Is there a magic formula for deciding when it's time to trade in an old car for a new one?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1989 Volvo 240 with 178,000 miles on it. The body is in excellent
condition because I crashed it once and it's been redone. I love this car.
But at the garage today, where I dropped off the car for another $1,000 in
repairs, the service department did a really mean thing -- they gave me a
new Volvo 850 as a loaner. How do I know when it's time for a trade? Is
there a standard formula or something? -- Marilyn

RAY: That is a mean trick, isn't it? And I'm surprised that other
dealerships haven't caught onto this yet. It's a perfect way to sell new
cars. You take someone who's already a customer, and whose car is showing
signs of age, and you give him a top-of-the-line, fully loaded new car as a
loaner for a few days. You think he's going to want to get back into his
old heap after that?

TOM: Yeah, I'll have to watch out for this scam. Next time I take my '63
Dodge Dart in for service, they're probably going to try to tempt me by
loaning me a nice '78 Aspen or something.

RAY: Unfortunately, there's no standard formula that tells you when to hold
a car and when to fold it, Marilyn. It really depends on what your
priorities are.

TOM: Right. We wrote a not-so-little pamphlet called "How to Buy a Used
Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You to Know." (If you want one,
send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Used
Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420).

The first part of this pamphlet makes a very convincing argument for buying
and keeping a used car, if you are primarily motivated by money. After all,
even if you were to spend $2,000 on repairs this year, Marilyn, that's not
even half as much as you'd give to the bank every month for the privilege
of driving a brand-new Volvo 850 ($400 a month times 12 months equals
$4,800 a year, right?).

RAY: So, economically speaking, there's nothing cheaper than fixing and
keeping your old car. But there are other factors that my brother never,
ever considers. There's reliability, appearance, new and improved safety
features, appearance, change for change's sake, and, of course, appearance.
And if any of those things are important to you, then you've got to weigh
the cost of them and decide if they're worth it.

TOM: That's a good point. Your old Volvo may be cheaper, but if it leaves
you stranded far from home -- or if you're afraid it's going to leave you
stranded far from home -- it may not be worth the money you're saving. Or,
if you're planning to have another one of those collisions you mentioned in
your letter, air bags, and even side-impact bags may be worth the price.

RAY: So it's a very personal decision, Marilyn, and unfortunately, we can't
make it for you.

TOM: That's right. It's a decision that every woman has to make by herself
-- after consulting with her conscience, her clergyman and her bank's loan

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