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?