Editor’s note: This is one of the 20 tough financial questions posed in the “Do This or That?” cover story in the September 2011 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Use the drop-down menu above to consider other financial conundrums and the right answers for you; share your own experiences and insights in the Discuss field at the bottom of this page.
Keep the clunker if it’s paid for (or nearly paid for), and service and repairs are costing you less than new-car payments. For example, the average cost to replace a cylinder head assembly is $1,800, according to CarMD, a vehicle-repair information site. That’s equal to four typical car payments. Also, because some repairs are elective, you can wait until you have the money to do them.
Buy a new car if you anticipate having to make expensive repairs that would cost close to what the vehicle is worth. For example, a failed transmission, which can cost more than $3,000 to repair, is usually a deal-breaker. Also, if the car has been unreliable from the start and is in the shop a lot, it’s probably time to say goodbye. A new-car warranty will be a salve to your soul if you’ve been dealing with persistent breakdowns. Plus, more manufacturers are now offering free maintenance when you buy a new car. The best programs are from luxury makes, such as Volvo (coverage for five years or 60,000 miles) and BMW (four years or 50,000 miles), and even include wiper blades and brake pads. Mainstream brands, such as Volkswagen (three years or 36,000 miles) and Toyota (two years or 25,000 miles), don’t cover the wear-and-tear items, but all four of these automakers offer roadside assistance.