Is there a formula for car repair vs. buying something else.
January 24, 2019 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My 2006 Acura TL is worth from trade in (just based on the internet) about $3k. It needs $3k of work. Is there a forumula that determines' if it makes sense to not get it repaired?

Needs some steering and brake work.

The brake work is standard maintenance stuff; I trust the mechanic. It's got 140k miles on it. I'm going to speak to my mechanic and get his opinion...

On one side of the coin is Acura - a reliable Honda brand (2006). I'm driving less than 6k miles a year. I have two kids (and two carseats). Easy driving.

I've met people across my life who wheel and deal (puns intentional) about used

Basically, I want to make sure I'm not throwing money at a dead problem. It hasn't had anything more than $800 in 3-5 years.
posted by Towelie to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Trade-in values are always lower than the car's actual value. What does the $3K of work quoted consist of? Is the $3K quote from the dealer or an independent mechanic?
posted by Seeking Direction at 12:42 PM on January 24, 2019

I think it's hard to do based on one repair. The guide I used was to compare the average per month repair cost (over 6 months to a year) to the loan payment on a new car.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:43 PM on January 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Are you about due for replacing consumable parts? Brakes, clutch on a standard transmission, or tires could bump your cost of retaining the car another year to over 4k.

Edit: I missed the part where you said about the brakes already.
posted by cmfletcher at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2019

Agree with SemiSalt. I have 3 cars now all over 150,000 miles. You will be hit every other year with a $1,500 - $3,000 repair of some sort. Head gasket, transmission, exhaust system..

But, weigh that against a $5k-$10k down payment on a new car and 5 years of monthly $150-$500 payments, *before* you get to normal maintenance items like oil, tires, and so forth.

there's numerous posts here about this kind of topic.. It comes down to - is the body of the car in good shape (no rust, etc), and it's safe/not falling apart. Generally once you get past the big ticket items (trans, exhaust, timing belt, head gasket), you get another few years or more of 'reprieve' where you're back to simple maintenance costs before everything start breaking down again..
posted by rich at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, and since you mention "steering" work, please go to NHTSA's website and type in your VIN to see if every recall has been done. This generation of TL was recalled in 2008 for power steering problems, but it's possible that some may have never been fixed.
posted by Seeking Direction at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2019

There are lots of versions of this question that have been asked on AskMe over the years, so you can find lots of variations of the advice you might receive here.

In general, in my opinion, answerers on AskMe skew middle-class to upper-middle-class when answering this kind of question. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think people bail too soon on used cars because they can afford to move on. There's nothing wrong with that either, mostly, but if you are asking for a formula, then you should consider "total cost of ownership" or "tco."

I bought a 2003 Mazda Protege5 in 2009 for $5800, spent about $1100 on repairs over eight years and 100,000 miles of ownership. I sold it for $1300 with 190,000 miles on it, still running and with all accessories, save the cigarette lighter, working. I sold it because I found a very nice used Hyundai Sonata, which allowed me to have a touch more room for three people and a dog on twice annual multi-state roadtrips, while also giving me 5mpg more fuel efficiency.

So, my total cost of ownership for the Protege5 (excluding gas, oil changes and tires) was $5600 over eight years and 100,000 miles of driving ($5800+$1100-$1300). I will probably be hard pressed to beat that number, as it meant that the cost of having the car was about $700/yr. That doesn't factor in that an old cheap car generally has low rates for insurance, too. So, here's where the "should I get rid of my old car" calculation kicks in...

If I had put $2,500 dollars in for a new transmission and a valve job (two things it would have eventually needed), I probably could have driven it for another 100,000 miles with only more gas, oil changes, tires and brake pads. Let's say that gives me another... five years of driving, plus say... $1100 more in repairs eventually. Even in that case, my total cost of ownership is still only $707/yr ($8100 divided by 13 years).

