When is it Time to Replace Your Car?

Just got a car wash not too long ago...looking good!

Just got a car wash not too long ago…looking good!


Being that I often read blogs about living a frugal life and encouraging the same on my blog, I often read that you should “drive your car into the ground.” I’m picturing driving a car until the paint has almost entirely chipped off, signs of rust, scratches and dents everywhere, and you still only have a tape deck as the entertainment system. On the other hand, some of my friends are more like the average American consumer and start itching to buy a new car every three to five years. One friend is very honest and admits that he just likes driving a new car every three years. Other friends I know try to convince themselves that they NEED one. They want one that is more reliable, has the latest safety features, and has better gas mileage. They say that they need a bigger vehicle as their family grows. And one person said that she wanted to trade-in her current car before it went over 100,000 miles and dropped in value even though replacing it would result in car payments when she had already paid off her old car. Some reasons have validity, while other ones…not so much.

I drove my last car, a Nissan Altima which was bought used, for about 10 years and yes it only had a tape deck but no worries, I had a cassette tape to CD/MP3 converter. My friends would tease me about still driving the same car that I had in college, even though I had already been working for a couple of years. Heck, some friends still ask me if I’m driving that car! A year after I started a new job that required a long commute, there came more repairs, and the car once left me stranded on the highway when it broke down. This happened about a week before my wedding and I think that was when I seriously considered buying a new car, although I didn’t buy one for another two years. I wasn’t great at keeping up with maintenance of car so that was probably a bigger reason why it broke down. I really need to learn more about cars and make sure that I maintain them better.

In any case, fast-forward to present day. I’ve only been driving my current car (a Hyundai Sonata I bought used) for six years, however, because of that long commute, I already have 183,000 miles on it. Last year, I had a few non-routine maintenance issues that I had to deal with. I had to replace a cam shaft and crank shaft as well as some minor repairs. When I went to get the oil change a few months ago, the mechanic spotted a leak. Apparently there is an issue with the heater core which will cost about $800 to fix. He did replaced some hoses (which cost about $250) as a temporary fix and said that I need to fix the heater core issue before the summer. He also said to me, “why don’t you just buy a new car instead getting it fixed?”

That was all it took and I started researching different cars and reading car reviews. The mechanic didn’t exactly say he thought there were any other underlying issues with the car when I asked if he thought there would be a lot of other upcoming repairs needed. It doesn’t really make much sense to replace my car just to avoid the $800 repair and while it felt like there were a lot repairs, a quick scan of my receipts shows that I spent less than $800 on non-routine maintenance costs.

Normally, my frugal self wouldn’t be swayed much by someone telling me to buy a new car, but there are some other reasons. Our family is growing and we’ll need to have two car seats in the near future. I’ve been asking a few other people with families and most say that you’ll have a hard time fitting a third person in the backseat with two car seats back there. Although they do say that you might be able to fit a small adult there for short trips. Generally, it would be my wife and kids, but I’d like to fit another passenger in my car once in a while. Unless I bought a car with a third-row, any car I buy probably won’t help me with adding space. And most cars that size aren’t the best on fuel economy and with a long commute, I’d like to have a car which is as fuel efficient as possible. So I’ve been trying to balance the pros and cons of getting a new to me car.

Should I replace my car? If you have a family, do you know of any decently fuel efficient vehicles that can fit two car seats and an adult in the backseat? How do you determine when it’s time to replace your car?

38 thoughts on “When is it Time to Replace Your Car?

  1. Brian @ Debt Discipline

    I usually look to replace a car when repairs costs become too high as compare to the overall resale value of the car. I would not want to sink say a $1000 repair cost into a $1500 car. I’m much rather sell the car and upgrade. I also don’t like buying new cars in general but looking for a 2-3 year old gently used car after a good chuck of the depreciation value has happened.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Net Worth Update: May 2016My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I think the resale value of my car is pretty low. Last I checked it was worth about $2000 and the repair costs around $800. But if can last me another year or two, it still might be worth it to repair. I also like buying cars 2-3 years old…gently used.

