AA Car Care: Repair or replace?
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With owning a car comes maintenance. No matter how new it is, you’re going to have to spend money on it occasionally.
But is there a point where you say enough is enough? Do you fix that blown head gasket? Do you replace the cambelt? It can seem like there’s a fine line as to whether your “old faithful” is costing more money than a replacement vehicle. The answer involves maths, but also a bit of soul searching.
Maintenance and repairs
An average vehicle (without problems) can cost around $1000 per year for repairs and maintenance. This includes servicing, minor issues (bulbs, wipers) and tyre replacement cycles.
Naturally, over a vehicle’s life there will be a few larger service schedules which may increase costs, but that figure is still a good average over a few years. It’s a good benchmark - if it looks like repair costs are blowing this figure out of proportion, it might be time for a change.
It may seem like the grass is greener with a slightly newer model and (hopefully) fewer problems. But you’ll lose the money already sunk into the old vehicle by having to start from square one in maintenance, not to mention all the interest if you’re paying it off.
For example, a car might be sold just before the cambelt and waterpump are due, replaced by a car with a “no-maintenance” chain system. If this stretched and required replacement it could cost three times the amount of a cambelt replacement.
The big one
Your heart sinks while the vehicle is being towed to the repair shop with steam still pouring out from under the bonnet. You know it’s going to need a big repair this time.
In a few days, you’ll be faced with a decision: scrap or repair? The answer might be clear - sell it to the scrappies or to your local auction house and take the few hundred dollars that may be on offer. The car’s only worth $2000 running and will cost over $3000 to repair.
Sometimes it’s not so clear: let’s say the vehicle is worth $6k going, needs $3k to repair, and is only worth $1000 as it stands, damaged. In this case it might be better to repair it. By spending the $3000 you don’t lose $5000, you have a car you know the history of and it now has some new parts fitted. The benchmark question might be: is the repair less than half of the car’s market value?
Another bonus of repairing instead of replacing is that you may extend the life of that vehicle. A reasonable repair on your pride and joy might be worthwhile if it gives another year or so of motoring to help you save for an upgrade a bit further down the line.
The newer the vehicle the safer it should be, so if your car is on the verge of ruin or not deemed a safe choice in an accident, it might be time to think about that upgrade.
What’s peace of mind worth?
The flipside of replacing a vehicle that has turned into a bit of a lemon is peace of mind.
If you can’t venture past the local dairy without your eyes glued to the temperature gauge because you don’t know whether it will overheat or not, it may be time for change. While there are no guarantees that a newer vehicle won’t run into repairs or break down like the old one, the odds are certainly reduced.
You may even now have a warranty or breakdown insurance where all you need to worry about is making sure the vehicle is serviced on time. With a more modern vehicle, you’re more likely to benefit from better fuel economy, technology and safety systems.