Should I Repair an Old Car or Buy a New One?

This past week I started hearing some weird noises from my 12 year old van. Anytime I started my air conditioning unit it started making a sputtering noise. So, I took it into the repair shop that I regularly have all my maintenance done at. After getting it inspected they told me that the air conditioning compressor, and expansion valves were going out. Grand total, the repair shop quoted me $2057 to replace all the parts, so that it would be covered by warranty. Doh! Talk about a gut punch!

Facts

As I’ve written about before in 2015, my van has been slowly becoming a money vacuum. My van is a 2005 Honda Odyssey with 160,000 miles and has been extremely reliable for our family over the last 7 years. Here is list of major repairs that I have kept up on:

  • Transmission Flush at: 60,000, 100,000, and 140,000 miles
  • Oil Changes: every 4,000 – 6,000 miles
  • Timing belt changed at: 135,000 miles
  • Tires replaced at: 109,000 miles and will need to be replaced at 175,000 miles
  • Kelly Blue Book Value: $2,100

Overall, it is a really good van, but since I hit about 135,000 miles (in Nov 2015) I’ve had to put in about $3,000 into maintenance and repairs. My dilemma next week will be whether to repair and put $2,000 into a van that is worth $2,100. My alternative is to use all of our cash reserves to purchase another van or SUV. The problem is that we don’t have our van replacement fund at the level where it’d let us purchase a car in our realistic price range. Here is where we are at:

  • Van Saving Account: $7,000
  • Emergency Fund: $9,000
  • Van’s Value: $2,100

What we are looking for in our new car:

  • Price: $15,000 – $20,000 range
  • Age: 2011 or newer
  • Make: Toyota or Honda
  • Miles: 60,000 or less
  • Debt: Wanting to pay for the next car in cash

Repairs or car replacement decisions are difficult. It is hard, because we are on the home stretch of paying off our house. We are just 16 months away from having it paid off, and trying to avoid taking on any new debt while paying off the house. It is at this point that it is requiring a lot of laser focus. Focus on what is our priorities. Can I just say again that it is hard? Ugh!

As I sit here and write this article, I’m leaning towards sinking more money into repair it. On Monday (when this article publishes) I’m taking the van in for a second opinion. Hopefully this other repair shop will have better news for me. Regardless, I hate sinking 100% of the value into repairing it. Logically, it doesn’t make sense, but we want to have our full van fund up to the $20,000 range, so we can get a nicer and newer vehicle. The one we want and not one we are forced into because of the price.

What would you do?

Anyhow, I’d be interested in hearing from our readers. What would you do if you were in our situation? Do you have any mechanical experience that can shed some light on how to approach this situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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13 comments

  1. Bjorn says:

    Wow, Charlie, I am in a very similar dilemma and would be interested in hearing other’s opinions…my thoughts I think maybe make the repairs and keep it if possible….For a Honda Odyssey 160k doesn’t seem like a lot. We still have our 1999 Toyota Sienna with 230k miles on it and it keeps going. But we do know it is wise to start looking sooner than later! Our very trust worthy mechanic told me to keep our van running as long as it isn’t giving too much trouble. Ours has really been minor things all these years. He said he gets new(er) vehicles in for more repairs, especially an off year for a car model, or a less reliable car maker than our Toyota.

    But I do think with that type of bill a 2nd opinion is very wise of you….we had an estimate for over $1,000 on something and we took it to the current mechanic and he did the repairs for $300-$400 dollars, so well worth it to check others.
    Best wishes!

    • Charlie says:

      Well I have awesome news!! We took the van in today for a second opinion and the only thing wrong was the AC control relay. Total with parts and labor it only costed me $147!! Woohoo!! What a relief!

      I’m so glad that we took the car in. I appreciate all the comments and encouragement. I really value your opinions and I appreciate how much people value putting in parts and labor into a depreciating asset.

