How do you know the point at which your car becomes a money pit?
August 27, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

At what point with my current used car (2001 Honda Accord) is it financially smarter to try to sell it and find a new used car than to keep putting money into repairs? How do previous and future repairs, age, mileage, brand, location, and the current economy affect this decision? Somewhat detailed history of the car inside.

I have a 2001 Honda Accord sedan. I bought it a little over two years ago in New York and drove it down to where it now resides in Louisiana. When I bought it, it had about 99,000 miles on it. It now has almost 110,000 miles. I've listed repairs below, but I do want to say on behalf of my car that it has never stopped working/stranded me anywhere and instead waits patiently for me or my mechanic to notice something is off.

Things that were repaired shortly before I got it:
New timing belts and water pump.

Things I've repaired:
Last summer, I put about $1300 into it to fix the evap system, repair a leaky brake line, and get new tires. (The evap system was faulty when I bought it but had to be fixed to pass state inspection. I kind of consider that $600 portion to be part of the intro cost of the car.) A few days ago, I put another $900 into it to fix three wheel bearings, get a new battery, replace all four break pads, replace the front two rotors, and resurface the back two rotors.

Known things to repair in the future:
I am told that at some point in the not-urgent future the fourth wheel bearing will need to be replaced and the rear spindles are really rusted and will also need to be replaced.

My mechanic, who I trust, said this is the most work he's done to a Honda in a really long time but he thinks I should be pretty much good for a while. I certainly hope so. I'm just wondering:

If another repair comes up, or when the known future repair stuff comes up, or [fill in the blank], at what point does it make more financial sense to buy a new used car than to keep going with this one? Also, I'm hindsight curious - was that point in fact earlier this week, or was I right to put the $900 into it?

I'm not sure how accurate online sales estimates are, but according to one of those sites my car is currently worth about $4,100 in a private sale and would cost about $5,300 from a dealer. This is the first car I have owned (though I've driven cars owned by my parents) and I realized this week that I don't really know how these calculations play out.
posted by vegartanipla to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Hello fellow Honda owner!

I just sank about $4000 into my Honda at 7 years and 85K miles. I'm hoping to go another 7 years on that (and it included tires.)

We dropped about $800 at Husbunny's Element's 30K check up on the service and new brakes.

There are things that will always need updating and repairing. Timing belt and water pump are just maintenance things you do at around 80k miles. Tires only last about 30k-40k. Cables wear out.

If you get a new used car, you'll just have to do all of this stuff again (or different but equally expensive stuff.)

If you've put the major repairs into the car, you know how well you're caring for it. It's a grab bag with a different car.

Save up for the repairs and have them done when you can afford it.

You replace your Honda when the wheels fall off or if the fire has only left the charred remains of a frame.

Happy Honda Owning!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also factor in the cost of insurance. If you only have liability now, you'll need full coverage if you get a new car. If you have full coverage now, your insurance bill would presumably increase.
posted by sacrifix at 12:22 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I do is track my average monthly cost (ignoring gas) of the car and compare that to a new car payment, with some mental adjustment for the hassle factor of an older car.

In two years you've spent $2100 bucks? That's less than $100 as month. Can you get a better car for $100 a month?

I think the answer to that is no.
posted by COD at 12:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

what point does it make more financial sense to buy a new used car than to keep going with this one?

Never. Seriously, never. Even if you were facing major repairs - engine, transmission - it would still be cheaper long-term than buying new. And any used car you'd get for ~$5k would have the same risk of major repairs in short order as your current car, but without your knowledge of the repair history and usage.
posted by anti social order at 12:25 PM on August 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

at what point does it make more financial sense to buy a new used car than to keep going with this one

It never really makes financial sense to replace a used car with a different used car unless something MAJOR has gone wrong with the first car. Until that point (major engine or transmission failure or a crash, basically) it is more cost effective to keep putting money in it while it is being essentially reliable - especially and particularly something with a solid reputation like a Honda (Or Toyota or Subaru etc).

The only reason to change to a newer used car, really, would be 'because you want to'. There's nothing about the history of your car that suggests you are having any kind of risk inherent in keeping running it for the next 50,000.

You replace your Honda when the wheels fall off or if the fire has only left the charred remains of a frame.

