairs still don't cost as much as buying a new car. That $3,000 or $7,000 would certainly make a nice down payment, but then there are the monthly payments to consider. You can perhaps purchase a used car for that much, but just keep in mind that another used car could come with its own set of issues.
  • Insurance and registration fees will be higher on a new car.
  • A new car typically loses an estimated 22 percent of its value in the first year. Your car has already taken that depreciation hit.
  • You really need the car to last a while longer. In 2014, the average person kept his car for about six years before trading it in, according to Edmunds data. Let's say you were planning on getting a new car in a year or two, but it broke down earlier than expected. Repairing it now will help you stay on the road and keep you from making a hasty new car purchase. It will also give you more time to save up and get your finances in order.
  • You have a sentimental attachment to your car. Maybe it was your first car, a gift from a loved one or a dream car you finally were able to purchase. For you, buying a new car would mean giving up an old friend. This is not the strongest argument for fixing up, but it's a real one.

Arguments for Buying New
You swore you wouldn't put another penny into your old car after that last repair. But buying a new car seems like an intimidating prospect. Here are a few reasons why buying a new car might be the way to go.

  • You don't want to fret about future breakdowns. A reader in the Edmunds forums likened a high-mileage car to a 40-year-old pitcher for a baseball team: His arm could go out in one pitch. And repairing a single problem with an older car doesn't guarantee that another breakdown won't happen. If you buy a new car, its warranty means you'll have at least three years (and often far longer) before you have to worry about paying for any major repairs. Some new cars come with free standard maintenance as well.
  • You're tired of the back-and-forth to the repair shop. Some things don't get fixed the first time around, while others seem to need constant attention. Either way, trips to the mechanic are costing you too much money and time away from work or family.
  • You're fed up with your old car. Perhaps it embarrasses you and rattles like crazy. Or you have to bang on the A/C to get it working. Every morning when you walk outside and see the neighbor's car, you long for something new. That's perfectly normal. Take a look at your budget and make an honest assessment of your financial situation. Let our suite of auto calculators do the math for you.
  • You want something safer. New cars have modern safety equipment. Features like electronic stability control, back-up cameras and blind-spot monitoring are increasingly becoming standard fare on new vehicles.

When Is It Time To Buy Another Car?
One quick way to come to a decision is with some simple math: If the cost of repairs is greater than either the value of the vehicle or one year's worth of monthly payments, it's time for another vehicle.

New cars have plenty of advantages, and leasing can make them more affordable than buying. A used car is usually a more cost-effective option than buying a new one, largely because you avoid the big depreciation hit. But a used car can potentially have its own list of items that need repair, so choose your vehicle carefully. Search Edmunds used-car inventory or check out our Best Used Cars list for help in narrowing your used-car search.

Extend the Life of Your Car
If you are not yet faced with making the tough decision to fix up or trade in your vehicle, there are steps you can take to prevent or avoid high-priced repairs.

Get your new car maintained at its proper intervals to avoid problems and breakdowns. Use our maintenance guide to learn the recommended service intervals for your vehicle. Maintaining a much older car means paying close attention to items that commonly break down. Use our maintenance articles to help make your car run as long as possible.

If you're experiencing issues with your car and don't know whether things are likely to get worse, look for advice on message boards and forums, says Loren Wong, a former warranty administrator for Acura and BMW. "Most likely, other people have gone through the same problems," he says. You can benefit from others' experience and see what types of problems are associated with your vehicle as it ages.

Don't Let the Clunker Make the Choice for You
Everyone seems to have a theory on when to repair a car and when to get a new one. But you know your needs and your car's history better than anyone else, so use our tips as a guide, not gospel. Buying a new car might seem like the easy way out of a high repair bill, but depending on your circumstances, it may not be the best financial decision.

On the other hand, a car that's teetering on the edge of oblivion can keep you awake at night. It's better to part with that car on your terms rather than waiting for it to break down at exactly the wrong time. If you make the decision while the car still has some value, you can sell it or trade it in, turning the cash into a down payment on your next car. If you also can take advantage of the incentives and rebates being offered on new cars today, you may find that a new car is within reach. And it's hard to put a price tag on the peace of mind that a new vehicle can bring.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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