      Bjorn – I have to agree with you. I think 160,000 seems on the low side side of miles, and I’m only hoping to get 200,000 miles out of it. I just need to take care of it for 40,000 more miles! :)

  2. Dee says:

    I’d sink the money into the van and keep it until the house is paid off. Then I’d get a NEW van, instead of a used one… with someone else’s hidden headaches.

    • Charlie says:

      You make a good point, Dee! This way I can ensure that I keep up on the maintenance. The big problem I have with New vehicles is how fast they depreciate. I’d much rather get a 2-3 year old vehicle with low miles.

  3. Honestly, I’d go with buying a different vehicle. The little Band-aid repairs will cost you more in the long run and you’re left without a reliable family vehicle. You can still get a used van for a very decent cost.

    • Charlie says:

      Glad I didn’t listen to your advice Picky! :) When the expenses are extremely high it is always smart to go with a second opinion before completely disposing of your vehicle! I think that is the big lesson here!

  4. Sherry says:

    We will be facing this dilemma soon, too. Our 2016 Odyssey Touring van has 203,000 miles on it, and I still trust it. A year ago we paid $1800 to switch all four run-flat tires and rims with normal tires that have lasted about 90k miles. (The run-flats were $300 each and didn’t last long enough for my taste).
    I only have $500 saved for a replacement van…don’t want another car payment any time soon. We bought this used van from Hertz; they regularly sell all kinds of fleet vehicles. They must do manufacturer’s recommended maintenance for all their vehicles. Their used vehicles are cosmetically dinged, but well maintained and priced below blue book value. When we need to replace old faithful, we’re going to buy another Hertz used van.
    Good luck!

    • Charlie says:

      Sherry – I know how you feel! You hate feeling behind the eight ball and having so little money saved. My big lesson here is that I need to accelerate my car savings, so that I can have atleast $20,000 saved for a new (used) vehicle! My plan is to save my raise into our car savings account. Hopefully that will help get us there.

  5. Kristen says:

    I absolutely would go with the repairs. If you had a lesser vehicle, then maybe a trade in might be better, but your van really has acceptable mileage on it and should run for at least a hundred thousand more. Our 2002 Toyota Sequoia has 230,000. We’ve had to put a bit of money into it, but it is far, far less than car payments.

    Have you considered doing the repairs yourself? Or barter with a neighbor who isn’t afraid to try. Buy pizza and a six-pack and invite folks over. My husband is an ER nurse, but he and his friends (painter, salesman) have done just about every repair on our Sequoia we’ve needed, including serpentine belt, water pump, fan, O2 sensors, brakes (OK, neighbor kid did those), back lift gate handle, door handle, tilt sensor thing (I forget what it’s called). I think we’ve even done the timing belt. Get a book for your model and check it out.

  6. I easily get attached to things (yep, I know it’ weird, but if we own it, it’s part of the family!) but we always put safety first!

    With our old car, we repaired the heck out of it! We bought it used and kept it for several years before deciding to ‘get rid of it’. The reason – repairs began costing more and more and with each one, the car became less and less safe.

    So, as much as I love saving money and as much as I became attached to our old vehicle, when safety comes into play, it’s definitely time for a change.

  7. Hey Charlie. The car you are riding now is very old. But glad to know that your vehicle has been serving you for twelve odd years. You must have maintained it properly. At this age or earlier, generally vehicles encounter such problems what you have mentioned. Definitely, you can fix them at less cost than buying a new one. However, repetition of same issues and regular repair demands would ruin your expectation from the car. It is good for you to take this to a well known mechanic who can give you the best ideas.

  8. Lucero Vinh says:

    Taking decision while choosing a car will become more confusing if you don’t have any basic knowledge regarding the maintenance of the car. Always check all the parts of the vehicle at specific time interval whether they are in well conditioned or not. Transmission fluid must be flushed as mentioned in the owner’s manual. Replacement of tires must be done when it gets too worn or completed running of 175,000 miles. Changing of oil keeps your vehicle clogged free so it must be done every 4,000 miles to 6,000 miles. Choosing between an old used car and a new car can be done according to the repair cost. The suggestion from a car expert will help you to pick the right one.

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