When is it no longer feasible reasonable prudent or intelligent to continue paying repair costs on an aging vehicle?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

When is it no longer feasible, reasonable, prudent, or intelligent to continue paying repair costs on an aging vehicle? Car in question: 1984 Buick Regal with an oil leak, faulty transmission, poor brakes, tattered upholstery, faulty turn signals, non-working air conditioner and heater, faded paint, dented fender, generally unreliable, worn tires, plus an estimated $1,400 in body work from a wreck. My husband argues it's cheaper to repair than to replace. Obviously, I disagree. Your comments would be very much appreciated.

RAY: My brother wrote one of his PhD dissertations on this issue, Elaine. And unfortunately, his conclusion is that-- economically speaking--it is always cheaper to fix an old car than to buy a new one.

TOM: Absolutely right. It may seem like it will cost an incredible about of money to fix up this old Buick. But, trust me, it will cost an even more incredible amount to buy a new one. So from a purely financial point of view, it's almost always prudent to keep fixing up your old car.

RAY: Now that I've let my brother rant and rave for a minute, let me tell you what I really think, Elaine. You should dump this beast first chance you get (in fact, in sounds like the kind of car my brother might be interested in). First of all, this car is an exception to the rule, because it was lousy to begin with. And even when you fix it up from top to bottom, it'll still be lousy. Second, there's an issue that's more important that economics, and that's your mental health. If a vehicle is driving you nuts--because it's unreliable, ugly, or has ground-in B.O.--then you should get rid of it no matter what the financial repercussions.

TOM: I'm not arguing against buying a new car. I'm only saying that it will COST you more than fixing your old one. There are definitely advantages to owning a new car. I mean, besides the reliability, you can get dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, and better gas mileage.

RAY: Plus an air conditioner, a heater, working turn signals, non-tattered seats, and all kinds of other luxuries. Go for it, Elaine.

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