When do you know you've bought your last car?

My parents are in their mid/late 70s. They own a 2001

Nissan Altima with almost 80,000 miles on it. They recently

took it into the mechanic, who told them that there’s

probably $3,000 worth of work it needs. My folks are not

made of money and are wondering what their best bet is: to

repair their Altima or to buy another car. They’re in great

health but don’t know how much longer they’ll realistically be

able to drive at all. Help! Thank you! …maybe there’s no

good answer to this question…

If it were my parents, I would get a second opinion, and I would fix that car.

If you have a detailed list of what the mechanic said it needed, folks here can probably help you to sort out what is really necessary vs what is optional for a car that probably will not continue to accumulate 9k miles a year in the future.

As you say, there may be no easy answer. Financially, it’s pretty much cheaper to fix the car you have rather than taking on new loan payments or raiding the savings account. If the car is in relatively decent shape they should be able to get lots more miles out of it. The intangibles: How important is driving to them? How much do they drive in a given year? Do they depend on the car or are there alternative means of transportation available? There are people that drive quite well into their 80s, so your parents may have many years left to do that. When faced with complex decisions I’ve sometimes found it helpful to write down the pros and cons in two separate columns, then see which way my instincts are tending. No matter what you decide it will involve some kind of tradeoff. The sorts of tradeoffs that are willing to be made are up to you and your folks, but it might help to write them down and make them more explicit so you’ll know what you’re dealing with.

I’d say that just like anyone else, it depends on how much they can afford and what they want to do. If they like the car, repair it. If they’re sick of it, replace it with a new or used vehicle, depending on what they can afford and want to do.

I don’t know if we only live once, but I do know that if I was 70 and could afford it, I probably wouldn’t want to spend my remaining time driving something I didn’t enjoy.

They need to get a second opinion. I have a hard time coming up with $3K worth of repairs on an Altima with only 80K miles.

Can you provide us with a list of the “necessary” work? And do you know who the mechanic was? Perhaps someone is trying to take advantage of them.

An Altima that’s been correctly maintainted is capable of 200,000 miles or more, so there may be no reason whatsoever to get rid of this car.

My parents, who are in their mid-80s, have two cars, and both of them have well over 100K miles. They have no plans at this time to replace either car.

Another factor to consider is that older folks frequently have difficulty adapting to the newer, more “gimmicky” features on new cars. They can be truly befuddled by the way that you operate the audio system on newer cars, and there are other controls that they may have a hard time mastering on a new car.

As a result, it may be preferable to repair the car that they have become familiar with over the past 9-10 years. However, as others have said, that $3k estimate seems questionable–unless they have not maintained the car properly. If the car has had lax maintenance, the ongoing repair bills may actually wind up amounting to far more than this $3k estimate.

I suggest that you take a look at their maintenance records, and compare those to the maintenance schedule that should be sitting in the glove box. If the car has been well-maintained, take the car to a different mechanic to get a repair estimate.

If you find that their car has not been well-maintained, then perhaps it is time to move on to a new car. However, in that case I suggest that you oversee the maintenance of the new car in order to prevent a repeat of the situation with the present car.

Get a second opinion…There are SOME unscrupulous people who pray on the elderly.

We just had a case here in NH where this jerk charged this elderly couple $4200 to rake the snow off their roof…Luckily their daughter intervened and brought in the authorities and got the money back minus a reasonable fee of $200 (which is the going rate).

How do your parents use the car? If they are just doing local driving, the car is probably adequate. If they are driving coast to coast, then be certain that the Altima is reallly roadworthy. This includes tires, brakes, etc.

The biggest enemy of an older car is rustout. If the undercarriage of the car is in good shape, it might be worthwhile to do the necessary work. At any rate, get a second opinion.

The father of a friend of mine is 90. Two months ago he traded his Buick LeSabre for a Toyota RAV-4 SUV. He liked the easy exit and entry and now just does local driving.

I’m 69 and it takes me awhile to get used to a different car. I bought a 2011 Sienna last March and it took me about a month to get used to the placement of controls from my previous Chevrolet Uplander. However, I am old fashioned–I didn’t see anything wrong with the starter pedal and dimmer switch on the floor, or the wiper switch on top the dashboard as it was in my 1947 Pontiac. I also liked the easy to find chrome horn ring on the steering wheel.

When you reach the “fixed income” stage of life when pension checks and social security are items on the incomes side of the ledger. That forces you to manage the expense side closely and when there is no room for a monthly car payment, then you bought your last car - or at least last new car.

I have hit that stage and I budget for repair expenses now.

I agree with the others. A 2001 Altima has several years left in it, just make sure the work is needed, and is at a fair price.

First get a list of everything the mechanic thinks is wrong with the car and then take the car to the dealer and have them check it out. Once you get the list from the dealer you can decide, if the car can be made safe and reliable then fix it, a car should be good, if maintained, for 160,000 + miles.

Now you also need to check out how the car was maintained, ask how often they change oil, etc, then check to see if its really being done.

Once you’ve done all that ask your parents what they want, do they really want another car or do they like this one?

Then decide.

My opinions are subject to change with new facts

Unless the car has a symptom of problems (check engine light on, not running well), I’d avoid this mechanic and keep driving it. This has a timing chain that doesn’t need replacing, so this can’t be part of the $3,000 estimate.

I’d bet not much is actually wrong with the car and they are being taken advantage of.

Do you live near them? How does the car drive?

Actually, the answer is when you lose your d/l; or realize you need to stop driving; or are in a nursing home.

I bought my 2002 Sienna when I was 59, and assumed it would last until my early 70’s, and that would be my last car.

Last year when I went to the States, a man in our retirement park in McAllen drove in from Minnesota. He was 85. I told my wife, “We need to start saving for a new Sienna.”