Your Aging Car: Repair or Replace?

All frugal drivers have reached this unenviable point.

Old Faithful, the automobile you have babied and maintained past 100,000 miles, now requires expensive repairs.

Is it worth it to funnel more money into your aging ride, or is it time to start over with a new car? This is a difficult decision to make, as it can be hard to know if this expensive repair is just the tip of the iceberg of mechanical problems, or if it will get you cheerfully back on the road for several years to come.

To make this decision, there are several questions you should ask yourself:

Do you have an old car constantly in need of repair? Do you wonder if you should use that money to buy a newer, better car? Read this post to find out all the factors involved. There are a few important things to consider before you decide to repair or replace your old car.

How Safe and Reliable is the Car?

If you are putting good money into repairing an older car (older than the early to mid 90s), you might want to think about re-channeling money into a newer vehicle. Safety standards have come a long way in the last 20 years, and it really is important to keep up with them, particularly if this is your family car.

Even if the safety standards are up to par, reliability can also be an issue in older cars. If it’s in the shop more often than it’s in your driveway, it might be time to either find a new car or a new mechanic—even if each fix isn’t that expensive.

How Much will this Repair Cost?

Before you agree to any work done on your car, get an estimate in writing. That will help you decide several things—how you will pay for the repair, how much more time you will need to drive the car to make the repair worthwhile, and how much car that same repair money would be able to buy if you instead decide to start over with a new car.

How Much is the Car Worth?

This part of the equation is not nearly as simple as it sounds. For auto insurance companies, it’s straightforward subtraction: the car’s value minus the cost of repairs. If that number is 0 or negative, they total the car.

For the rest of us, however, the car’s value also encompasses the idea of what it is worth to you to be free of a car payment, to not have to take public transportation to work, and how much you love the car. (Don’t laugh! I have known many responsible adults, myself included, who were head-over-heels in love with their cars.)

The car’s value is a highly subjective measurement when it includes these metrics, so it is important to sit down and decide ahead of time how much you can afford to put into repairs.

How Long Can You Reasonably Assume the Car will Last?

Thanks to the internet, this is an easier question to answer, as you can do a great deal of research on when your make, model and year of car becomes onerous to own. If you’ve got a repair estimate in hand and can’t decide, do some research on the car and the repair.

Chances are, someone out there has encountered a similar problem with the same car and can give you an idea of how much more drive time this repair will buy you. A good rule of thumb is to only spend about $1000 per year of further service. That will certainly cost you less per month than a new car payment.

Unfortunately, with these sorts of money decisions, you will never know for certain that you’re making the right choice. The best you can do is to gather all the information you can to make a good decision, and to be proactive in saving for repairs or a new car as your trusty automobile ages.

What’s your breaking point? How do you decide to repair or replace your car?

Want My Free 31-Step Money Guide*?

Subscribe for free. Get my guide *31 Days to Improve Your Financial Life, welcome series, and regular Five Things digest. Join 30,000+ other followers.

Powered by ConvertKit

About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is an award-winning writer, author, money coach, and retirement expert. Her four books include The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now. Learn more about Emily at


  1. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says

    I just spent $1,500 earlier this year repairing my car. I think that will be the last major repairs I will do on this car. If something comes up I believe I’ll get a new car in the next 5-10 years.

  2. Emily Guy Birken says

    @JR, you’re absolutely right about 100k miles being doable these days. A friend was asking my husband (an automotive engineer) for advice about buying a commuter car, since she didn’t know how she could get a decent used car with low mileage for the amount of money she had to spend. My husband told her that he’d rather buy a car that was over 100,000 miles that had been well taken care of than buy a car with low mileage that had not been maintained.

    For me, I always think about the classic cars in Cuba and how they’re kept running year after year. It would be great if more of us knew how to fix things ourselves so we could keep cars going and going.

  3. I don’t think that 100,000 miles is really as big of a problem anymore. It all depends on what type of car you have and how you drive but most reliable brands/models will sail over 100k with no problems. Even after that point the repairs are not really that much compared to the cost of a newer vehicle. Recently for example we had the timing belt and water pump replaced on my wife’s car and the total cost was a measly $500.

  4. I repair it,i if I think I can get more than X months from the repair. X being the repair divided by $100. Just my little rule. It seems to work for me.

    • Philip Taylor says

      That’s a nice rule of thumb, Ginger. So, in the example in the comment just above yours, the $2,000 repair would need to get 20 months to be worth it. Therefore, at 18 months, that repair has almost reached break-even. Nice way to think about it.

  5. cashflowmantra says

    That can be a tough decision at times. I don’t have a really good plan for doing so other than if I think the problem is isolated, I will go ahead and repair it. I had my transmission rebuilt for $2,000 in my mini-van. That was 18 months and 50,000 miles ago, so it turned out to be a good decision.

  6. We just went through this process. We had an old vehicle that needed repairs. We just put $1500 repair into the vehicle because we hoped it would extend the life of the vehicle. Not long after repairs were done, we discovered the vehicle would need about $1200 more in repairs. We were balancing what the smartest, best financial decision was. In the end, we decided to go with the vehicle. The old vehicle wasn’t worth the price to keep repairing. We considered the fact that it wouldn’t last us very much longer, even with repairs. Also, interest rates are very good right now in our area and other parts of the country so it was a combination of things. Even though we didn’t plan on a new vehicle now, it ended up being the right choice.

    • Agh, that’s a tough one to swallow. I probably would have doubled down on the old car as I’m a glutton for punishment. Rates (especially at credit unions) are very tempting these days.

  7. earthling says

    also factor in sales tax, depreciation (and if financed, interest) plus any increase in registration and insurance for the replacement vehicle.

    you’re going to replace the vehicle in any event … either all at once as in replace or piecewise as in repair. the primary factors for me are whether the vehicle is servicable and whether its repair frequency interferes with my ability to earn income.

    • Great additional factors to consider. And nice point about loss of income. We only have so many days off to have repairs done.