How Do You Know It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Car?

by Travis Pizel · 18 comments

The power steering hummed with each corner I took while my wife and I were out shopping before the holidays. It had become a common occurrence, especially when the Minnesota winter temps dropped into the single digits. Most likely, the power steering pump needs to be replaced — a repair that would cost us several hundred dollars.

β€œI can’t wait to get a new van,” said my wife.

It’s a phrase I hear from my wife each time our van shows its age by making a questionable noise or needing a repair. Our van is almost ten years old, and has over 120,000 miles on it, so it’s understandable that things have begun to wear out.

And I can certainly understand where my wife is coming from. Each age-related repair or maintenance item is money out of our pocket. If we had a new van, repairs would be extremely rare, and they’d also be covered by the warranty.

Despite this, I still want to drive our old van as long as possible — because it’s cheaper to continue making repairs than to buy a new one.

To prove my point, I stated the following pieces of information:

  • We purchased our current van brand new, financing it with a five year loan. The monthly payments were $465 a month, or $5,580 per year. If we were to get a different vehicle, we would again have to finance it, most likely with a similar monthly payment.
  • In comparison, the only repair we had in 2013 was new brakes. They cost $500, which averages out to $42 a month.

What my wife really wants is peace of mind that we won’t have reoccurring repair bills draining our bank account on an aging van. We know we’ll likely have to fix the power steering in 2014, and I readily admit there’s no guarantee we won’t incur additional major repairs.

Here’s the plan we created to handle our van situation:

  • Keep our van for sure until the end of February. At that point, we will have completed our debt management plan and be in a much better place financially.
  • Repair the power steering; hopefully this can hold off until March.
  • Begin saving for a different vehicle.
  • If we have an additional two major repairs on the van, we start looking for a new vehicle. Otherwise, we keep saving and reassess our situation at this time next year.

Together, we came up with a compromise that allows us to save some cash before purchasing a different vehicle — but also recognizes that repair bills are beginning to occur more frequently than we’d like.

How do you decide when enough is enough and get rid of a vehicle?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • April S says:

    I agree; 120K is still young for a Toyota, but you’ll start accumulating repair bills soon, but if you do a good pre-emptive repair (belts, hoses, brakes) you can easily take it another 50K miles without another major repair.

    I would love tips on buying a good used car.

    • Phil says:

      Here is a great tip: Always have it inspected by a mechanic of your choice. It will really make you feel good about your purchase, and the $120 it will cost you even if you DON’T buy the car is the best insurance ever.

      I almost bought a wrecked car once! Best $120 I ever spent.

  • Ruth Cooke says:

    I too find 120000 miles (I think that’s about 200000 km?) to be a bit soon to replace a vehicle. If you buy it new (which, IMO, is a huge waste of money to begin with) and make sure you do the routine maintenance, a modern vehicle should last at least twice that long. Yes, you’ll need to do some repairs and replacements, but as long as the engine and body hold out, doing the repairs is a lot cheaper than buying another and financing it.

    I’m just about to run out of car payments myself. Like Phil, I went for a Toyota. A 2007 Yaris, bought in 2009, with only 24000 km on it. At the rate I’m driving it, I expect that I’ll have that car for another five to ten years.

    So far, it’s needed a new battery and new tires, though I think it’ll be time for new brakes soon enough.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      I agree that it can last much longer…..but we don’t know for sure whether the repairs will become more expensive or not. So far so good…but I don’t want to get into a routine of constantly making repairs on it. That’s why my wife and I cane to the agreement that we’ll continue driving it until it starts showing signs of needing more frequent repairs. Keep your fingers crossed for us!!

      • Phil says:

        Travis, you drive it and give your wife the “new” car (which I hope is not really going to be brand new). AAA is your friend. $110 per year should you break down.

        I don’t know…here is the question I always asked myself. Would I pay myself $3000 or $4000 to break down once every one or two years, have a tow truck take my car to the shop, and get it repaired? I think I would. I know that sounds crazy, but $4000 per year is a lot of money! What else could I do with that?

        Browning A5 ($1000). Ski Vacation ($1000). New fish boat ($2000). It is going to be a fun year.

        • Travis @debtchronicles says:

          That’s a great way to look at things, Phil…..and the inconvenience of having a car towed can be offset by having towing insurance (which is pretty darn cheap)!

