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When do you it is time to buy a new car and stop repairing your old one? Buy or Repair?

Okay, this may be not just a car question but also a marriage therapy question… My husband loves his 1999 Mercedes ML320 with ~150K miles. but my gut tells me that it is time to junk this car and move on because the repair bills are piling up, Brakes, Water Pumps, Tires, joints, Steering fluids… i don’t even know what I am saying. He claims that the engine is still strong and we can still run this car for a long time. I sort of had it with this car - so on Valentine’s day, I sweetly asked him if he could get any car, what would he buy now… because i thought it would have been super cool to run out and buy a car for him and tie a big red bow on it… well, he wants the same car - a NEW ML350 which I later found is between $50-60K, yikes! It was a no go then.
The repair bills are $3000 here, $4000, there, $1800, for blah blah. I feel that we should have and could have gotten a new car by now, but he insists that no matter what we spend now on the car it is still cheaper than getting a brand new Mercedes.
So, my long winded question is - WHEN DO YOU KNOW IT IS ENOUGH and TIME TO MOVE ON?

I faced the same problem. We had a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass with the 4-4-2 trim package that my husband purchased new in Occtober of 1978. I had a terrible time getting him to give up the car. I finally succeeded after 33 years in October of 2011. We were talking to our neighbor and he told us that the dolly he uses to tow his car behind his RV was stolen from the driveway. I said that if he found the thief to please send him over to our house to steal the Oldsmobile. The neighbor then asked if we would like to sell the car. Before Triedaq could get in a word, I said “yes”. I did promise Triedaq that he could spend the money from the sale of the car for anything he would like to have. I think he is looking at audio equipment, but as slowly as he moves, it will be another 5 years before he picks out what he wants.

I almost had the him convinced to give up the car ten years earlier in 2001. I refused to ride in the car. Unfortunately, Triedaq had gone out with a friend and my car wouldn’t start. I took the Oldsmobile on an errand and Triedaq happened to see the car going down the road. I couldn’t use that ploy anymore.

Mrs. Triedaq

A car’s history of repair costs is the best indicator of its future costs. It’ll get worse; it won’t get better. Add up the repair costs for the past year and see if they equal or exceed the costs of getting a Mercedes replacement vehicle. Without those details, it’s hard to guess.

It seems that you and hubby have a very different opinion of your budgetary constraints. It’ll probably cost you more to keep the current car long-term, however a new Mercedes is, as you discovered, a budget buster too.

The tough thing here is that it’s impossible to know what’s real. Is it that you can really afford a new Mercedes and you’re just more fiscally conservative than he, or that you really cannot afford Mercedes…in which case neither of the two options (keeping the current car or getting another) is really a smart decision. It would be good to hear his side of the story as well.

@SpeedyMom Mercedes cars don’t age well; after the warranty runs out most owners are experiencing many expensive repairs. You will know that even normal maintenance is expensive.

A 1999 model is 14 years old and will need age related maintenance and repairs even if you don’t drive it much.

Your husband is sentimentally attached to the car and it is costing you plenty. The average US driver spends $1200 per YEAR on maintenance, repairs and tires. That gives you some comparison. We just sold a 1994 Nissan and its lifetime maintenance, tires and repairs for that whole period was about $10,006 for 19 years, or $526 per year! No repair was more than $750.

If your 1999 was a Toyota or a Lexus, which have far fewer repair costs at that mileage, I would say just keep driving it. These cars are very long lived and repairs are affordable.

Having said that, a new $60,000 Mercedes will virtually completely depreciate in 15 years, so that would cost you $4000 per year in depreciation. A friend had a 12 cylinder Jaguar, a very nice car, but the repair costs finallly drove him to distraction.

If you like and can afford a luxury car, I would recommend a Lexus and keep it for 20 years. It won’t put you in the poorhouse with repair costs.

Accountants have a specific formula as to when to sell a vehicle, such as a truck, taxi, etc. Essentially it says that if the total annual ownership costs (depreciation, gas,oil, maintenance & repairs) start exceeding the average annual cost to date, it’s time to sell.

Most advisors on this panel willl generally tell you that if the monthly repairs start equalling car payments for a new car, you should sell.

You can keep a car running forever, if you are prepared to constantly cough up large sums for repair costs. In your case your recent history is just the beginning. I would get rid of this car and buy something more durable and reliable. Your husband may have difficulty believing what I just wrote, but if you buy a copy of the Consumer Report Used Car Guide, you will be able to show him how (un)reliable old Mercedes cars are.

We have a German plumber who has only owned German cars (including Mercedes) which have been unreliable. He won’t listen to me that Japanese cars in general are much better and more economical in upkeep, but instead now buys German cars and trades every 3 years. That gives reasonably reliable but very expensive servcie.

Hope this helps you make a decision.

Well written Doc, but accountants don’t make these decisions based on passion. We have passion invloved here. Accountants don;t have passion.

