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Mike & Dave,

My car needs quite a bit of work , should have the work done and keep it or is it time to look for a different vehicle?

~ V.A.

We are often asked our advise on whether a customer should make repairs or trade their vehicle when they are faced with a larger than average bill for maintenance or repairs. 

The real question should be, “Will my old car cost me more a month to drive (in fuel, maintenance and insurance) than another newer or better car?”

A good way to think about repair and maintenance bills is as a ‘Car Rental Fee’.  What would the car be worth a month to drive if I could just rent it?  Would it be worth $200 or $600 per month? 

ANY vehicle that is road worthy and inspected should be worth $200 a month to drive or $2400 a year for the privilege of having a vehicle at your disposal.   Some cars and trucks may be worth more.  A three year old Honda may be worth $300 a month, a new Suburban can be worth $400 a month and a new Mercedes may be worth $500 or more.  But, the bottom line is that any road worthy and safe car is at least worth $200 or $300 a month to drive.

Almost always you can have an engine installed in your old car for under the tax and license fees of a new car.  So taking care of your current vehicle that has been somewhat trouble free and has a decent interior and exterior will be cheaper in the long run than buying a new one.  But, if you simply want a newer car, then get one if you can, no need to rationalize it.  Consumer Reports says you could save nearly $31,000 by keeping your car for 15 years rather than trading it in every 5 years.  (More on how to do that later.)

Look at it this way.  If I had an older car with a bad transmission and the cost of a replacement transmission is $1800, I would ask myself if I can get another 9 months out of this car and not have anything else major happen?  ($1,800 divided by $200 a month = 9 months of use to pay for the repair)  If I get 9 months of trouble free driving then all I have done is pay $200 a month for the car and that money paid for the transmission.  (No matter what you drive for those 9 months, the cost of fuel is pretty much the same so should not be factored into the equation.  Insurance costs would most likely be more with a newer vehicle so should be taken into account when you are doing your own factoring.)

When an older vehicle gets into trouble is when one major repair follows another before the first one is paid for in “use”.   Let’s say you spent $1800 for transmission repair and before you get to use the car for 9 months to benefit from the miles you bought when you paid for the transmission issue, the rack and pinion goes bad and it costs $800 to repair and will be another 4 months that you need to get before the cost of the repairs are paid in “use”.  But before the 13 months are up (9+4=13), something else major happens and you never get ahead.  That is when it is time to bail out and get rid of that vehicle. 

Proper maintenance is the key to extending the life of a vehicle and the folks at Consumer Reports agree.  To have much hope of making it to 200,000 miles with a vehicle with a good track record, follow some basic steps:  

1.  “Follow the maintenance guide set by the manufacturer and make needed repairs promptly. “ We at Vermont Custom Auto can help guide you through the process by keeping you informed as to what is due on your vehicle.

2.  “Use only the recommended types of fluids, including oil and transmission fluids.”  We know what your vehicles needs and only use the type of fluid specified by the manufacturer.  The wrong transmission fluid in a Honda can result in costly damage. 

3.  “Check under the hood regularly. Listen for strange sounds, sniff for odd smells and look for fraying or bulges in pipes, belts.”  We do this for you every time we perform our 50 Point Safety and Reliability Report, but you should take notice of these things as well and give us call if you spot anything out of the ordinary.  A simple repair, if ignored can grow into a costly repair quickly if not addressed. 

4.  “Clean the car inside and out.  This not only helps the car’s appearance but can prevent premature rust. Vacuuming the inside also prevents premature carpet wear from sand and grit.”  While we don’t offer cleaning services, we can attest that a clean vehicle not only looks better, but will last longer and hold its resale valve longer.

5.  “Buy a safe, reliable car.  Buying a car with the latest safety equipment makes it more likely you’ll feel safe in your aging car as a newer model.”  Starting with a quality vehicle and them having the proper maintenance and repairs done, will certainly increase your odds of reaching 200,000 miles. 

Consumer Reports recommends several cars that have the best shot at reaching the 200,000 mark and those are: Honda Civic, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Lexus ES, Lexus LS, Toyota 4-Runner, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota Prius, Toyota RAV4.   

Here at Vermont Custom Auto we have seen many vehicles not on this list make it to 200,000 as well.  Let us help you maximize the life of your vehicle.


To Repair or Trade...that is the Question
91 Ethan Allen Drive
S. Burlington, VT  05403
7:30 - 5 Monday thru Friday