When to Give Up on a Car

I have a 2002 Saturn that is costing me about $300 every couple of months. When should I give up on it? It’s paid for, but it drives me crazy to keep dumping money into it.

You don’t state the mileage, but a 7 year old Saturn is typically as troublesome as yours. You appear to be throwing good money after bad; I would get rid of it ASAP. For the $300 month you could be paying off a very good late model used car.

A friend of my wife had reached the same point, and when the head gasket blew (very common for this car), she spent $900 to fix it and traded it for a Hyundai Sonata.

Without knowing what you’re spending $300 on it’s hard to say. You didn’t even say how many miles this car has accumulated.

How many months is “every couple?”

My experience has been that, as cars age they cost more money some years than others. I always budget up to $1,000 per year on maintenance/repair as a car gets older. Some years I might spend $400 or less, and other years I might spend $1,500 or more.

There is a big difference between spending money to maintain a car and “dumping money into it.” Please provide more information about what you’re spending money on.

It might be very helpful if you tell us a bit more. How many miles do you have on the car, how long have you owned it? What kind of maintenance has it had (have all the maintenance items listed in the owner’s manual been completed since it was new? What has cost $300 a month. Some people will be paying that much for fuel. Please try to be specific.

Sorry - forgot the mileage, etc. 146,000
tires, oxygen sensor, spark plugs, computer diagnostics - serve engine light comes on randomly - may need to replace computer.
It has been maintained exactly as it should have been.

I don’t like it that your mechanic has not told you that there are circumstances where the “computer” will be replaced under warranty. This makes me wonder if you are stuck in a loop with a poor mechanic.

In contrast the charges you are experiencing are not out of line.

My suggestion is that you start a log and remove all subjective inputs from the cost of keeping this car up and running.

Tires and sparkplugs, like oil changes, are just normal maintenance cost and you really should not count those against a car. You don’t buy a new car because the ashtray is full, and buying a new car to get new tires would be almost as silly.

I think you need to find a different/better mechanic. There should not be a guess-and-replace strategy for service engine light issues. There will be codes. Find out what codes are stored and tell us. Maybe we can suggest some causes.

Since 2010 cars are coming soon, you are driving an 8 year old car with 150K miles. The stuff you should expect based on age and mileage is battery, tires, struts, ball joints, tie rod ends, CV boots and joints, new brakes, timing belts, drive belts, radiator hoses, heater hoses, and some assorted issues with AC, alternator, and sometimes power steering and steering racks.

These are all parts that are wear and tear items that need replacement eventually. If that is more than you can handle you might be happier with a new, or newer, car. All cars need more money spent on maintenance and repairs from years 5 to 10, and then even more from years 10 and on. As the repair costs go up, the cars value is going down. At some point the lines cross and it is time to let the car go.

Your expenses don’t seem out of line with the age and mileage you’ve got on the car. Perhaps you are at the point where the lines are crossing and its time to move onto another car.

Just picked up the car and was told to go to Saturn and have the computer “flashed” and that should take care of that problem.
I was also asked when I bought gas and I told him at a grocery store in town and he said to stop that and go to BP or QuickTrip. The contaminates were wrecking my sparkplugs. I’ve been going to that gas station only in the last year since a move.

How do you use the car? If you are an over-the-road salesperson and depend on the car, then it may be time for a new one. On the other hand, if you use the car for in-town transportation, then maybe you are o.k. You can make a lot of repairs for the depreciation and/or monthly payments on a new car.

It can definitely be argued that trading a car is almost always more expensive than repair. I always include safety and dependability. If a car has routinely “let you down or stranded” you or the body integrity is in question or does not have the safety features you feel you now need, they are all worthwhile reasons. Personal confidence in a car is immeasurable and cannot be determined by someone else. $$$$$ considerations at some point become secondary.
If it’s driving you crazy, then that is as good an argument as any to dump it…just consider thoughtfully on the maintenance cost and repair records of the next vehicle you choose .

You can probably lease a Honda Civic for close to that money if it’s $150/month your dropping on average. I would say at that rate you dump the saturn unless you really love it. When you can get new for close to the same money you’re spending on maintenance it’s time to move on in my opinion.

I don’t see anything that would suggest a problem with the fuel you are or were buying. However it is a good idea to only buy fuel where they have a fair amount of business and turn over their inventory often.

Dagosa; you touched on a very important point which many of us often miss! Not everyone can live with an aging car and keep repairing it, even if it IS the most economical, without constantly being upset or anxious!

OP apparently has maintained the car reasonably well, and is now faced with a number of legitimate and some strange problems. Like my wife’s friend, coping with all this can be unnerving. Hence I recommended OP get rid of the car, since many Saturns get troublesome as they age.

A fellow down the street does the basic minimum maintenance and wears out a new car in less than 10 years. They’ve bought 6 new cars during the time we bought 2. They seem quite happy working that way and now have an Acura and a CRV. Their old cars, when they trade them are worth little, of course.

An argument can also be made that these early trades are not only good for the economy, but still recycle older cars “downward” to those in more need than we. I have no problem with anyone trading at anytime for what ever reason…and it’s good to hear some one else who seems to agree.

why would one want to lease a low end car like a Civic?

Although it bothers me that some people neglect their car maintenance, their castoffs sell for very little and make good “mechanics’s specials”.

In Europe and Japan with their very tough fitness standards and inspections, it’s hard to find a cheap car that’s street legal. Both regions export them to Asia and Africa, where dilligent and low paid mechanics perform miracles with these old cars. I saw a 15 year old Mercedes 230 in Nigeria that had its interior hard surfaces redone in polished rosewood with mahogany trim accents! A real work of art.

Our old Chevy Impala was bought at 300,000+ miles for $750 by a kid working in a garage as an apprentice. So it will likley lead a long and productive life. One of our posters mentioned that many US drivers depended on cheap used cars to get to work economically. If you applied German standards to US car inspection and maintenance, many would have to take the bus!

I had a Saturn 2000 SL that probably cost me that much or more in maintenance and repairs. Admittedly, I was taking it to the dealer and probably getting fleeced, but. . . I’m much happier now with my Mazda6.

A newer car may cost you more money–but it sounds like it might be money well spent for you, just for sanity’s sake.