I personally am wondering about the budget. I recall an aunt many years ago yelling at my uncle for standing on the hood of his Caddy to touch up some paint. Truth is, he was extremely wealthy and could have bough a new Caddy anytime he felt like it. But she was “tighter than a drum”.

I recall Warren Buffet saying in an interview that he got mad at his wife once for spending $25,000 remodeling the kitchen of their house.

I get the impression that there might be a little Warren Buffet in the OP.

While logic says ‘dump it’, hubby likes it, maybe consider it his (expensive) hobby?

He’s the one that uses it, right?

It sounds like you already have your answer. However, it really depends on what is important to you. To me it’s a car that I don’t have to worry about fixing because I know nothing about cars. It sounds like your hubby thinks spending a money here and there vs. a car payment is more important.

Thank you all for your quick and honest comments! You know, it is just a case of ‘well, after this repair…’ or ‘Well, since we just spent $3,800 on this car… it should last us a while longer…’ that seems to come closer and closer now. Definitely will look at a new car… just need to get him to the same place.

@mountainbike Our family uses cost as well as other factors as when to unload a car. My wife had a neat little Dodge Colt (Mitsubishi), but it became very hard to start in cold weather and Chrysler no longer supported it with parts. Generally, aside from cost there are other reasons, such as:

  1. The car has become unsafe through corrosion or other factors.

  2. It is hard to start and can’t be fixed

  3. Parts no longer available for normal repairs

  4. It won’t pass goverment smog tests.

  5. Car is unsightly form excessive surface rust, and a paint job is not justified. My wife determines that one.

I agree that here we have a marital issue with passion and a bit of a power struggle as well.

Not really an easy question. In this case the car is 13-14 years old and has gone 150K miles. Stuff simply wears out and some items when replaced means you are good for many more miles. All the items mentioned in the original post; “Brakes, Water Pumps, Tires, joints, Steering fluids” are really all wear and tear items that just need to be replaced due to years and miles.

I can’t really say this car is ready to dump, because so far all seems to be OK with it. You have to figure a MB is just going to be more expensive to repair in the 1st place. The hourly rate will be higher for the mechanic and parts will be premium priced. If hubby is still taking the car to the MB dealer he needs to find a good foreign car mechanic. Good one’s are out there and they aren’t cheap, but can usually do as good a job for a lot less than a dealer.

Next, if you keep this car you have to budget for future repairs and expect some downtime when the car is in the shop. Since the OP was agast at the price of a new MB, perhaps putting aside $500 a month for repairs (instead of an even higher payment on a new MB) would make the repair bills less dramatic.

What will ultimately kill this car, any car, is rust. If you live in an area where exposure to winter salted roads is minimal this car can last for many more years. There will be some big repair bills along the way, but that is the price of keeping an old car on the road. MB have comfy seats that don’t break down with age and use. The interior materials hold up. And the bodies have good paint and can look good when a car is many years old.

When you look at the cost of a new car, figure in a happy hubby with this car, perhaps the OP should be happy he isn’t spending big bucks on a new MB every 3-5 years!

Doc, in my case most of my cars have been traded because my needs changed. Except for that one '79 Toyota pickup that rotted through both sides of the frame (after 11 years) and literally broke in half in the middle of a parking lot.

I’m keeping the car I have forever. I stopped at a dealership promotion (to see if I’d won a prize) and the manager got me to sit and chat. He did the “how much is your car worth to you?” pitch. He said he could save me thousands of dollars (on a trade). I responded (in the middle of the showroom) “I can save me even MORE thousands of dollars…by keeping what I have!”. I don’t think he appreciated that.

I concur with your last statement. And to the OP I might suggest that if she needlessly tear him away from the car he loves…he might find a DIFFERENT passion/hobby. Letting him keep the car might be the best thing she can do. Jay Leno is fond of saying that when he comes home smelling like gas and oil his wife KNOWS where he’s been.

I should not have left the computer logged in this morning so that Mrs. Triedaq could respond. I do have a couple of questions for SpeedyMom:

  1. Is this your only car? I assume that it isn’t, because you refer to the Mercedes as “his car”, but that isn’t clear from the post.

  2. How is the Mercedes used? Is the car used for long distance trips or is primarily used around town?

I drove the 1978 Oldsmobile only for local trips in the last years that we owned the car. It cost me very little to keep it on the road. For example, I bought an alternator and a heater blower with “lifetime” warranties. I was able to obtain replacements for free by just returning the part and showing the receipt. Since the car was used only around town, I bought inexensive tires at WalMart. I used whatever brand of oil and filters that were on sale. I only carried liability insurance for the last 20 years I owned the car.

In your case, the car sounds expensive to maintain. If your husband really has to have a Mercedes, then it is probably less expensive to keep the Mercedes you have. I had my reasons for keeping the old Oldsmobie. I was a faculty member at a university. We took the car to important social functions where the adminstrators were present. It was important to go looking poor.

No point selling this one that he likes and is fully depreciated but its time to make it a spare car instead of a daily driver. Get another one with a warrenty-not that $60K one. Then let him drive the new one and the old one until the luster of old junk wears off. No point fighting him but reduce your repair costs.