Amen. You've invested sensible money in repairs (of the right kind) into this car. It is a known quantity. Stick with it and only risk changing if you can't stand the thing any more or you're looking at a major repair bill. Put monthly 'fix it or buy another' funds aside and await that moment in comfort and without money.

What I do is track my average monthly cost (ignoring gas) of the car and compare that to a new car payment

You need to factor in the additional expense of new car servicing and depreciation too, though. Sure as poop not going to beat THAT sum with $100 a month.
posted by Brockles at 12:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Put monthly 'fix it or buy another' funds aside and await that moment in comfort and without money.

Er. That should be "without worry". Brain fart.
posted by Brockles at 12:27 PM on August 27, 2012

I think that the money you've spent so far is money well spent. A lot of that stuff (tires, brakes, battery) is regular maintenance stuff that you'd have to do periodically no matter what. And the other stuff isn't remotely crazy (I had to replace the wheel bearings on my Corolla at about 60,000 miles).

I had a 1995 Civic (I think only one generation older than yours) that lasted about 150,000 miles. It got totaled in a snowstorm spin out and made the decision for us. However, at that point we were nearing a point where we were looking at trading it in, because the electrical system was starting to go wonky in dozens of ways, and that was more than we wanted to deal with. It was a great little car, though. I'd say you've got at least two or three years left in yours before you need to start giving serious thought to trading it in.
posted by Kriesa at 12:30 PM on August 27, 2012

Response by poster: To be clear, I do not want to buy a new used car and actually kind of dread the idea. Also if this matters, I would buy a new used car and pay in full. But I would much prefer to drive my current car until it no longer makes financial sense to do so. For the next ten years, if possible. (My mechanic laughed when I said that, and he's also been one of the ones muttering about possibly looking for a new car... though he did that at the evap issue, too, and then fixed it.)

So I'm hearing (from some of you) to give up only if there's catastrophic damage? For those of you saying that, how much does that type of catastrophic damage cost (as in, is there an equivalent dollar amount where you'd cut it off at)?

anti social order, that link was super edifying.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:47 PM on August 27, 2012

I will second what's already been said about waiting until a car dies before replacing it. anti social order's link says it better than I could.

For an example, for me, for my previous vehicle, "catastrophic damage" was when my 13 year old car worth ~$3k had a transmission failure resulting in the first gear and reverse gear not engaging*. A new transmission was estimated at ~$4k, so I decided not to pay more than the value of the car to fix the car. I definitely would have replaced the transmission for $1k.

* Even then, I spent a couple weeks driving it, but that's probably not a good idea
posted by saeculorum at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2012

I have a *cough* 1993 Honda Accord. It runs great. I will admit that I consciously try not to use it, and to ride my bicycle whenever possible, so I'm not exactly driving it into the ground, but I will share with you the secret downside to Hondas: they will last far, far past the point where you are sick of them. Everything still works on it: the power windows, the A/C, the power door locks, everything.

Seconding everyone who says keep it until there's nothing left but the charred husk. Seconding what others have said about certain amounts of maintenance being universal regardless of the car, and to factor in higher insurance and registration costs for a new car.

There are different ways of looking at cars. Some people view cars as an extension of/declaration of their personality. The car they drive is chosen to make a statement. Other people view cars purely as a utilitarian form of transportation. Engine goes vroom, wheels go round and round, it gets one from point A to point B.

On preview, if you want to keep your car going for 10 years, there's every likelihood you can do that. (I have!) For me, catastrophic damage would be getting totaled in an accident. If you take your car in for regular oil changes and servicing, your mechanic should be able to nip many of the little things in the bud before they become catastrophic.
posted by ambrosia at 12:55 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep the damn thing - as others have said, you've replaced all the usual things, so you know where you stand.

Seconding what ambrosia said - I had a 1990 CRX that still ran great, still got 35 MPG, and could haul a ton of crap, but finally just rusted (too many salty winters) to the point that it wouldn't pass inspection.
posted by notsnot at 1:01 PM on August 27, 2012

(oh, and the CRX had 240,000+ miles on it when I put it down. I now have a 1994 Del Sol with 220k and much less rust - I figure I'll get another three or four years out of it at least. Your 110k miles is, like, just getting broken in for a Honda.)
posted by notsnot at 1:03 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Up until this month, my daily driver was a 91 Accord. I only got a newer used car three weeks ago because the Accord needs a major repair, otherwise I would still be doing my roughly 70 miles/day work commute in it. Fix your Honda.
posted by crankylex at 1:04 PM on August 27, 2012

So I'm hearing (from some of you) to give up only if there's catastrophic damage? For those of you saying that, how much does that type of catastrophic damage cost (as in, is there an equivalent dollar amount where you'd cut it off at)?