      Reply
  2. Anita

    I’m driving a Suzuki Wagon R (like this: https://images.autouncle.com/de/car_images/b11636e5-05c6-4c54-a722-1378d891d114.jpg).
    We have 2 children (5&6) and it is not very comfortable for a third person to sitz between the childrens seats.
    If we drive longer distances (3-4 times a year), we rent a bigger car because it’s safer on the Autobahn with more crumple zone.
    It’s still cheaper than to buy a bigger car.
    We will drive this car untill TÜV (Technical Supervisory Association) says: “No longer”.
    In Germany you have to let your car check every two years. Only when TÜV says: “Your car is safe” you are allowed to drive with that car.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Thanks for your comment Anita, I enjoy learning different things about Germany. Yea, I’d really like to be able to fit another person even with 2 cars in back, but it does seem like that will be tough. You make a good point about renting a bigger car if it’s something that you need only a few times a year. A few co-workers got bigger cars because their family visits a few times a year, but it doesn’t make sense to buy a big car just for those occasions. I might need to transport an extra adult somewhat often…grandparent or other relative, etc…so the extra space would be nice. Oh and I’d love to drive on the Autobahn! In the US, I think we have something similar to the TUV…we have to get inspections every year but it’s not like those standards are all that high and it’s not too hard to pass.

      Reply
  3. hdatontodo

    I sold my paid-off 2012 Mustang after my elderly mother sold me her 2005 Corolla with 40K miles on it. I put the freed up $10K against my house as part of paying it off. So I have no car payment, no house payment, AND, I currently have a job that lets me work from home. I’m 6’3″, and decided a little more leg room would help in 3-hour weekend trips. Instead of using that as an excuse to buy a new Camry, I found a $200 solution on the internet to move the seat back a bit.
    hdatontodo recently posted…When is it Time to Replace Your Car?My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Toyota’s are very reliable cars…it’ll likely last you a very long time It’s great that you no longer have a car debt or house debt…that’s excellent!

      Reply
  4. Income Surfer

    Interesting dilemma Andrew. We usually replace our cars once we lose faith that they will get us from point A to point B. We have a Honda Accord and Toyota Carolla right now. It would be good to replace the Carolla with something larger, but we only have one child at the moment. Our approach is that we start saving another $500-$600 per month once one of the cars gets over 100k miles. Right now we’re at 93k on one and 118k on the other. We usually start to lose faith when the vehicles get somewhere around 200k. By the time we get to that point, we have the money to stroke a check for another basic car. Our next challenge is going down to one car, but it’s going to be tough with a kiddo…..especially since we would like to have a second.

    Have a great week buddy
    -Bryan
    Income Surfer recently posted…Our $500 ClubMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yes, that’s exactly what I did with my previous car. Hondas and Toyotas are pretty reliable though and will probably last well over 100k miles. I’m pushing 200k miles on my Hyundai Sonata! It definitely will be tougher when there’s another kiddo in the mix.

      Reply
  5. Done by Forty

    My very first car purchase was a 1997 Altima that I had from 2000 until I wrecked it in 2010. It was a great car and I probably would still be driving it if not for the accident. We have a 2006 Matrix now and hope to drive it for another 10 years or so.

    When we’re considering a new purchase, we try to use a three or a five-year TCO, using actual repair costs from the last few years to estimate our annual repairs going forward. If it makes financial sense to switch to a new car, it will usually show up in the numbers.
    Done by Forty recently posted…Did We Just Walk into a Child Labor Shop?My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Same here! (well except for the wrecking part) I had a 1997 Altima that I had from 2000 until 2010 when I traded it in I wouldn’t be driving it since it was becoming unreliable. Plus, with a kid, I’m sure I would have convinced myself that I needed the newer safety features.

      Reply
  6. amber tree

    That is always a tough question to answer: when to replace a car. Until now, we never had to answer that question due to company cars in Belgium. (Lucky us)

    In general, I would say that when the car let’s you down too often, it is time to get another one. Have you considered a second hand?
    Our second car is a second hand. Way cheaper than a brand new one.

    On seating a third person: We have 2 kids and 2 car chairs in the back. We did opt for a third row and now we have that, we actually play more taxi for this kids and their friends. We transport up to 5 kids now… (no kid beteen the car seats) The third row is really no suitable for adults
    amber tree recently posted…Passive Income – May 2016My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I feel the same way. Who wants a car you can’t rely on and that you have to worry will leave you stranded…especially when you have kids. I have always bought second hand…definitely agree that it is cheaper. Let someone else take the depreciationhit of buying a new car! I have heard that a lot of times the third row is only for kids, and maybe small adults. It definitely comes in handy like you mention when you have to chauffeur kids and their friends around.

