Car Counselor: Stretching your automotive dollars

Should you get a new car or repair the one you're driving?

I've been thinking about a topic that comes up quite often in our business, but isn't discussed much in the media.

Everyone sees ads all of the time on TV, Newspapers, etc. for new vehicles. We are encouraged to buy the newest models, and now, with emerging technology, there will be more choices in electric and hybrid vehicles than ever. We read news of the economy and how new car sales is an indicator of how we are doing as a nation. Most of us are also aware of the maintenance needs of newer cars and trucks, and it is increasingly more important than ever to stick to the factory scheduled maintenance to keep your warranty in effect and the vehicle in compliance with emissions standards.

What is less discussed, though, is what to do if you have an older vehicle or are in the market to buy a used vehicle.

Many people today are keeping their vehicles longer. Generally speaking the 100,000 mile mark is the point at which people choose to replace or keep their vehicle. At this point, it should have had it's 90k mile service, but other things may be wearing out or failing. Things like interior parts – door handles, window switches, etc. may be needing attention, Exterior items like paint chips, cracks in lenses, or tire wear may also affect your decision. On the other hand, it may be still running well and getting good mileage.
If you are considering purchasing a used vehicle, or if you have an older vehicle you may be trying to decide whether or not to keep, The best thing you can do is have a thorough inspection done by your regular repair shop.

I have people ask me, “Should I be thinking about getting a different car?”, and my answer is usually “It depends”. If the car has so many problems that it just wouldn't make economic sense to repair it – yes. If the vehicle is in need of some maintenance or minor repairs – not necessarily.

There are many factor to consider – is the vehicle paid off? Do you still like it? How much money in repairs does it need? If it's paid off and you still like it, but it's going to need $2000 in repairs, ask yourself what kind of vehicle could you buy with $2000? You know your car, you know the history, and after a good, complete inspection, you will have a good idea of just what it needs. If you add the money it will take in repairs with the money you spend in gas, regular maintenance, insurance and registration fees, and divide it by the number of years of expected service (which will be the length of time you've had it plus the number of additional years to expect to have it), you will have the cost-per-year to operate your vehicle. Compare this to what a new vehicle will cost in terms of monthly payment, higher registration fees and insurance – you may just elect to keep and repair you current car. Likewise, what kind of used vehicle could you expect to buy with the money it will cost to operate? It just might make sense to look for a slightly newer, but still used replacement vehicle.

In either case – if you're deciding whether or not to buy a replacement vehicle, or if you have decided to buy a used vehicle, you will be money ahead to have it inspected by a trustworthy shop and have an idea of any maintenance or repairs that may be needed. You should expect to pay for about 1- 2 hours of time, depending the particular vehicle, but that is well worth the knowledge you will gain in deciding about a major purchase!

As always, I welcome feedback and questions from my readers, and now that winter is coming, take a few minutes to make sure your lights are in good working order, the wipers are streak-free and your tires and brakes are in good shape.

Drive Safe, and I'll see you on the road!

Todd Ainsworth is one of the owners of West Seattle Autoworks and can be reached at or 206.257.5344.

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