Every year we get a little older. Every mile we drive our cars, they too, get a little bit older. Like our bodies, they gain wear and tear, dents and dings, and things begin to break down. Even with regular maintenance, the environment that we drive in takes its toll on our cars. So how do you know how long you should keep your car? How do you know when it’s time for you to part ways?
First, know that the length of time a car will last depends on a number of factors. Things like the kind of car you choose, what kind of environment you drive it in (hot, cold, humid, dry, etc.), how many miles you drive it versus how long it sits in your driveway, and what kind of driving you do with it (hard highway miles or tough stop and go traffic). All of these factors have an impact on the physical parts of the car. Cars that normally have a fantastic build quality could end up with expensive repairs down the road and those with iffy build could end up running for years with the right maintenance. It all depends on the situation.
It also depends on who the previous owner of your car was. Some 1940s and 1950s cars are still on the road and driving around while others are simply rusted out heaps. Those that are still totally functional were well taken care of with regular maintenance and by-the-book oil changes. It also depends greatly on how much money and time the previous owner had to do the needed work. We all know that getting your car worked on is never a convenient or cheap thing, and a lot of times time and money end up being a big deterrent. In the long run though, by avoiding needed maintenance, you can end up owing quite a bit of both to get your car back up to running.
The truth is that most people do not keep their cars forever. In fact, according to IHS Markit, the average car is about 11.5 years old (as of 2015). According to stats from RL Polk, new cars are held for a much shorter period of time—just 6 years. The issue that comes up against older cars is mainly that they have less safety features than their newer counterparts. A car made in 2003 may not have side airbags. A car made in the same year may have front airbags but it won’t have anti-lock brakes and it certainly won’t have anything that can accommodate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Older cars don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles that new cars do. Many people think of their cars in the same way that they think about their phones—a disposable item that gets out of date very quickly. That often leads people to discard their cars (or sell them as used) before they really need to be. That can mean that you can find a great deal on a gently used car, but it also means that the market can be flooded with used cars. That can pose difficulty if you are looking to sell, but it’s great if you are looking to buy.
The other part of the equation that you should consider comes down to money. If you do decide to get a new car, you’ll have to take on monthly payments that are likely higher than what you are paying now. A good rule of thumb to help you determine when it’s time for a car to go, is when maintenance expenses exceed a monthly car payment.
To do this, figure out what your car is worth. Use the calculators available at Edmunds.com or KBB.com to estimate what your car could be worth. Be honest about the state it is currently in and use that to help inform the price. Once you’ve figured out what your car is worth, you can become more informed about what you might get for it on the market, and take it into consideration when looking to sell.
According to Edmunds.com the average monthly payment for a new car is $483 per month. That’s assuming you take on a 5-year loan. That price goes up significantly if you are financing over just 2 or 3 years. Remember a large chunk of that will end up being interest payments, too. If your car repairs are costing you more than that, per month, it may be time to consider getting a new car.
Something else to take into consideration is the cost of registering and insuring a new car versus the car you currently have. Older cars are generally cheaper to insure than newer cars and if you can keep your current car in good running order you can save a bundle on car insurance cost.
Another financial factor to consider is how efficient your car is. If you are starting to notice that it’s guzzling gas, it may be time for a new set of wheels. You can compare the mileage you currently get with the mileage a new car gets over at the U.S. Department of Energy’s site, here. Once you have an idea of what a new car might get versus what your current car is getting, you can make a better decision about whether its time to get rid of your old car. Also know that gas prices don’t stay the same over time. They generally increase as time goes on—and that gas guzzler won’t be so appealing in a few years time when it costs $100 to fill up.
One other thing to look at when deciding whether or not to keep your car, is the average cost of repairs. A study this year by AAA found that if you drive your car roughly 15,000 miles per year you can expect to have to pay $0.57 cents for each mile driven in fixed and variable costs associated with owning and operating a car. That equates to roughly $715 per month. Those costs include both repairs and maintenance as well as gas costs. When gas prices go up, that cost will go up as could other pieces of maintenance and repair. The older your car gets, the more expensive some fixes will become. Things like transmission repair and major engine overhauls are very pricey. They can become really price prohibitive if the costs of repair are more than what your car is worth.
The final thing to remember is that your car may mean something to you. Maybe you brought your baby home from the hospital in it. Maybe you met your true love while out for a drive in it. Whatever it is, you form a relationship with your car that means something to you. Don’t dismiss that attachment. Once you get rid of that car you can’t necessarily get it back.
If you want to find out more about the used car market and learn all the ins and outs of buying and selling a used car, check back here at Instamotor’s blog on the regular.
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