      Reply
  7. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds

    It is a tough decision, and I would probably agree with Andrew.

    However a ‘new’ car doesn’t mean a brand new straight of the forecourt one, it could be a second hand one, that does the job. I would just do some research, and don’t feel bad about having to get a new car :-)

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Agreed. New to me means a second hand car. I usually get a used car that is still relatively new and has low miles. They are in great condition but a lot more affordable.

      Reply
  8. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Cars can be such a waster of money if you don’t do them right. Right now we have three cars: Rick’s 16 year old pickup, which we bought new and have kept in great shape (95k miles on it) and he uses for plowing the drive and other country home work; my 11 year old Suburban, which we use to haul the kids around (it has 199k miles but Chevy trucks can go 300k easily) and Rick’s commuter car, which is three years old. We tend to baby our cars so that we can drive them for a long time. If I were you, I’d start looking for something bigger, especially if you may add a third kid in the future (never say never :-) ). Buy it gently used to avoid that off-the-lot depreciation, and care for it well so you can have it for a long time. Minivans are cost-efficient and fuel-efficient but allow for extra space for travel, etc., in case you guys do road trips or want to down the line. We had one for years and loved it!

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Wow 16 years…that has lasted a long time! Although 95k miles is pretty low for 16 years. And 11 years is also really great and you’re close to the 200k mark! I with you about looking for something bigger and as for the third kid…haha =)…my wife has mentioned that possibility. I don’t know…we’ll see! I think minivans are very practical. I don’t know why some people are so against them? Because it’s not as cool as an SUV? Although I don’t want to get a minivan if I use it as a commuter car too. If we go to two cars, I’d get a minivan for the family and a small very fuel efficient commuter car for my long commute!

      Reply
  9. Alexander @ Cash Flow Diaries

    I guess it depends on how much you could sell the car for? It sounds like you will need a bigger car anyways for your family and if you can get more money for you car by selling it now as opposed to a year or two later it might be worth it just to get rid of that thing.
    Alexander @ Cash Flow Diaries recently posted…May 2016 Net Worth UpdateMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I think the resale value is pretty low as it is, but I agree with what you’re saying. I think we will need a bigger car soon, so we’ll probably keep this car until we figure out what would should do. My issue with the bigger car is gas mileage and since I’ll mostly be driving to work alone, it doesn’t make sense. But we’ll need the space on weekends and once in awhile on weekdays too.

      Reply
  10. Eric Bowlin

    I think there are a few considerations. Car provides utility, so the cost of repairs or of a new car should be considered against the utility it gives, not the price of the car. A $1000 repair…doesn’t matter if it’s a $500 car or a %50k car, if it can provide the same service to you.

    But it’s hard to determine what a car should do for you….Not only does it get you between two points, but it does so reliably. A car that leaves you stranded on the side of the road the morning of a big interview, business meeting, or vacation, may be worth replacing.

    I would balance the need for safety (I prefer a safer car when I had children vs when it was just me as an adult), convenience/reliability (professionalism of being on time and not breaking down), and the actual act of moving me between places.

    I think competing requirements can lead to different outcomes for different people.
    Eric Bowlin recently posted…The Rich Mentality vs the Middle Class Way of ThinkingMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Great points. You are absolutely right about reliability. That was the reason I had to get rid of my previous car!

      Reply
  11. DC @ Young Adult Money

    The family consideration is something I can’t relate to, as I don’t have kids right now. I do think there are fuel-efficient (and frugal) options out there for families. A few of my friends have bought mini vans to haul around their growing family, and they seem like the most frugal option (though without kids it’s hard to imagine ever buying one!).

    I do think it’s good to drive your car “into the ground” and I did it with my last car and my wife did as well. I just think there’s too much potential value when your car hits high mileage to get rid of it too quickly. My last car went to 220k miles and I’m glad I continued to drive it even after 170k, 180k, etc.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…5 Books That Help You Pay Off DebtMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I know some people who are dead set against minivans since I guess it’s not “cool” but I couldn’t care less. They are generally more affordable than SUVs of similar size and very practical. They’re probably not fuel efficient though. Wow, your last car got up to 220k miles…that’s pretty good. Were there a lot of repairs towards the end?