Dropping a thousand here or there is not the end of the world. I tend to assume that I'll dump about 200$ a month into my used vehicle for repairs and maintenance. Some months are brutally expensive, others are cheap, but it mostly averages out.

If you don't want to pay anything in parts and maintenance, you can go buy a new warrantied vehicle and drive that around for 2-3 years, but you'll be swapping vehicles for the rest of your life at an alarming rate, and you will end up spending more money.

If you're willing to accept that vehicles require parts and maintenance, then not much wills top that little car short of collision damage or rust. Even if you seize the engine, replacements can be found. Eventually they'll stop making the things and used parts will be hard to find, but my daily driver is over 22 years old and I'm piecing together a car twice that age without serious problems so... there you go.

Don't worry about it. It's a used car, and they cost money. New cars are shiny and give you the illusion that they're maintenance free, but it's a temporary state, and you pay through the ear for it.

In short, everyone here has been 100% correct.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:05 PM on August 27, 2012

I have a 1997 Honda Accord with just shy of 300,000 miles on it. I've put some money into it over the years, but nothing astonishing. My mechanic keeps offering to buy it off me. I almost wish it would die so I'd have an excuse to get something newer, but it just keeps going.
posted by idb at 1:19 PM on August 27, 2012

Haven't read through the whole thread, but brakes and tires need to be replaced on most cars. I've never lived on the East Coast, but I would imagine rusty parts are also common. Those are more or less maintenance costs, rather than repair costs. Whatever calculation you do, I would leave out maintenance costs.
posted by cnc at 1:41 PM on August 27, 2012

I was looking at two links recently that might interest you, a Globe article on depreciation and a cost calculator for vehicles. Notice the source of the second, but hey, it matched up with the numbers I already had in my head, so I actually think it's a useful tool despite the framing.

Run both vehicles through the cost calculator, or your own version of it, and compare. (Assuming of course that both cars have comparable life spans and depreciation rates, which they never, ever do. New cars are guaranteed to depreciate faster, but the vehicle's possible life span is not so cut and dry.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:00 PM on August 27, 2012

For those of you saying that, how much does that type of catastrophic damage cost (as in, is there an equivalent dollar amount where you'd cut it off at)?

To me, it's kind of a sliding scale. I consider how much I'd have to spend on a replacement car, how much hassle it'd be to get money back out of the broken car and buy a new one, and how much the new one will cost me (in unknowns).

I'd say it is a very complicated balancing act, but basically the more money the existing car is worth (and would remain worth to me once repaired, ie is reliable), the more it is worth spending money on it to keep it in good condition. If I had a reliable car that was worth between (say) $3 and 7K, I'd be prepared to spend up to maybe 50-30% of the value of the car (as the value goes up) in repairing it if it would then prove to be as reliable as it was before. If it is likely to be the start of a decline (and a Honda is maybe 50-100K miles away from that) then that figure drops enormously. Also, a broken car that owes me $5K means I am throwing all of that money away if I don't fix it (broken cars are worth bugger all resale).

There are SO many provisos (hence the question I guess) that I keep going back and forth and hate actually putting a percentage on it because so many outside factors would change it, but assuming a solid body (no rust) good history of the car and reputation for reliability, that'd be close enough to my limit. If the car owed me $7K but the floor was rotting out and THEN the engine took a dump, I'd just bin it. It's all about what you will end up with after you've spent the money, if you see what I mean.

God, that sounds terribly unhelpful now I read it back. Maybe you can at least see it is never an easy decision!
posted by Brockles at 3:05 PM on August 27, 2012

Seconding everyone who is saying 'keep it'. Hondas are hard to kill!

