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At what vehicle age to sell it, in order to avoid upcoming maintainence expenses?

When is the optimal age of a vehicle for a non-mechanic person to sell it to avoid the upcoming maintenance costs and labor fees? Nothing major is wrong with the vehicle, but the owner foresees the necessary expenses that will be needed to keep it in good operating condition. For example: new set of tires, timing belt, brakes, coolant, AC, manual transmission service, muffler/tailpipe, cv boots/axle, clutch, radiator, belts, hoses, struts, and battery.

Is there an optimal age of vehicle to sell it in order to avoid major maintenance (and purchase a newer vehicle instead)?

Just depends on what you need to use it for. 50-60K on our main one as soon as the warranty expires means no repair costs ever. Well over 100K on the other that doesn’t go very far and is still solid. You’re gonna pay for tires and other items anyway. If you trade and need tires and brakes, they’ll knock that off the allowance you get so not free ride. Either pay for them yourself or take the hit from the dealer. Like I said though, my Riviera that I traded at 530,000, would have been more cost effective to dump at 350,000. Now the next question is if you could pick the ideal time to trade to avoid expense, why would someone else want to buy that car? So near zero value? Or throw away? So then why not keep it if it has zero value anyway?

Take care of it, and the ‘upcoming maintenance costs and labor fees’ will almost always be less than the annual depreciation and loan costs of buying a new car. 10 years, at least, we typically go 15 years.

Bing: I agree. Yes, you can trade to a new car at, say, 100k or 10 years, which I tend to do. But at that point the maintenance costs (about $1k-2k per year typically) are still less than the cost of a new car.

My present goal is 200k miles, unless the engine or transmission goes.

@Bing is correct. Whenever I buy a used vehicle as part of my research, I look up the maintence schedule of the vehicle and then see what maintence has been performed on the specific vehicle I’m looking at. For a hypothetical example if the car had 99k miles on it and the scheduled call for a timing belt change at 100k, and the owner hadn’t already had that done, then I would deduct the cost of the job from my offer. Same thing with tires or tune ups. So it’s kind of a moot point.

It is the “repair” cost that kills you, not the maintenance.

I have thought a lot about this and short of having a crystal ball, there is not good way to know. Because it also depends on your income (can you pay cash for the next car?), needs (emergency response people could not be driving a beater) and usage.

We had a Dodge Caravan that starting at 100K miles started needed repairs, from radiator to brake system, the list went on. We got rid of it at 180K miles and I did most of the repairs myself. Doing the math in hind sight, I should have sold it at 100K miles.

Now I am driving a 2005 Camry with 150K miles on it. So far no repairs, all routine stuff. But I feel now I need new suspension, the radio is on the way out, the waterpump might be due soon. The transmission shifts fine but not as good as it used to. It is getting noisier. The AC is not as cold as it was. All of these are not really a big problem, but getting it to 200K miles might take some serious $$ (~$700 for the suspension done right even if I DIY). The car apparently would sell close to $5K around here, now. Might be better to put another 10K on it and buy another CPO car but I am still thinking about it.

Car repairs are almost always less than the depreciation on a car. So, if you want to drive at the lowest cost, trade your car when the annual upkeep starts to exceed the annual cost of owning a newer car. That’s often when the car is ready to be scrapped.

In accounting terms, when the total annual total ownership cost starts to exceed the cumulative average annual cost to date.

In other words, if your total ownership cost in year 10 is $3000 and the average cost to date, including depreciation, is $2800, it’s time to think about getting new wheels.

With my Dodge Dart I reached that point at age 13 and by that time rust had taken its toll and I got 2 cents a pound at the scrap yard.

If you own a German car, you will start incurring big bill after the warranty expires. Most people I know who own these cars trade them after the warranty is up, at the cost of very hefty depreciation.

Yeah I dunno. Back when I’d have a conversation over coffee with our fleet manager on repair costs and the best time to trade. He bought a new car every year just because he liked to, but he said (now this was some 20 years ago), repairs seemed to cluster together and then you’d be fine again for a while. So he thought around 100K (probably much higher now) you’d have a bunch of repairs, then be ok again till mayber 150K and a bunch again. Its pretty much like statistics where you have random CLUSTERS of occurrences in a normal random distribution. So you don’t get heads then tails then heads but rather heads heads heads then tails then heads then tails tails tails. Don’t believe me? Try slot machines with the random computer generators. Try the one the guy just stuck a couple hundred bucks in.

