How to Determine Whether It’s Time to Buy Another Car

by Jessica Sommerfield · 8 comments

At a national average of $729 a month for new cars and $528 a month for used, car payments can take a big chunk out of the monthly budget. Even if you avoid car loans, the high cost of a vehicle can delay other savings goals. Either way, it’s rewarding when a vehicle costs nothing more than fuel and routine maintenance. In fact, it’s such a rewarding feeling that you might miss important signs it’s time to start car shopping again.

Being frugal is a great quality when it comes to vehicle purchases – while the average consumer purchases a new one every 3 to 5 years, today’s vehicles are designed to last 10 or more. Still, it’s possible to be too frugal and end up costing yourself more money in the long run. If you have any doubts about whether it’s time to buy a newer vehicle, consider these four signs.

1. Your Vehicle’s Safety is Questionable

Aesthetic qualities and luxury features are one thing, but safety is quite another. If there’s any question whether your vehicle can get you safely from Point A to Point B, it’s time to consider an upgrade. Here are a few examples of what might constitute a safety concern:

  • Your vehicle sometimes has mobility problems. If this happens on the road, it could cause an accident.
  • Your vehicle lacks important safety features. Newer vehicles are equipped with advanced safety features, but we’re talking about the basics – seatbelts, curtain air bags, traction control, etc.
  • Your vehicle has been in an accident or has extensive rust that could compromise is structural integrity. The appearance of rust might not bother you, but the damage it does to internal parts could.

If you have an older vehicle and you aren’t sure if it’s safe, check with a trusted mechanic or vehicle safety inspector. In some cases, you might be able to pay for after-market safety enhancements that cost much less than the price of a new vehicle.

new car2. Your Vehicle Needs a Major Repair in the Last Year

Ditto for cars that frequent the auto repair shop. Occasional out-of-pocket repairs are less costly than a car payment, but if repairs exceed that $729-per-month average car payment, you might want to consider a newer vehicle. It’s easy to lose track of expenses that spread out over time, so get out the receipts and do the math.

3. Your Vehicle is Costing You in Other Ways

Maybe you work further away from home now and that gas-guzzler is jacking up your fuel budget and eating into other categories. With the mass adoption of electric vehicles, getting a cheap model may help you save in the long run once you factor in the tax incentives and the cost of electricity versus gas.

Another reason to consider replacing your car is if it frequently fails to start in the morning. If you can’t get to work on time (or at all), it’s costing you lost hours of work at best and putting your job in danger at worst. Be sure to consider these and other hidden ways your vehicle is costing you that might be grounds for trading it in.

4. Your Vehicle No Longer Fits Your Lifestyle

We tend to choose the size and style of vehicle that best fits our lifestyle, but preferences and lifestyles can change. Maybe you’ve become a new parent, sent your last child to college, or spend more time in your vehicle than in the past. All these changes can affect which vehicle is best for your needs. Just because you haven’t run your vehicle into the ground doesn’t mean it’s wrong to trade the car in for something else that’s a better fit for you and your family.

David’s Note: This situation describes a dilemma I have perfectly right now. I want to get into mountain biking but I drive a two door car without a good solution to transport the bike. Rack options aren’t exactly suitable either. I thought about buying a super old pickup but that seems pretty insane if I really just need something to transport bikes. I don’t want to give up my plenty new daily driver though. Decisions decisions!

Figuring out when to change vehicles is tricky. On one hand, it’s wise to avoid financing a brand-new vehicle that could put you in an upside-down loan, but it’s also unwise to drive a vehicle that’s unsafe and draining your finances in other ways. Use these tips and make the decision that’s ultimately best for you.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Mike says:

    Lots of bikes are made so you can easily fold them or remove a tire or two. Mine fits very easily in my hatchback.

    $479?!? It’s insane what people are paying for cars these days, just because they think they need a new car every 3 years. Gone are the days when major repairs start at 30k miles and it’s in the junkyard before 100k. Friends of ours think we’re “rich” due to certain observations they’ve made and my rebuttal to that is “no, we’re just like you except we buy dependable used cars and keep them for 10 years.” It really frees up a lot of cash. I’ve been there. In a past life I had a $550/month payment. It was fun for a while but now I think what a waste it is.

    • David @ says:

      Good for you to see the light Mike.

      $550 doesn’t sound like much until you actually make that calculation and realize that it’s equivalent to saving a six figure sum (and that’s before you even think about the increase tax and maintenance costs)!

  • Myfinancekits says:

    It is actually good to have a car replacement policy. For example, one can decide to be changing his car every four years. And it may not cost too much as the existing car will still have value. You will only need to add some amount to the proceeds you got from the sale of your existing car.

    • David @ says:

      Budgeting for known future expenses are always good, especially when the outlays are large and infrequent ones.

      Thanks for reminding us of this tip!

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    I have been following your web site for a good many years and recommend it to others but I must confess this article was disappointing , it had little to offer . I am financially extremely well off [ started with little ] but I must say starting with college , I had a Chevrolet Impala convertible that I bought used back in 1961 . In 1969 I started to buy bankrupt restaurants , a total of 5 over the years and also bought multi family rental properties . Financially I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams . But to this day I have never bought a new car , would always buy a low mileage [ under 20,000 miles ] used car . I would drive them up to about 100,000 miles or a bit less and then trade it in for another low mileage car . Now that I am retired I put on much less mileage . Bought my present car a 2008 Lincoln Town Car in March 2009 . It had 13,900 miles on it . Like NEW . New it would cost $ 45,000.00 but it cost me $ 23,900.00 . Saved $ 20,000.00 which I invested during the market crash and doubled my money . Money makes money . My car now has 55,000 miles on it , even though not necessary I am thinking about buying a convertible to relive my youth . [ used of course ] My favorite car is a Rolls Royce and secondly a Jaguar or Mercedes . The problem is [ not the base cost ] # 1 the high cost of maintenance . Then # 2. the high cost of high octaine fuel , about 45 cents a gallon higher. I remember all too well back in the early / mid 2000 era , there were MANY Hummers on the streets . Considering that they cost over $ 50,000.00 , I assumed that many were bought by [ young ] people who put minimum down and really could not afford them . I was proven right when the price of gas almost doubled and these FOOLS could not afford to fill the tank . Suddenly the Hummers disappeared from the streets . I had to laugh that at these FOOLS . As the old saying goes , ” A fool and his money are soon parted ” Arminius Aurelius

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for chiming in again Arminius. Your story continues to impress, and have fun with that convertible (if you decide to get one!)

  • James Fernandez says:

    I believe you can have a tow hitch installed on your all which would allow you to use a number of bike carriers. I’ve even seen hitches installed so when they are not in sure, you can’t even see them. Thanks for your blog.

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