@SpeedyMom all of the things you mentioned were either maintenance or very common wear and tear items.

Most cars will need a water pump in their lifetime.
Any car will need tires if you keep it long enough.
Any car will need brakes if you keep it long enough.
I’d say it’s forgiveable to replace "joints’ on a 150K car.

I used to work at a Benz dealer and worked on those ML320s regularly. I will say that the engine is pretty reliable. Mechanically, that is. It is capable of really racking up some miles.
You might have a few leaks here and there, but the engine is one of Mercedes’ stronger designs.

If hubby wants to keep it going, find an independent shop that is comfortable working on Benzes.
That should help keep the costs down somewhat.
Is hubby pretty handy? Brakes and waterpumps are well within the capabilities of some car owners.

This is not really a car question, If he loves the car, the car costs pale in comparison to the new car. Figure how much per month the new car would cost, and say you total that over the year for repairs. Then there is fluff, it seems more a philosophical decision than financial, He likes the car, let it go.

@mountainbike Agree that sometimes you have to give up a car prematurely due to business or other reasons. I’ve had to do this twice, the last time was in 2007 when my trusty 1988 Caprice had to make way for a newer car. I sold that car for $1400 in pristine condition, see picture. That car only had 143,000 miles on it. We would normally have driven this car till the body fell off.

One of our previous cars, a 1984 Impala went to my son in college and he finally sold it with over 350,000 miles on it. For all I know the kid that bought it, a garage apprentice, is still driving it.

I guess there were other reasons as well.
I gave up
my '61 Beetle when I wen in the service,
my '64 Fairlane when the engine heater failed one very-subzero night in North Dakota and the coolant froze solid.
my '72 Vega when the wheel & axle came off…a known Vega problem,
my "76 Corolla coupe when my son was born…for a 4-dr Civic to get the carseat in,
my '82 Civic for an '86 Toyota minivan when my daughter was born…growing family syndrome,
my '86 minivan for a '93 MPV when my wife became tired of the minivan,
my '93 MPV for a '95 Saturn…the darned MPV lifters kept collapsing…design flaw,
the '95 Saturn went in the divorce.

I also had as second vehicles a '91 Camry that I gave to my son in 2005
a '79 Toyota pickup that rotted away
an '89 Toyota pickup that I gave to my daughter and got crashed at 338,000 miles,
a 2005 Corolla that was killing my back, …I had it only 2 months
my current car, a 2005 Scion…which I’ll keep forever.

I never got rid of a car because I was enticed by something newer. There was always a valid reason.

@mountainbike Very informative stuff. I once worked for a boss who bought 5 new cars over the period of 6 years I worked for him. The saying was that he bought a new car when the ashtrays were full.

In our own case, starting in 1962, I disposed of the following:

  1. 1948 Chevy; Gave to younger brother in teacher’s college in 1962

  2. 1957 Plymouth; Gave to same kid brother in 1965

  3. 1965 Dodge Dart; To wreckers in 1978; rusted out.

  4. 1966 Malibu; Wrecked in accident in 1976

  5. 1971 Mercury Comet; Sold to mother in law for $500 in 1978; needed better car for job

  6. 1976 Ford Granada; Sold for $750 in 1996, body got too rusty and hard to start

  7. 1977 Dodge Colt; Scrapped in 1997; part no longer avilable

  8. 1984 Impala; Gave to son in college in 2006

  9. 1988 Caprice; Sold because needed newer car for work

  10. 1994 Nissan Sentra; Sold for $750 in 2012; starting to rust and could no longer be jacked up.

I’ve also has had a number of company cars; 1962 Ford, 1963 Pontiac, 1977 Pontiac LeMans, 1980 Olds Delta 88. The were traded every 2 years or so.

Current cars are 2007 Toyota and 2012 Mazda. Both will probably outlive me.

Some folks do that. Even when I could afford to, I never had the urge. It’s a good thing some people do, or there’d be nothing but worn out junk on the used car market.

As long as we are doing cars hand me down
61 olds Dynamic 88, Just add oil at each fillup
71 Nova totaled due to unlicensed driver thinking green light meant he could turn left in front of me
68 cougar xr7 Rust issues and trans problems, put the engine into a
71 ranchero. Dr. from LA letting his unlicensed kid drive the car panicked on a1a on a moist morning, slammmed on the brakes, skidded to only straighten the point of the front bumper that pushed the radiator into the fan, sold the car and took a bus home.
71 Nova and 71 f100, as I was living in the boonies with wood burning stove for heat and commuting to college.
1990 Toyota Pickup, First new car as I now had a 45 mile commute and wanted to save money on gas.
2003 Ranger to replace the Toyota starting to like new cars.
2003 trailblazer bought used to tow boat.
The end? not likely. Missing the Nova and the Cougar. 5 1/2 cars and 2 1/2 pickup trucks for 43 years of driving.