When Is It Time to Buy a New (Replacement) Car?

I’ve got a 2007 Ford Explorer. If I had a problem with it in January 2017 and was told “It will cost you $2000 to fix it”, I would most certainly have junked it and gotten a replacement vehicle. However… I’m reviewing my financial records and finding that is what I spent on repairs, but in five separate chunks. Since it was a few hundred here and there, it hurt (but not as much as $2000 all at once would have hurt). New battery/alternator, heater problem, sway bars… (I bought new tires, so perhaps that shouldn’t be included in the mix.)

Anyway… Is there some crossover point where it stops making sense to repair an old car and just get a new one? Or is that the sort of thing that everyone has to decide for themselves? I feel like I’m getting nickel and dimed these days…


Old cars will nickel and dime you. New ones will hundred dollar bills you.


Well played, sir! I’ve telling myself “Well… at least $400 is a whole lot cheaper than buying a new car.”

Blue Book on it is about $5000. It seems wrong for me to spend more in repairs than what the car is worth. Maybe I’m all upside down on that and should think about it differently. If I end up spending $2000 a year or even $2500 a year for the next 10 years to keep it running, it is still cheaper than a new car.

Well… back to work.

An important consideration is how you use the car. Is it your only vehicle? Are you able to find alternative transportation to your job if the car is out of service? Does your occupation depend on you having a car (e.g. real estate salesperson)

Do you have young drivers in the family where the modern safety features are very important?

Does your present car have rust issues?

What is your overall transportation budget?

All good questions! It’s my only vehicle - however, when it needs repair I can usually work from my laptop for a day so I don’t have that sort of a job. No young drivers - for now!!! No rust issues.

I can afford to make car payments on a new vehicle - I’d just rather not!!! In a reply to another poster, it occurred to me that even if I spend $2000 a year on repairs for the next 10 years, it’s still cheaper than a new car. Maybe the economic question isn’t “how much are your repairs in relation to the worth of your existing car” but “how much are your repairs in relation to the cost of a new car”.

The real question is : Would buying a new vehicle let me sleep at night or would I lay there thinking why did I do that ?

Question - could you replace your present car with one that presents greater reliability for $7000? That is book value plus one year’s repairs on a vehicle that is a very well known quantity to you versus a $7000 used car that has an unknown history? I think the answer is the car you have now is a better choice.

The next question is: Does adding $7000 (your $5000 trade plus next years maintenance) give you more reliability and lower your maintenance costs? Remember, all cars use tires, brakes, oil and other items at about the same rate. It is the failure of transmissions or alternators o the like that make the real difference. How about adding $20,000? $40,000? Be sure and add in interest to that equation.

There are no hard and fast rules for time to replace a car except Rust. Rust is the twist of the 3-bladed bayonet that injures a car beyond economical repair.

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I’d also add the question of “what does the wife (if any) want to be seen driving?”

That’s often played into my answering this same question.

Good luck.

Get three estimates for a big bill like that, unless you are certain that the first diagnosis is correct.

What big bill are you referring to? I did not see anything that would not be normal repair on any vehicle.


Aging (11+ years) Ford Explorer is … not exactly stellar in reliability department

When (not “if”) it breaks, you have to spend time/effort getting it to mechanic and back (assuming it did not break far from home, which is even more unpleasant)

When I had one car to depend on, even having option to work from home off my computer, I was not letting my cars go for over 7-8 years of age and 100K miles, just because this is where most of components come to age and start breaking more often. I could not afford new car without getting more debt than I was comfortable with (made enough $$, not willing to spend it unwisely), so I was getting used ones around 35-45K miles, then running it into 90-100K and repeating this cycle.

Now, having one car more than drivers, I let it slide some more, but still separate commuter vehicles from the “project/fun” one, where the aforementioned “rule” does not apply.

Thanks to everyone for their input. The vehicle has been mostly fine for years and underwent a series of various failures in the last 18 months or so. Given its age, I’m prepared to see various failures in the months ahead. (Current problem? The passenger side door lock will unlock but not lock automatically. I’m anticipating a $300 repair bill to fix that.)

To recap, I was previously looking at things purely from the basis of putting more money into the car than it was worth. Continuing to pay repair bills (up to a point) is still cheaper than buying a replacement vehicle. Unless there is rust, a safety issue, or a repair bill that’s too big to swallow, I’ll probably just keep on paying for repairs.

It has long been my belief that a car’s value to its owner is often far greater than its “worth” on the used car market. It can only be compared to what it would coats to replace it with a more reliable vehicle, and that is usually thousands more than its KBB-listed value.

The exceptions are vehicles that have suffered internal engine or powertrain damage (often due to neglect) and vehicles that are rotting. Rot in unibody cars will put them in the grave. It cannot be repaired, only patched… and the end is inevitable.

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My sister is an accountant and she developed 7 rules to apply when deciding when to trade:

  1. The car is unsafe and cannot be made safe economically
  2. The car cannot meet environmental tests and can’t be made to do so
  3. The car is an orphan and parts are no longer available
  4. The car needs a major repair that costs more than the value of an equivalent replacement model.
  5. The car has many smaller repairs over the course of one year and is 'nickel and diming" the owner to death.
  6. The car has become unreliable and cannot be made reliable economically
  7. The car has become so unsightly with rust, etc., that the owner does not want to be seen driving it.

From a pure accounting point of view, if the annual cost of ownership starts exceeding the cumulative average ownership cost, it’s time to trade. With most cars that is probably at 250,000 miles or 15+ years of ownership.

In other words, I’m surprised that you are having this question with a 10 year old car with a reasonable reputation for reliability.

You need to add up your annual yearly bills and compare that with the current value of your car. The Click & Clack boys here also used to say that if any single repair is 25% or more of the car’s market value You have to seriously think about disposing of it. Keep in mind that depreciation is a huge cost of ownership when you are buying a new car!!

In my own case, we have in the past used #3 (Dodge Colt), #6 & #7 (Dodge Dart), #5 (Ford Granada) for example, as reasons for disposal.

We currently have a 2007 Toyota Corolla, bought new, which so far has incurred the following repairs:

  1. Heat shield repair $65
  2. One new tire $110
  3. New wheel covers $50
  4. Front brakes & rotors $422.
  5. New serpentine belt $42
  6. Two lightbulbs $30

All other expenses were regular maintenance as called for in the owner’s manual.

Total repairs so far $689 over an 11 year period!


That’s a good list. I’d add these two:
8. The car not longer meets my needs (too small, too large)
9. I’m just tired of it (sets in around 10 years)

In the past we have always given cars we were tired of (#9) to deserving relatives, like kids going to college. We disposed of a 71 Mercury Comet, a 1948 Chevy 6, a 1957 Plymouth, and a 1984 Chevy Impala that way.

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Hmmmmm… now, all these years later, I can think of a relative that deserved my Vega…


One new tire? Does this mean that you have three tires that have lasted 11 years? That may not be unusual in your climate, I can’t get more than 8 years out of a tire in the hot desert before they split from dry rot.

Yes! But we also purchased a set of Michelin X-ICE for winter driving. Therefore, the original tires have only 5.5 years of wear on them. The car’s mileage at this time is 60,000. The car is always stored indoors out of the sun when parked at home.

The tread is about half worn at this time.

The one new tire was the result of a puncture that could not be repaired.