Spending Money on Auto Repairs

Hey guys. I have a fill-in-the-blank question. If I’m spending $_____ per year on auto repairs, it’s time to buy a new car. Like most people, I’m a middle income guy. What’s a good rule of thumb?

I drive a 1999 Lexus ES300 that has almost 150,000 miles. Everybody tells me a Lexus should go for 200-250K miles, but I’m starting to spend significant money on auto work (most recently, ignition coils). Please advise. Thanks for the help.

It depends on your alternative. What would you replace it with? New or used? Cash or finance?

It’s always cheaper to repair a vehicle that you know than to repair a vehicle that you don’t know.

Lexus is a good vehicle. And you just need to understand what parts may begin to fail at a certain mileage.

You should get over 200,000 miles out this vehicle, if you’re willing to spend the money to keep it on the road.


$200/month for repairs is still cheap transportation. It then comes down to the breakdown frequency and your tolerance for it.

Your Lexus is essentially a fancier high end Camry, and the Camry is generally a reliable vehicle which leads a long life, if treated well

I advise you to keep you Lexus going, provided it’s not rusted out

For what it’s worth, you are at the mileage where parts start to wear out and break on most cars. Nothing to panic about

There’s no simple equation. If reliability is crucial for you and you have a deep wallet, now might be the perfect time. If you drive through areas every day wherein a breakdown might cost you your life, like Roxbury, south Chicago, Liberty City, or Harlem, It’s probably time.

If you’re a normal working fella, for whom breaking down is an inconvenience but not life-threatening, and you maintain the vehicle well and don’t abuse it, you should easily get 250-300K out of this car before anything major breaks.

If your wife is in full blossom with your third little one and this is your family car, a minivan will be a Godsend. If she’s pregnant with your fourth, it’s a necessity.

Most of my car changes over the years have been due to life changes. I live where a breakdown is just an inconvenience and help is just a phone call away, and I buy vehicles with reputations for reliability and longevity, so I can go hundreds of thousands of miles with a vehicle… and I do. Your situation might be entirely different.

My advice is to always be “in the market” for a new car when you’re in this position. Used or new, browse the listings every few weeks to see what’s out there for used deals or new incentives. Also, if you see a used car you like that keeps popping up and hasn’t been sold, you might be able to go in with a low-ball offer.

There is nothing worse than having a breakdown that’s not worth fixing and then having to rush to buy something. You’re then at the mercy of the salesman and the car market that’s there. That, or taking a nice dent in a days pay for a rental.

In my experience, repair costs are not linear. Few if any repairs for 100K. Maybe a few more to 150K. Even after 2 or 300K normal repairs might only be $100 a month. What causes the problems is the occassional big one, that then you have to ammortize again. You can do a thousand or more in front end work, converter, or electronics, anytime. And if you have a trans failure, thats $3-5K. Then what? You have to drive it more to get your money out. Just like the stock market, you can’t really time the ups and downs. You just have to decide if you are in or out and along for the ride or not. Now maintenance costs are more linear and predictible. Tires can be predicted, and hose and belt changes, etc. I considered alternator overhauls every 70K as maintenance rather than repairs.

@Bing Right! As the car ages you need more repairs which is not necessarily uneconomic. If you have no tolerance for car breakdowns, you should trade every 4 years or so.

Other reasons for trading are safety, emission compliance, appearance, and upkeep cost exceeding new car payments (this seldom happens).

If the body is in good shape and the frame is intact and not all rusted out.
I’d opt to repair the vehicle unless I’m spending more than 25% of what I would be paying/year on payments for a new car.
So if you would pay 300/month payments X 12 months is $3600 = 900 per year on repairing an older vehicle…saving $2700 that you would have been paying on payments.

But I don’t consider normal maintence in that per year ammount, like brakes, filter and oil, trans filter and fluid, plugs, other fluids etc, etc.
Those things, I would also have to do on a new car.

Of course you have to consider the rare big expense and weigh the costs appropriatly.

New Trans at 180,000 miles…I haven’t spent more than $400 per year on parts for the last 2 years…so a $1800 trans job is not excessive!!!


When you encounter a very big bill like a new transmission. It is time to move on. You can make this easier by buying your next car now and. Using both (mostly Old Lexus) until that big ticket item arrives. Then you have a car immediately available. In clean condition it is worth about $2500 as a trade-in and $3200 in the open market. In average condition, $1900 for trade and $2400 for a private sale. If you don’t need the proceeds of a sale to get the next car. Consider driving both for a while. We are doing that with my daughter’s car (ours and she uses it). When she buys a new one, Mrs JT will use both her van and the 2009 Cobalt to extend the life of the van. Believe it or not, she loves her 2003 Silhouette Premiere.

When the interior starts to wear out and smell funny, it’s time to buy a new one. A few coils or mechanicals and you’re back on the road again. If it seems like a nuisance, you know what to do without any more help from me.

Look at your “old” car expenses in terms of a car payment. What’s a new Lexus going to cost you? Say $700 a month for 48 months (60,000 miles of driving). The repair cost is essentially zero during this time. “Repair” to me is not tires, brakes, timing belts or oil changes. These are maintenance. These things must be done on your new car as well as any used car in defined periods of time or mileage.

“Repairs” are things like broken A/C, ball joints, paint job or a transmission. You can make a LOT of repairs for $700 a month, every month. I’d say, once you are spending 6 months worth of repairs on this car it is time to sell. Your time and safety are worth something, too.

There are a few things that would make me trade in a car with 100k+:

  • Unreliable
  • Unsafe because of rust
  • Major engine failure requiring swap
  • Major transmission failure requiring swap
  • No longer meets needs

Now, I might like to trade it in just to get something new after 10+ years with the old one. That’s fine, too, assuming your finances can handle it

In my neck of the woods, a good condition 1999 ES300 is worth considerably more than $2400 private party

I dunno, I just have to discount a little the idea of comparing car payments to old car repair costs. I understand if you are trying to keep expenses to the minimum, but a car payment goes to pay for all new parts, assembled for you, that should still be serviceable after 3 or 4 years. A good portion of that money is for upgrading your circumstances and improving the quality of life rather than repair avoidance.

I’ve driven new cars and cars kept them with up to 500,000 miles on them. Driven some from 10K a year to 40K a year. What I looked at was maintenance and repair cost per mile for each 10 or 100,000 mile increment. You really have to take out of the equation a little the portion that goes for the car unless you are going to ammortize the car portion over an equal period such as 200K. Then forget about insurance and fuel costs for analysis, and look at the cost per mile.

Bottom line, if you drive a lot of miles and do your own work, drive it to half a million miles. If you don’t drive more than 10-20K a year and can’t even do your own oil changes, trade cars more often to get a warranty and dealer service specials.

@Bing Agree it’s really about total operating costs. What I have done in the past was to accummulate all these costs on a yearly basis while deprediating the car based on remaing market value.

I then drew a curve (plot) representing the annual cost per mile, and waited for the figure to GO UP after seeing it go down steadily. At that point it’s time to shop around for a new car, unless your wheels rust out befire that point. We typically traded at 13, 12, 18, and 19 years depending on the body structure, and repair costs.


  1. Depreciation
  2. Maintenance
  3. Repairs.
  4. Insurance
  5. Gasoline
  6. Cleaning, polishing, etc.
  7. License

Of the above, depreciation is the biggest cost initially, ubtil you reach 9-10 years