Is It Time to Break Up With Your Car? Here's How to Know When to Let Go

To avoid a monthly car payment on a new-to-you car, you might keep fixing your existing vehicle, hoping to keep it alive. Here’s how to know when it’s time to move on.

Car prices seem to be on a never-ending upward trajectory. Supply chain issues and a shortage of available vehicles—and the microchips needed to make them—aren't getting any better. You might have been thinking of buying a new car, but since the market isn't making the choice an easy one, maybe you've decided to hang onto your old one instead.

Cars have significant sentimental value to most drivers. An old car is like an old friend that you've lovingly taken care of for years, spending your hard-earned money to maintain. It's had its rough moments, but the car got you to where you needed to go for years and you've invested a lot into it.

So how do you know when it's time to let it go? Giving up your old-friend car is never easy, but keeping the following in mind will allow you to make an educated decision when it's time.

01 of 04

When Your Car Repair Costs More Than the Car is Worth

The most common piece of advice you'll find when it comes to getting rid of your old car is the idea that if the repair costs more than the car's value, it's time to say goodbye. Brian V. Savoy, senior manager of physical damage and estimatics at Metromile, agrees. "Before spending on repair, vehicle owners should also ask themselves if that repair will add or support the vehicle's current value," he told me.

But I'm of the belief that it isn't quite that simple. For many people, a functioning car is critical to getting to work, getting kids to school, and other everyday tasks, and without it, life would be much more difficult. What your car is worth isn't necessarily determined by what the resale value of the car is, especially if making a profit on the car isn't on your priority list.

Buying a new car, even an older "new" car, comes with a host of expenses. You might have to take out a loan, face higher insurance premiums, taxes, and after all that, there is no guarantee that a newer car won't come with its own set of problems. After all, you can expect that cars do, on occasion, break down, and even when they don't, they still need basic repairs like brakes, tires and maintenance.

If you don't want to spend all that money, continuing to repair the car you've lovingly taken care of for years might be a better choice for you, personally.

So, how do you make the decision that it really is time if you don't necessarily take the resale value of the car into consideration? You'd consider vehicle safety, availability of parts, desire for a new vehicle, and, ultimately, the amount you have to sink in to repair it plus personal risk tolerance.

02 of 04

When Safety Is an Issue

No matter the scenario financially, safety comes first on the list of reasons to give up your old vehicle. If the car isn't safe to drive anymore, it's time to get rid of it.

Safety failures may include things like rust. If rust is extensive, it can rust through essential components like your brake lines, fuel lines, gas tank, and of course, your frame. This level of rust makes your car unsafe to drive, making it time for you to consider moving on because it can be hard, if not impossible to keep on top of.

Having an old car can mean that sometimes certain cosmetic repairs are put off because they might not make financial sense if they aren't impacting the drivability of the car. However, when there are expensive safety repairs that you don't feel comfortable investing in your car, it's time to move on to the next one.

On the flip side, moving on to a newer car likely comes with significant safety upgrades unrelated to the condition the car is in. Newer cars are built to handle collisions better. Despite the popular belief that old cars are "better" because they're built like tanks, newer cars are intentionally built to crumple on impact—which is a good thing.

These crumple zones absorb the energy of the impact, preventing the people in the car from getting hurt. Safety technology such as automatic forward braking, blind-spot monitoring, and even things like electronic stability control and tire pressure sensors are all designed to make newer cars that much safer.

03 of 04

When Your Car Has Become Unreliable

A car that leaves you stranded all the time is a car you want to consider replacing. While it might have significant sentimental value, the reliability of your car determines if the car still serves its purpose. If you find yourself constantly in the mechanic shop for another repair, or on the side of the road waiting on yet another tow truck, or calling a friend to drive you to work because your car isn't starting, it's probably not worth continuing to put your money into it.

04 of 04

When Parts Availability Is a Struggle

Parts availability should have significant weight in your decision whether to upgrade your car. If you are driving a car that's been discontinued, or a brand that is no longer on the market, you may reach a point where the parts you need to repair are no longer available. "They [parts] may even be discontinued," says Savoy.

While you can delay the inevitable by scouring the internet for individuals selling the part you need on sites such as eBay or buying used parts, you have to be prepared for the inevitable. There will be a point where something you need can't be attained, and your car can't be driven safely, or at all.

Taking the next step on your own terms to retire your car will help ensure that you buy a good car at a good price instead of being forced to buy one at a moment's notice because you need to get around.

At the end of the day, how much money it will take to fix your car does figure into when it's time to move on. It's just not the only factor. Do the math and figure out how much it will cost you to keep repairing your car versus replacing it with a new(er) one. This allows you to make an educated decision about when to get rid of your car on your terms.

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