When to buy a new car vs. keep the old one

We have a '97 Maxima. Well maintained. 131K miles. A bit worn int/ext. Just put in new brakes. I always wonder if the car is ‘safe’ to drive long distances. How do you know when to buy a new car (if you are not rolling in money). Thinking of a 2008 Camry.

As far as the mechanics of your question goes- the Maxima would probably still be ok for long distance travel, so long as you have stuff like hoses and belts checked/replaced first, and have a good tune up.
Heck, I’ve driven cars waaay older and less maintained over long distances (the most extreme example being a '72 El Camino I bought from a junk yard on a Monday-- and drove 2,000 miles starting that same Thursday-- w/ no issues).
However, the best preventative maintenance in the world can’t prevent or predict something like a water pump or alternator failure --that stuff just seems to happen randomly as cars get older. And if something like that goes when you’re driving through, say, the vast unpopulated expanses of west Texas…then… well, at least the vultures will keep you company.
So, psychologically speaking, I think you kinda answered your own question-- if you’re uncomfortable and nervous about driving it long distances, then I’d say get a new(er) car for your own peace of mind. (for example, that El Camino I mentioned earlier-- I NEVER turned it off-- even while refueling-- because I was afraid if I turned it off it wouldn’t start again…)

A 2008 Camry is a great car, but if your Maxima is in good shape, and since you maintain it, it may well last you another 100,000 miles. I’d definitely keep it.

My personal criteria for buying a new cars is when my needs change (the most common reason for me), or the old one begins to develop problems internal to the engine or tranny or that might be safety related. I got rid of my '72 Vega in '76 when the rear axle with wheel came out while I was driving. I sent my '79 Toyota pickup to the boneyard after almost 11 years when the frame rotted out on both sides. I’d also get rid of one that became unreliable, one that something was breaking on every other month, but I haven’t had that experience yet.

You never explained why you thought the vehicle was unsafe for long distance. I routinely borrow and drive my son’s 94 Prizm with 200+K miles on it on 500 mile round trips with no issue. If you maintain the vehicle well, per the owner’s manual, there should be no issues. Otherwise, pls explain further your issues or concerns.

Agree with above posters that a 97 Maxima is barely middle age! The condition of your car is the most important. Most regulars have cars that are less than new; earlier this year I sold a 19 year old Chev Caprice with 144,000 miles, which mechanically was still close to new and has taken me on many long trips. You have absorbed a lot of depreciation, and fron mow on you can have economical, and reliable driving. Besides, looks-wise, I would take your 97 over a 2008 Camry.

A couple of observations;

There is nothing inherently unsafe about an older, well maintained car, assuming you really mean “well maintained.” Later this month I’m driving my '82 with over 400K miles from CO to GA, to VA, back to CO (a few miles). In general it is a better deal to maintain your current car than to replace it, at least until the cost of the repairs approach the replacement value of the car.

If you are “not rolling in money,” I would not be looking at any 2008 cars. Brand new cars are just not a very good deal. If you are able to pay cash and willing to absorb the initial depreciation loss, they are OK. A 2-4 year old car with moderate mileage is usually a much better deal, let someone else pay for the privalage of driving a new car off the lot. Compare the cost of a 2008 with a 50K mile 2005 and do the math for yourself.

If your Maxima is really well maintained, then it’s probably good for 250 to 300 thousand miles. Seriously, I owned an '89 Maxima and when it was over 10 years old with 125 thousand miles on it I drove it from Virginia to Colorado and back in a week. I never even thought about it being a problem. I used that car to take my kids to visit colleges up and down the East Coast. It got totaled in a wreck around 140 thousand, but I had no plans to retire or replace it at that point and would have driven it across the country and back without hesitation.

You are almost always better off financially to maintain and repair what you have, barring that total wreck situation, than to buy something new(er).

It seems that you may be tiring of the interior and exterior. Those issues, if they are just cosmetic, won’t make the car unsafe. Are they the real reasons you are interested in a new car, or do you have some concerns about the drive train, suspension, or structure? I don’t mean suspicions, but real issues that you are aware of.

If the Maxima still has seats made of brick, I would trade it Yesterday. If the seats are good ones, go for 175,000 or more.