Hang on to that car for as long as you can
know that reliable, nothing-flashy, old car you've been driving
for years? Hang on to it as long as you can. It's a keeper.
"Cars are a rotten investment. The longer you
keep them, the better off you're going to be from a financial perspective,"
says Remar Sutton, president of the Consumer Task Force for Automotive
An auto's value, after nose-diving in its first
couple of years, levels off about the time the odometer reaches
"After eight or nine years depreciation is virtually
nil," Sutton says. "It drops by hundreds, not thousands of dollars."
How to avoid car payments
So hanging on to that older car another year
or two won't hurt you much when it comes time to sell. And who wouldn't
want a couple more years without car payments?
Plus, that older set of wheels may have more
life left in it than you realize.
"Almost any car will go over 100,000 miles if
it's well-maintained," says David Van Sickle, director of automotive
and consumer information for the American
"Two hundred thousand miles is not beyond the
realm of possibility. A lot depends on the level of care as the
Good preventative maintenance is key. Change
the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Change the air filter every
six months. Change the antifreeze every one to two years. Replace
tires every 20,000 to 40,000 miles.
"Change your oil. Change your filters. Change
your antifreeze -- that's how people get cars to last 200,000 miles,"
says Lauren J. Fix, a consumer auto expert.
Tips for lengthening the life of an auto can
be found on Consumer
Reports and TheCarConnection.com.
And don't forget to take a look in your car's glove box.
"All of this is spelled out in the service manual,"
says Lou Richman, finance editor at Consumer Reports. "There's preventative
service that a car should have."
Fix little things before they grow
Stay on top of the little things. Van Sickle
points out that an antifreeze or coolant leak may not seem like
such a big deal. But a leak could be a sign that a hose is about
to go. If a hose fails, you risk damaging a car's engine. Replacing
an engine is definitely a big deal.
It's also important to realize that some steep
auto repair bills are inevitable.
"Every car sooner or later will need a major
repair --- a transmission overhaul or a major brake job," Van Sickle
Avoid taking a Band-Aid approach to auto repairs.
"If you're looking at a major expense, before
you do it have the car checked out to make sure something else isn't
ready to go," Sutton says.
"The key is regular maintenance and looking
at repairs not as a Band-Aid but as a comprehensive program."
Sites for information on reliability
Most mechanics will be able to tell you about
upcoming problems and repairs. You may also want to do some research
on your own. Studies from sites such as Consumer Reports and Intellichoice
may give you a sense of likely repairs for your particular model.
You can find out how much your car is worth
on sites such as Edmund's
Automobile Buyers Guide, AutoSite,
Blue Book and CarPrice.com.
Once a car hits the 100,000-mile mark, it's
a good idea to have someone other than your regular mechanic take
a peek under the hood.
"You might want to get a second opinion from
someone who doesn't have a financial stake in making the repairs
or selling you a new car," Richman says.
So when should you get rid of a car? When repair
bills exceed a car's value is a good time to consider it.
If a car is worth $1,200 and needs a new engine
that will cost $2,500, you need to ask yourself if you want to spend
that kind of money. If you plan on keeping that car for two or three
more years, go ahead. But if you were planning to replace the car
in the next year or so anyway, you may want to start shopping.
Frequent repairs may also be a sign that it's
time to unload an older auto.
"Say it's costing you $200 to $300 a month to
keep that old bucket on the road," Van Sickle says. "It's every
month, over and over again, and you can't see the end of it. If
you see a pattern developing it's time to get out."
Keep it until it dies?
But some consumer experts urge people to hang
on to an older model until the bitter end.
"A $2,500 repair is not a big deal compared
to what it would cost to buy a new car. Most people say 'I won't
spend $2,500 on a repair' and then go out and buy a $35,000 new
car," Sutton says.
"If total repairs would run less than payments
on a new car for a year, you're better off having the repairs."
Of course, no expert wants anyone driving a
car that's not safe.
"Damage to a car's structural integrity are
things we warn against. A rusty, cracked or a misaligned frame would
be a fatal flaw," Richman says. "A lot of people do hang on to cars
too long. You may encounter problems that are dangerous."
It's also a good idea to replace a car when
your driving needs change. A get-around-town car may not cut it
when your new job requires an hour-long highway commute. A sporty
little hatchback may not be roomy enough for a family car.
"If your driving needs change, there's no point
in kidding yourself," Van Sickle says. "Families migrate into minivans
and larger sedans. That two-door coupe won't do it anymore."
-- Posted: Nov. 22, 2000