How to know when to replace that old car

Replace My Old Car?

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Repair or Replace My Car?

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Should I Replace My Old Car?

When is it time to buy a new car? Mine has close to 300,000 miles on it. I intend to run it to the ground. What, in your estimation, is the determining factor to junk it?
Denise M.

Is Old Car Safe?

I would stop driving the car when it is no longer safe. There is no amount of money worth your or your family's safety. It is one thing to have to have duct tape on the seats and keep driving it. But it is quite another if the engine falls out when you are driving alone on a deserted stretch of highway. I'm at 216,000 miles and counting.

Old Car Repairs and Car Payment?

Determine what you would pay per month on a loan for a newer car (brand-new or used). If you're putting more than that amount of money into your old car for repairs on a monthly average, it's definitely time to consider a purchase, especially if the newer vehicle would include a warranty to cover major repair expenses.

Repairs vs. Old Car Value

Most recommend that when an annual repair bill (not regular maintenance) reaches 50% of the current value of the car, then you should get rid of it.

Major Old Car Repair Bills

I tend to buy my cars with cash and then pay myself a car payment amount that goes to my replacement fund. So, if my car is nearing that point in its life where major things are going to start going wrong, I look to see what's in my replacement fund and what sort of car I think I'll need for the next ten years. If I have enough to buy the replacement car, and I find the replacement car for the price I'm willing to pay, I'll buy the replacement car (I did this with my last new-to-me car).

I've also considered buying a new-to-me car when my life has changed a lot and a different car would meet my needs better. For instance, you may need a four-door car when you need to use car seats for kids.

One other scenario of when to junk the car occurred for me when the cost of repairing the car to make it pass inspection was more than the car was worth. We also didn't have the money then, so we junked the vehicle and happened to find a cream puff for a few hundred dollars that met our needs and gave us time to save some coin for the next replacement car.
Megan in PA

Old Car Dies

I always run my cars until they are close to dead and I have had no problems getting 250,000 from a car.

You can do that if you do all the recommended maintenance, on schedule. Do oil changes every 3,000 miles, timing belt changes as recommended, tires and brakes as they wear out. Second, I fix the "little" things as they break. Not having working door handles can be a big frustration.

However, some cars won't make it that far. I bought one car that was a "lemon" and another that was a discontinued model that parts became increasingly hard to get.

So, how do I decide when to a car is "dead?" Here are my considerations.

  1. When the car becomes unsafe to drive and isn't easily fixable. Things such as extensive rust, worn axles, bad seat tracks, can make a car unsafe.
  2. When the car becomes unreliable. If I can't drive it and know I will get somewhere, it needs to go. This includes having to repair the same things over and over in a short period of time. (I fixed the cooling system three times in five months in my "lemon" before I gave up.)
  3. When the mechanic tells me it will take five days to get the parts in.
  4. When the cost of the repairs is more than 75% of the cost of buying the same car in running condition. For example, if I need a new tranny in my 1990 Taurus, which costs $1500, and I can buy a used '90 Taurus in better condition than the one I have (once it is fixed) for $2,000, I wouldn't fix it but would look to replace it.

Polagaya in Monroe, WA

Take the Next Step

  • Read more about what readers have to say: Repair or Replace My Car?
  • Use the auto calculators from to figure what a car might cost you.
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