  • Phil says:

    We were in the same dilemma as you a couple of years back. Our aging 1999 Subaru Forester was having some serious problems, and it was my wife’s car. (For the record, I had an older car with even more miles). She finally had it, and it was time to get a new one (2007 Mazda 5). I wanted to save up for the new car, and we were very close to getting there, but I gave in…errr….compromised. I took out a loan, and we paid off the loan in 6 weeks. This wiped out our savings, but we also no longer had any debt. With her new(er) car no longer needing repair bills and leaving her stranded at times, we were able to save up money very quickly.

    As for me, I recently sold my 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser with 290,000 miles (originally bought with only 190,000 miles) and bought a 2000 Land Cruiser, which I currently have at 230,000 miles. Will drive it until it dies, or I can find a Toyota truck with over 200,000 miles at a great price.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      That’s amazing that you can keep your vehicles going for so long, Phil! I hear you on the giving in…..errrr……compromising. That’s a great point, sometimes the benefit of making your spouse happy is worth a lot. I always say, “Happy wife, happy life!” πŸ™‚ I always enjoy hearing your perspective, Phil!

      • Phil says:

        Thanks Travis. I wish I could say I do something special or I am mechanically inclined, but I am not. I just did my homework, and Toyota’s, and the Land Cruiser in particular, are just unbelievably reliable vehicles. I have owned several Toyota vehicles over the years, and I believe in them. My personal favorite…a 1986 Toyota van (yes…it was just called a van…not Sienna or Previa). It was so ugly my wife made me sell it. Bought with 275,000 miles, sold with 327,000. Loved that thing. The engine was literally below and behind your seat. In front of you was just windshield…probably would not pass many safety tests today πŸ™‚ (for pic)

        • Travis @debtchronicles says:

          The thing that stands out in your comment, Phil, is that research reliable vehicles. I wonder how many people do that…I know I never have. I just look at cars that please me aesthetically, and that have the features I want. I’m cringing as I type that….I have to do things differently next time we buy a vehicle!

          • Phil says:

            Yes, I actually do research vehicles. But it is not all that hard. Consumer Reports can actually do the job for you. Their online database goes back years, and they often write articles entitled, “The best 10 cars for reliability”, or something to that regard. And I love reliability. It is just money in my pocket every month.

            Another good place… But go to the part of the website where people comment on their cars. They break everything down by year, make and model. You can go read about your car right now…what works well and what doesn’t.

  • Bill says:

    It sounds like a Freedom Account or two is in order. You should establish one account for repairs and another for a new van. If you fund them now, you won’t need to finance as much later. A noisy power steering pump could just be a sign that it is low on fluid. Have you checked checked your fluids lately? 120,000 miles on modern vehicles is nothing. I expect to get 200,000 miles before retirement.

    • Travis @debtchronicles says:

      Checking the fluid is a good idea, Bill. I believe I checked it recently, but will do it again just to be absolutely sure. πŸ™‚ I have no doubt that the van will last quite awhile yet – but there will be repairs to keep it going. It’s a matter of comparing which is more expensive – the repairs on this van, or the cost of getting a new one. I like your idea of the “freedom accounts” – and we’ll be doing something along those lines as of the end of February when we finish our Debt Management Plan – which is currently sucking a huge amount of our funds each month. Once that’s done, we can easily fund those accounts since our credit card debt will be gone, and we’ll have a significant amount of extra money in our budget. Thanks for the suggestion, and your thoughts!

    • Phil says:


      What is your definition of a Freedom Account? I have never heard this term before, and it intrigues me.



      • Bill says:

        Freedom Account comes from the book “Debt Free Living” by Mary Hunt. You can find more about it here:

        • Travis @debtchronicles says:

          Sounds essentially like an account for an expense you know is coming….but you’re just not sure exactly when. My mom does this, except she puts all the money into one account keeping track of each “subaccount” balance manually. Thanks for the link, Bill…great stuff!

          • SassyMamaw says:

            I read on another blog (the Family CEO) about Capital One 360 Savings. Apparently you can split out our accounts online and name them whatever you’d like. Van Repairs, New Van Fund, College Fund, etc. I haven’t tried it myself, but it sounds similar to the Freedom Account.

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