My own dividing line has always been, when keeping the current car costs MORE than buying a replacement vehicle. Add together all of the past year's actual costs and compare with how much you would spend on a replacement: which figure is higher? I understand the emotional ties we often tend to develop with our vehicles, but you've got to leave that totally out of the equation, and consider it as cold, hard numbers.
posted by easily confused at 3:09 PM on August 27, 2012

I'll mirror all of the comments above even with old German cars. I've got a '99 that I've only spent about $500 on preventative maintenance on in the last 2 years. It's got about 120k. I don't plan on buying a new car until this one is truly dead. There's really no reason to not keep it and fix it (especially if you're willing to fix some things yourself, brake pads are very easy to change and I know dealers charge waaaay too much for this job).
posted by neveroddoreven at 3:50 PM on August 27, 2012

A different perspective:
Buying newer car may provide less rattles, less sagging headliners, less decomposing/brittle plastic bits, and less worries. It may also provide newer & better safety features.
At some point, peace of mind is worth the expense.
posted by artdrectr at 4:11 PM on August 27, 2012

A lot depends upon the car!

I had a piece of sh*t used Hyundai ('80's) which cost me a fortune in repairs. When it needed a second carburetor in a year I got rid of it - as one mechanic said "you can't fix garbage"! Traded it in on a purchase of a new '92 Honda Civic! The trade-in basically bought me a passenger side view mirror.

That Civic was golden! I had just basic routine maintenance until year 15. Except for mufflers. For seven years my daily driving was so short that the moisture didn't burn off, so I had many a muffler rust away. Once it hit 15 years and about 175K we got into bigger repairs. The sort that leave you stranded and cost $500 a pop.

I have AAA and my mechanic felt I could get 300K miles out of the car no problem. But I was in a new town, one useable car, no significant other or close friend to help me get to & from work so it became an issue. I probably would have kept it longer except for the cash for clunkers deal in '99. I had a problemchild clunker which I couldn't in good conscious pass on to someone else. Coupled with my much loved Civic hitting old age I got a new Prius.

I still miss my Civic. (sniff). If you can work around the repairs keep it! Honda's are fantastic!
posted by cat_link at 5:09 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I say it always makes *financial* sense to keep the old car, but at some point the car is either going to become unsafe (rusted out frame), unreliable (as in, you need to fix it so frequently that you can't use it the way you want), or just plain annoying and ugly and you hate it.

In short: if you want to hold on to the car as long as possible, let frustration be your guide, not cost of repairs. Especially with a Honda.
posted by mskyle at 5:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consumer Reports loves to harp on getting the newest used car possible so you get the best safety equipment. Does any new safety equipment make you want a new car?

But, realistically, if you're driving a car 5,000 miles a year you don't require the car for day-to-day life, so you don't need a 100% reliable car. Unless the pride of ownership in a new car is worth several thousand dollars a year to you (enough to far overcome the stress of depreciation and having an extremely valuable thing sitting in a parking lot or street or driveway far away from you), you don'
posted by akgerber at 7:45 PM on August 27, 2012

(accidental enter key, it's next to the apostrophe)
t need a new car.
posted by akgerber at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2012

When my 97 Toyota with 125,000 miles on it became unreliable, I got a newer used car(Honda). The Toyota is still a pretty good car, but is starting to need more attention for mechanical and age-related troubles, and is less reliable. I have to be able to get to work, and there's no public transport. Plus, it's a pain to spend a lot of time dealing with car repair, getting a ride to the repair shop, etc. I want to feel confident that I'll be able to get to work, and to get home, or to be able to take a 200 mile trip.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 PM on August 27, 2012

My father's 2000 Corolla (a short lease, then he became the second owner), basically started requiring 1000$ work at about 8-9 years and over a 100k miles. It was unfortunate, cause though it was sorta junky, it was far from a bad car.

I sold my Civic 112k miles, 2001 the other weekend. It basically looks perfect, but for myself I had begun to feel it did not provide enough utility for me at my age. It was a coupe for an older college grooving sibling in the early part of the decade. As a commuter it was fine, but for family rides, helping friends, moving stuff... It was barely if at all adequate. In the last 3 years it had some 3000$ in repairs/maintenance's for body work, struts... etc... It probably would be fine running another 3-4 years.

I bought a Honda Fit to replace it. I'm very very happy to have the basically same gas mileage, but also no longer be restricted by the cargo volume or the doors on my car.

Sure debt is bad, but I already plan to prepay what I owe significantly for a car I wanted to own for months now.
posted by Bodrik at 8:29 PM on August 29, 2012

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