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      If you drive your car for another 5 to 7 years, your car will be almost 20 years old. I think most people consider that driving it into the ground but with good maintenance those Hondas are great cars.

      Reply
  12. Visionary Money

    My car has 213,000 miles on it and I’m hoping to get to 250,000. I remember slamming on the brakes to get a picture at 200,000 miles. Car just gets me from A to B. I usually try to spend a little more upfront buying a car because I watched my parents spend very little to buy cars and spend thousands repairing them. I have spent very little on repairs at all. I like a good used car and spend a little more to save in repairs. Just got 38 miles to the gallon on our last road trip.
    Visionary Money recently posted…The Wealth of SimplicityMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Nice, you’ll need to get a pic of 250,000 miles too. I had the same experience with my dad’s car, they would become unreliable at around 100,000 miles at which point the repair costs weren’t worth it. And also 38 mpg is excellent.

      Reply
  13. Holly Johnson

    My car is a real “piece,” – as in, it’s not very nice. I have been trying to give it to my brother for years, but he keeps saying he’s not ready to take it yet. If it dies, I’m not replacing it.

    I do think it’s smart to shop around for a newer car when your current ride starts costing a lot in repairs.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, when I think of it, the repairs aren’t all that much. Sure it’s more than a new car but not having to shell out for a newer car right now might be better since my current car still is pretty reliable and the repairs reasonable.

      Reply
  14. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    At this point, it sounds like a good idea to get a new car. Or at least a new-to-you car. We saved thousands with a one-year-old Honda Civic that had less than 30,000 miles on it. Granted, it also has some cosmetic issues (paint chipping in several places) but it really doesn’t matter to us.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, I like relatively new used cars. Cosmetic issues don’t bother me as I park on the street and getting a little dinged up is unavoidable.

      Reply
  15. Morgan

    Really love your perspective on this! Letting go of an old, beloved car can be hard sometimes, but it’s really important to recognize these signs and take them for what they’re worth. Very nicely said. Thanks so much for giving your input!

    Reply
  16. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    The biggest question I should ask is how much am I paying in repairs? If it costs me really more, I think I gotta replace or get a new car as early as possible. Or, I should consider my budget. But, I don’t let a broken down car make the decision for me. I should definitely try to make the call to get a newer vehicle before my old one gives out completely.
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted…Outsourcing Time Consuming Low Value WorkMy Profile

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  17. Hannah

    Unless a car is totaled (ie- costs more to repair than the car is worth), then it’s always fiscally prudent to continue driving it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice. I expect that after Rob graduates that we will upgrade to a mini-van because we want it.

    My parents always drove their cars into the ground before buying again, but they recently sold some perfectly good cars and bought a pickup and prius because they can afford them.

    At the end of the day, if you’re driving, you’re probably spending more than is strictly necessary on transit, but that’s truly not an issue unless you’re goal is to never spend more money than is strictly necessary.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, with two kids, it would be nice to have a little more space. I keep hearing that if a repair is more than the car is worth than it might be best to replace it, but what if after the repair, you can continue driving it for a good amount of time. In that case, it might be worth keeping. It would be different if repairs consistently come up.

      Reply
  18. Cortney G

    Wow..
    What a lovely post. I am in the process of selling my Honda City. It has served me so well for 10 years. But now I feel it is time to sell it off, as the maintenance costs have become too high to manage. I personally feel that the best time to sell of your car is when the costs of repair become out of reach. But one should also consider the resale value one would get for the car. These days the resale value has gone done for majority of the car models.
    Thanks for sharing.. :)
    Regards;
    Cortney G

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  19. Pingback: It’s Okay To Drive A Minivan! | Living Rich Cheaply

  20. Ricardo

    Much like the others have pointed out earlier, I also don’t like to invest in new cars since their depreciation rate year after year is so absurdly high. On average, a new car will lose as much as 19% of its initial value in its first year of ownership!
    For me, a car is a utility that takes me from A to B, and for that reason, I rather prefer to invest in a reliable and economical second-hand car than burning my money in a brand new car.
    On the other hand, I think you tend to get more emotionally attached to a brand new car than to a used one, which will certainly ease your decision when the time to let it go arrives (when the repair costs surpass its market valuation).
    That being said, really enjoyed reading your post, keep it up!

    Reply

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