At any rate, the general rule is that people would get into that repair cluster and put a bunch of money into repairs and then get upset and sell to avoid more repairs. When in fact they would have been ok again for a while if they hung on through the repair cluster. Same thing with stocks when people sell after losses when they should buy and hang on. The day trader tries to figure out when the next big repair is going to happen and you know how those guys are doing.

Someone is trying to find a problem before it exists. I would hope that no one thinks they should get rid of a vehicle just because it needs tires or some of those other normal items the OP listed.

Well don’t say no one. A few months ago we were trying to trade but they just wouldn’t deal and deducted because our tires were down to 5/32. Got a little piece of metal in one close enough to the edge so didn’t trust it and ended up spending $1300 for new tires. Now we’re re-newing the attempt to trade again. Yeah coulda woulda shoulda before I put tires on. At least now they can’t deduct for tires.

If nothing major is wrong with the vehicle, as you say, then keeping it running until something major does go wrong is likely to be cheaper than replacing it now.

The other consideration is what level of reliability you need. For me, with the type of driving that I do (often late at night in rural areas in winter), I start thinking about my next car when I hit eight years and 100,000 miles, with the goal of buying something in a year or so.

If you actually don’t want to ever buy new tires, or brakes then they had better just commit to taking the bus.

Most of those things that you list are just the normal wear items.

They have to plan on maintaining their investment in a new car.

Time to trade it in…the wiper fluid is empty!!!


It varies vehicle to vehicle. Provided replacements parts are easily available, which is the case for models that sold in big numbers, expenses go more by mileage than by how old the vehicle is. Here’s my own experience, if that helps. My first car, an early 60’s Ford 6 cylinder somewhat-under-powered sedan, significant-expense problems started around 120 K miles. Late 70’s VW Rabbit, around 140 K miles. Early 90’s Corolla, 200 - 250 K miles. Early 70’s Ford V8 truck, 200 K miles.

It also depends on car type. I need a vehicle to tow my boat a few times a year. Sure this year was expensive, tires, brakes, front struts, and brake lines, front and rear differential fluid change and transfer case fluid change, $2300, but since I bought it 8 years ago for 12k, and have done 3 wheel bearings and a new starter motor, $1100 thought it worth investing in the old rat rather than buying new problems, or a 35k replacement vehicle. Sure 170k miles, never know what will go next, but not ready to buy new, or a $500 a month payment for a vehicle to do towing. If I did not need a vehicle with fantastic towing standards, I would ditch it, but we get along well, and looking to another 5 or 6 years out of my baby. After that I sell the boat and by a jet ski that can pull a skier etc.

A Dodge Neon or Chrysler Sebring - junk at 5 years and 80k miles; dump it. Honda civic, Toyota Camry or Corrola at 10 years and 150k miles; keep it.

I buy cars that are 10 years old and 100,000 miles plus (Neon and Sebring) for little money because people lose faith in cars as they age. I’m a mechanic so it costs me little to correct the neglected items.

There are ways to deal with repairs and maintenance that cost less than buying new on a regular schedule. People obsessed with noises and abnormalities have the most expensive ownership experience.

On the other hand if I owned newer cars people wouldn’t treat me like the bum the goes through the dumpster.

Most people bail at around 5yrs… The vehicle will surely still be rock solid at that time and should show 50-60K on the odometer. That age and mileage is usually a huge buying point for people looking for a used vehicle. They can be fairly sure that there is plenty of life left in the machine at that mark. You shouldn’t see any repair costs within this timeframe. I would say its most common to get out prior to 100K both for reliability and also for resale value.

People still have the 100K mark in their collective heads as for when to declare an automobile “done for”, when in reality…and especially these days, this is often not the case at all. Depending on make of course…don’t get me started on that topic. But if you get out prior to that magic 100K mark…you will be squarely in the safe zone and still make a good argument for someone to purchase the car from you used.

Just my 2cents


I agree that parts cost and availability are a major factor. An imported Opel Astra (not a bad car in Germany) sold here as a Saturn is now an orphan, and getting it fixed would be an expensive pain.

On the other hand a 25 year old Chevy or Ford F-150 pickup with only standard equipment can be fixed cost-effectively for many years to come.

Buying a reliable best selling car makes good sense.

Most people bail at around 5yrs

Blackbird is right, many people get tired of their cars and switch at 5 year. For others, that is the PERfect time to BUY a car! Buying a 30-60,000 mile car, especially one covered by full service plans where the dealer does oil changes and minor maintenance for the first 4 years, are a good buy. They can usually be purchased for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of new and will be generally trouble free until 150,000 miles. Notice I said trouble free, not maintenance free. Tires, brakes, batteries and other wear-out items need to be considered but you saved all that money on the purchase price so you should have a stash to cover the costs.