Dilemma of the Day: Buy New or Fix Old?

Car ownership is like any other relationship. There comes a tipping point in every owner’s life when it becomes my way or the highway. How do you make that decision?

Dilemma of the Day: Buy New or Fix Old?

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you decide to commit or cut bait and get the hell out. Maybe you’ve poured everything you can afford into it. Maybe you’ve just gotten over spending every ounce of energy trying to make it work. Then again, perhaps it’s just a phase—maybe if you fix just one more thing, all will be right with the world again. Car ownership is like any other relationship. There comes a tipping point in every owner’s life when it becomes my way or the highway. How do you make that decision? We here at Instamotor have complied a list of magazine-style questions to get at the heart of the matter.

Is it costing you more than it’s worth?

Yes, older cars with more miles often cost more to take care of. Their repairs can be more extensive and parts can get costly. There is, however, a point at which it becomes too much to bear.

If the costs of repairs exceed two to three times the monthly payment on your car, it may be time for a new car. That’s not to say a one-time cost to repair a transmission or an engine isn’t worth it—as long as that repair is the only cost you are going to incur over the next 6 months. If those repair needs are piling up every 2 to 4 months, it’s probably time to consider a new car. If the cost of the repair is less than half the car’s current market value it may make sense to hang onto it and do the fix. You can check the current market value at a place like Edmunds.com or Kelley Blue Book.

Just like in a relationship, the emotional toll a clunker takes on you is a factor you should also consider when dealing with a constantly-busted car. If it’s keeping you up at night, then it might be time to buy a new-to-you car.

At the same time, if the car has sentimental value –say it was your first car, or given to you by a loved one, or your dream car-- it may make sense to continue to put money into it. There is no discounting an emotional attachment, no matter how impractical it may seem.

If it gets fixed, how long will it stay fixed?

Just like in relationships, time changes everything. Your patience for what originally seemed like minor issues can wear thin and those tiny issues can become giant, deal breaker problems. People change with time and the same applies to cars.

Some fixes should last a long time—things like transmissions and engines, while expensive, should increase the length of your car’s life significantly. And if an engine repair costs you $3,000 but it could extend the life of your current car for five years, it could still be more affordable to pay that and fix your current car, than it would be to go out and buy a new car. You have to do the math and weigh the pros and cons of pouring more money into your current car or buying a new one.

Have your circumstances changed?

Have you changed jobs? Started a family? Downsized to a smaller city dwelling? Moved to the suburbs? Started making massive Home Depot runs? All of these factors will impact your patience with your old car. If it simply doesn’t fit what you need anymore, it may be time for it to hit the highway.

Maybe you hate how it rattles when you start it up in the morning. Maybe it was great when you first got it, and now, it just doesn’t fit who you’ve become. These things happen. In cases like this it may make sense to search for a new-to-you car that fits your needs.

Deciding whether to stick with an old car and fix it up or buy a new-to-you car can be a tricky choice to make, but if you use these questions as guidelines you may be able to find happiness in the arms of another automobile or rekindle the love you have with your current car. Check back at Instamotor for all your new-to-you car needs.

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Abigail BassettAbigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.