Signs it's time to retire your current vehicle
Young couple shopping for a new car

Your vehicle is in the shop for the third time in a year, and once again, it’s not just the usual wear-and-tear cost of an oil change or a brake job. Your technician calls you because you need to make the call: how much will you keep putting into this thing?

The sweet spot, the tipping point, the magic number. While we know that modern cars are built to last longer than their predecessors -  a well-maintained vehicle could easily clear 300,000 kilometres - it is those very components that give them such longevity that can require pricey maintenance or replacement. How do you know when it’s time to invest your money forward into another vehicle instead?

The game has changed 

It used to be easy to look up the value of the car at issue, look at the amount of the proposed repair, and declare that it’s not worth putting $3,000 into a car worth $5,000. Some variation on that math was a decent guide. Now, in a world of product shortages, long wait times and record car prices, your used vehicle could be worth twice what it was just a few years ago. A repair might be the equivalent of a few car payments while taking on a new (or newer) car loan will ride on your finances for years.

A trusted technician

You need a reliable technician who will tell you the truth. They will be familiar with weak spots in your particular vehicle and explain what you might be facing a year down the road. While nobody has a crystal ball, it stands to reason that if one component of, for example, your air conditioning system has gone kaput, it’s connected to two other major components that are the same age. Your decision to repair or not needs to factor in reasonable assumptions about what could happen next. A tech you know and trust can be a huge factor in how you make this decision. Ideally, you’ve been servicing your vehicle regularly with someone who can offer you good advice. If not, start asking friends and family who they trust.

The dealer’s role

While a dealer is happy to service your car for you, they’re also in the business of selling you another one. Gather information, but standing in a shiny showroom is not the place to pull the plug on your current ride, or the trigger on a new one. If you didn’t go there to buy a car, don’t leave with an impulse purchase.

Make a list

Calculate what your vehicle has actually cost you to run. From the sunk cost of the purchase itself, consider interest, routine maintenance, tires and fuel costs. Compare that against the purchase of a new, or newer, vehicle. Prices have escalated drastically since 2020, as have interest rates. If you’ve done proper maintenance, it is still expected that you will face higher repair costs outside of warranty as the vehicle ages. That doesn’t make it a money pit; spending a couple of thousand dollars to avoid starting the process all over again - and at a far higher cost - might be your smartest route. This is a good time to evaluate how much you actually use your vehicle. Doing far fewer kilometres if you now work from home should be a factor, just as a new longer commute also changes the equation. Make sure your roadside assistance program is up to date.

Pump and dump

Sometimes large repairs can shake your faith in your ride, especially if your anxiety spikes when in unfamiliar territory. Be kind to yourself, and listen. Take a look at online reputable sales sites to find out what your vehicle would be worth on the used market, and consider making the repair and then selling it. But be alert: if you’re going to be looking for your next vehicle in the same market, you too, will be buying what could have been someone else’s problem. A car with a warranty will be a safer bet for some consumers, but get the most for your used vehicle by getting it into decent shape.

Don’t go underwater

The introduction of longer-term car loans over the past couple of decades has led to huge gaps in what a vehicle is worth and what you might still owe on it. If you took out an 84 or 96-month term, you might still be paying on a car that is probably out of warranty, and due for some major repairs. Sellers can make it look very enticing to simply roll that debt into a new car loan, but resist the urge. Carrying old debt into a new loan for a depreciating asset is a mistake. Instead, consider repairing and selling your vehicle yourself to maximize what you can get for it. While trading it in is easier and offers a break on the sales tax, don’t overbuy and end up with a loan that’s for more than you’re paying for your new ride.

Making up your mind

Sometimes, a looming repair bill is a catalyst you were waiting for to buy a new vehicle. A warranty can bring peace of mind, and newer cars have excellent safety systems that might not have been available on your current one. Factor in more than just the financial angle. For older drivers who do low mileage, there might be an urge to hang onto a “perfectly good car” when a new one might be a safer bet. Backup cameras, lane departure warnings and parking assists can not only help drivers be safer, they can keep you driving safely, longer.

Like most things in life, knowing when to let go of a vehicle is more math than magic. Consider your safety and your financial situation, and talk to someone who knows your car. Paying for an hour of shop time could make all the difference.

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