Welcome back to “Ask Car Buying!” Where you send us your questions on how to navigate this tricky market and we do our best to help. This week we are discussing the age-old conundrum of whether or not to fix or replace a ride that is becoming expensive to maintain.
“ Long time reader, first time writer. I’m going to ask a question that I know has been asked a million times before, when is the right time to repair a vehicle or replace and buy new? I know general consensus is “it depends” or “no more than half the cars value”, but both those options seem suspect to me given today’s economy. Car prices, new and used, are insane. The cost of everything else, gas plus some parts shortages around, make me question repair as well. My salary has also not had the benefit of increasing to meet costs. I know we’re in a car bubble right now and it’ll burst eventually, but who knows when? For the record, I currently drive a 2015 Dodge Charger with almost 100k miles. As of right now, no issues beyond cosmetic wear and tear. I’m not really considering getting rid of it now, but like to be prepared. What I’m concerned about is that KBB estimates almost 17k for my trade in value. If it does need some significant repairs coming up, is $8500 a fair number to go off of considering it was only worth 13k a few years ago? At this point I have no idea, but either option sounds expensive. Any guidance would be appreciated.”
This is a tough question and there really is no clear-cut answer. In the past, I would have said when your regular repair bills start looking like car payments it might be time to cut your losses and move on. However, the two key problems buyers are running into now when it comes to replacements are affordability and availability. A lot of folks who want to upgrade to something newer are finding the prices of quality replacements just too high for their budget. And even if they can afford a new ride they are faced with the options of either paying a big markup for a car that’s available now or waiting several months for some kind of factory order.
Given the difficulties with purchasing a replacement, I don’t think that looking at any kind of ratio of repairs versus vehicle value is really all that helpful. The key thing is to examine what kind of repairs the car will need, how much that will cost, and how much more life that investment will get you.
For example, if you have a car that’s worth $10,000 and needs $5,000 in repairs, historically that’s probably not worth it. But if you look at what else you can get for $10,000 and those options seem risky, spending half to get a few more years out of your current ride would be the wiser move. On the flip side, some cars are just so far gone that any further investment into that vehicle would be better applied towards something else. This is why it’s critical if you aren’t mechanically inclined to have a trustworthy mechanic that can give you an honest assessment of what you should do. Along that same line of thought is having the mechanic lay out what repairs are critical versus what repairs are recommended. Sometimes you can spend a little bit in order to get the car operational to buy you some time.
The other factor with the repairs if you chose to fix the car, is the availability of the parts. I’ve had a few customers who planned on doing an affordable and “easy” fix to their current car but a critical part was back-ordered for months. Since they needed a vehicle to get to work they didn’t have the luxury to wait and jumped into the car market.
The big takeaway here is now is not the time to skimp on your maintenance because of you have a functional car it’s usually best to keep that for as long as you can. On the other hand, if you think you might be in the market for a replacement in the future, now is the time to start formulating a game plan as it may be several months before that new car will arrive, and you don’t want to be in a position where you have to scramble and either overpay or get something that isn’t ideal.
Tom McParland is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. Got a car buying question? Send it to Tom@AutomatchConsulting.com