I did end up buying a newer used car and selling my older used car. My total cost of ownership has gone up, and it was generally worth it to increase my fuel economy while also modestly increasing my interior space. But, if you want to use a formula, I would recommend calculating your total cost of ownership so far, estimating what it might be to scale the car out a few more years and then compare that to whatever car you want to replace your current one with.

Good luck!
posted by Slothrop at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Three thousand for "standard" brake maintenance and steering? What the heck are they doing to the steering???

I suggest you dig into this number before doing anything. I'm not saying your mechanic is shady, but that's pretty steep for what you're describing, unless the steering fix is very, very extensive. Shop around if you can. Don't go to a dealer for this, either.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agree with coolpapabell, that’s a lot of money. A four wheel brake job with rotors and all should be about $800 max. A $2200 steering repair sounds like they’re replacing the whole rack and pump?

Any car will need additional major things roughly every 100k miles: shocks, struts control arms and other suspension parts, valve job, injector cleaning, 02 sensor, radiator flush and fill (if not a new radiator), belts and hoses, and in your car, a timing belt (that’s a $1000 job right there). Likely you’ll need exhaust fixes (including potentially an expensive catalytic converter). Alternators and AC compressors tend to run into end of life issues between 100k and 200k on Hondas in my experience. And very likely you’d need a clutch somewhere in there if manual. If automatic you need to do a transmission fluid service at least at 100k, but again ATs have been known to fail (very expensive) at between 100k-200k too.

Even so, slothrop is right about total cost of ownership. But you might be hitting the point where you need $5000-6000 rather $2000-3000 to really keep this car on the road. It all depends how well it was maintained and how hard it was driven. Also, if rust has started in any serious way, the body could give out before the motor.

I’d say if you can get $3000-4000 for it and spend another $3000-4000 above that you’d be into some later model used cars with half the mileage or less. What strikes me is the low amount of miles you’re driving. At 6000 miles a year, a well maintained 6-7 year old Japanese car with 70k on it will easily give you 5-7 more trouble free years if you keep it carefully maintained. Maybe not as nice a car as yours though.

The other issue is that you’re driving kids around. That’s a very safe car for its time and age, but cars have gotten MUCH safer in just the last decade. Like enough so that as a parent I would assign a monetary value to that.

And finally, while I totally agree that AskMe advice skews middle class on such matters, there’s a reason it sucks being poor. One of them is driving beater cars you can’t afford to replace. They tend to break down when you can least deal with it, and again you’ve got kids. And the hassle of going back to the shop, being car-less for two more days, and then having it break down again a month later is a pain and costs money and time (which is also money for many people). If you’re frugal or poor, learning do some basic work yourself can be very valuable. But if you can’t afford to lose a day or two every few months to dealing with the car’s latest problem, what is that worth to you? An extra $500 a year?

One way or another it costs a few thousand dollars a year to own a car. You can drive it way higher on fancy cars. But it’s hard to drive it way lower except by owning a car you yourself maintain impeccably for as long as humanly possible. Know your budget, and your needs.

But if I had a 2006 TL with 140k on the clock and the $3000 repair bill phase was starting, and I had two kids in car seats, and driving 6000 miles a year, I’d be looking at 2010-12 Hyundai Sonatas with 60k (and 3-6 years and/or 30-40k of warranty left!) and the like. Plenty available in the $8k range.

One last thought would be to spend a couple hundred on a thorough pre-purchase-style inspection of your TL. They can’t catch everything but they can tell you what systems are in what shape. It might make sense to do a bunch of major work at once if you keep it. That can lower the overall cost.
posted by spitbull at 4:42 PM on January 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

I posted this question three years ago, and I am still driving that car. It's got about 175k miles on it now.

What it came down to for me was: even if I had to put $1000 toward non-maintenance repairs every year (which has not been the case anyway), that works out to like $85 a month, which is way less than a car payment. If at some point it breaks in a way that costs more than that, or that will require it to spend a week at the shop or whatever, it'll be time to think about getting another car. That sounds like it might be your situation.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:36 AM on January 25, 2019

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