Long Winding Road · Sweet Home

Those New-Fangled Horseless Carriages!

My semi-sad little car

David and I anticipate that we may both need new (or at least new to us) cars any time now, but we’re fighting for our current cars’ lives for all we’re worth.  His car is 12 years old; mine is 11 years old.  His was well-used when he bought it; mine had been driven hard for about a year by its previous owner and has since been in one pretty bad accident and hit over 125K miles.  His is missing a hubcap; on mine, the paint is peeling and all the plastic parts lining the insides of the doors have warped from heat and are coming completely off.  My car has had a wheel bearing and the power steering pump replaced just this month, repairs that came near to $800 total (thanks to my parents for replacing the wheel bearing, though I tried to pay them back for it!).

So why haven’t we bought at least one new(ish) car?  For one thing, we’ve been without any car payments almost our entire married life.  I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome that is.  And we’ve started saving toward a new car, but we can’t buy one outright at this point without dipping into money designated as our emergency fund.  If one of our cars completely died tomorrow, we’d be willing to consider that an emergency and at least take enough for a decent down payment, but at this point, both cars still run and seem to get us where we need to go.  And I just cannot see acquiring a car payment when it can be avoided.

It does beg the question, though, of when the money you’re putting into your car outweighs the value of getting a more functional vehicle.  And I’m not sure what the answer to that is.  In 2010 so far, we’ve spent about $1300 in car maintenance, not including gas and insurance, but counting oil changes and other routine maintenance in addition to repairs.  My parents paid about another $200 for that wheel bearing, so that brings us up to $1500, most of it spent on my car.  Divide $1500 by 12 and you still have FAR less than the average car payment, so annually, at this point, fixing and maintaining our cars still costs less than a newer one would.  But is that the whole picture?  I’m not sure.

Neither of our cars has ever become completely dead and undriveable in the past 5 years; repairs have always been feasible and always under $1000 for one-time repair costs.  But neither of our cars is worth very much any more, either.  Kelly Blue Book trade-in value on David’s Nissan is about $1500; on my Toyota it’s about $2000.  And the internet doesn’t really have a predominant answer for when it’s good to just cash in the chips and get something that works better.  Neither car feels unsafe to me right now, but that could change at the drop of a hat.  Is it wiser to drive them both to death, putting off the expense of buying a new car for as long as possible and hoping we’ve saved enough to pay for a new one entirely by the time one of the old ones dies?  Or is it better to trade one of them in now, giving ourselves a car payment again, using the new and presumably more reliable one for any trips out of town, and hoping the older car holds on until we’ve paid the new one off?  I can’t decide.  What would you do?

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6 thoughts on “Those New-Fangled Horseless Carriages!

  1. From someone who has never been WITHOUT a car payment her whole adult life, I would say you are smarter than I am. I have traded cars more often than most people change underwear and it is expensive. If I were in your shoes I would drive the car until it is unsafe or undriveable. Meanwhile, put aside money each month to save toward a car. That way when you do have a car payment it is for 2 years instead of 6. Good luck! I admire your tenacity with cars!!

  2. I would say that as long as you inherently trust the car, and feel safe in it, keep it going and save to replace. I couldn’t trust a 5 or 6 year-old Pontiac (over 100k miles) after water got in it thanks to a faulty door seal and fried the air bag system, gas gauge, and several other electrical items (it’s been too long to remember). On the other hand, we all know my other car is 25 years old and has had a new engine (8 years ago, in cash but I think I cried) and body and interior restoration (this year, in cash, I’d been saving for 7 years) among a bunch of “regular” repairs and I plan on keeping it forever.

    That, and it’s a PITA to shop for cars, IMHO. Okay, so I don’t really know, because I’ve only done it twice and the last time, it was mostly the almost-husband doing the research and legwork for the truck. I was just there to do the numbers and scare the poor salesman when I test drove the (vroom vroom) lovely V-8 like I was in the Indy 500. I hate the “let me go talk to my manager” bit though. Ugh.

    I am so looking forward to saving money again. This has been an expensive year, what with the house, truck, and um, wedding…thankfully our savings accounts are mostly intact thanks to planning (and a nice raise for me in May). We did finance a good chunk of the truck but I plan on doubling up those payments come January.

  3. I’ve owned three cars: A Nissan Sentra that I drove for 14 years and 238,000 miles. I put a new transmission in it at 160,000, feeling that if I got another year out of it, I would be ahead of a year’s worth of car payments. I got four more. I went ten years without car payments; loved that!

    My second car was a VW Passat, which I LOVED, but which was very expensive to maintain. Over the course of a year, I averaged nearly $500 a month in maintenance (not a lemon–just basic maintenance. Timing belt, for example, was about $1500). I drove it 200,000 miles, and got to the point where it needed another $2400 in repairs. I said: “That’s enough.” If I’m going to be making the equivalent of car payments, I’m going to do it on a vehicle less expensive to maintain and which gets better gas mileage. (The Passat got about 30 mph, but I drive 80 miles round-trip to work, so every little bit helps.)

    I traded in the Passat and bought my current car, a Toyota Corolla, which averages about 34-35 mph and about $50 a month in maintenance.

    Clearly, I am in the “drive it until it drops” class. I concur: so long as it is safe, you are way better off paying for repairs than you are for a new car. If you get to a point where you need some massive repair (new engine, for example–I was never going to put a new engine into a 14-year-old Nissan that had driven as far as the moon), then you figure that’s a year or more of car payments, and you make the jump.

    I am very satisfied with the Corolla, and will probably buy another Toyota in about 10 years when I’ve driven this one 300,000 miles or so, but I do still miss the Passat…..

  4. I agree with all the comments above. As long as you’re nearby a trusted mechanic and something isn’t breaking constantly on your cars and you feel like both are safe to ride in, I’d say hold on to them while you’re saving for a new one.
    No car payments = awesome!
    Plus, if you have a car loan, you are required to have full coverage insurance on your vehicle which is more expensive than just liability.

  5. My mom pointed out by email that I come from a long line of “drive it till it drops” folks 🙂 And Carrie, as you might be able to tell from the pic, my Toyota is also a Corolla – and I do love it, and normally that car would last much more than 125K miles, but the person who owned it first was really hard on it, and I was in an awful hit-and-run accident in it about 10 years ago that left damage that persists to this day (the front passenger side wheel bearing has been replaced THREE times in the last 10 years, and that’s a part most people never need to have replaced at all, much less 3 times on the same wheel).

    I suppose I’m just worried that both cars will conk out within a few months of each other and then we’d have TWO car payments, which terrifies me. If it were just a question of one car dying, I wouldn’t be so concerned. So I’ve been weighing whether or not we should get one “good” car and hope to have that one paid off by the time we need to get a second one. If we could limit how much the older car was driven to be basically just around town (and use the “good” car for longer trips as well as around town), the old car would probably live longer. If we drive both for 2 more years and keep saving, we’ll hopefully have enough to buy one car outright and then just have one car payment, but it might be a gamble to say they’ll both last 2 more years. I hope they do, but I really can’t be sure. I don’t know what to do. We just have to make a decision to risk it or not, I guess!

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