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 determine that it’s time to move on.

Car prices seem to be on a never-ending upward trajectory. Perhaps you thought about buying a new car but, given the market, you decided to hang onto your old one instead.

To most of us, cars have sentimental value: like an old friend you've lovingly taken care of for years, spending your hard-earned money to maintain. Giving up your car is never easy, so how do you know when it's time to let go? Consider the following questions, and if any answer is "yes", it's probably time.

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Do repairs cost more than what the car is worth?

Conventional wisdom says if repairs cost more than a car's resale 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 it's not that simple. Buying a new car, and even an older new-to-you car, comes with a host of expenses—loan payments, higher insurance premiums, and taxes—with no guarantee that the newer car won't come with its own set of problems. A newer car will also need basic maintenance—like brakes, tires, and oil changes—so continuing to repair the car you've lovingly taken care of for years may be the better option.

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Is safety an issue?

No matter your financial scenario, safety tops the list of reasons to give up your old vehicle. With an old car, cosmetic repairs are often put off if they aren't impacting drivability, but if expensive safety repairs are looming and you don't feel comfortable investing in your car, it's time to move on.

Rust, for example, can affect essential components like brake lines, fuel lines, the gas tank, and of course, the frame. Extensive rust is hard (if not impossible) to keep on top of, making your car unsafe to drive, resulting in an easy decision to move on.

Another consideration is that a newer car likely comes with safety upgrades unavailable in older models. For example: Despite the popular belief that old cars are "better" because they're built like tanks, recent models are intentionally built to crumple on impact—which is a good thing. These crumple zones protect passengers by absorbing the energy of an impact. Additional safety technology implemented to make newer cars safer includes automatic forward braking, blind-spot monitoring, electronic stability control, and tire pressure sensors.

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Is your car unreliable?

Regardless of its sentimental value, a car that leaves you stranded is one to consider replacing. If you find yourself in the shop for another repair, on the side of the road waiting on another tow truck, or calling a friend to drive you to work because your car isn't starting, it's not worth putting more money into it.

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Is finding parts a struggle?

Parts availability should weigh heavily in the decision to upgrade your car. If you're driving a model that's no longer on the market, parts may soon be unavailable. "They may even be discontinued," says Savoy. You can delay the inevitable by scouring the internet for parts, but there'll come a point where what you need can't be attained.

In this case, retiring your car sooner rather than later buys you time to shop for a good car at a good price, instead of being forced to buy one immediately because you need to get around.

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