Maintaining an older car

Maintaining an older car

Back to school time also means back to work for my husband, who currently works for a local school district. Over the summer, he spoiled me by driving me to and from work everyday. It was great to be dropped off right at the front of my building instead of parking a mile away and either walking (not wise to do while pregnant during Arizona’s extreme summer months) or hopping a free bus.

It was also nice that we could spend a little more time together. We usually spent our ten-fifteen minute car rides in the morning making plans for that evening or the rest of the week, and after work, we would run errands before heading home.

Unfortunately for me, our nice little trips are coming to an end as a new school year begins, and I will once again drive myself into work. At least for the month of August, because I will be going on maternity leave at the beginning of September.

That said, my car — a reliable 1998 Ford — was in desperate need of a tune up and the air conditioning has not worked for three years. So Bradley and I took the car into the autoshop yesterday morning and chatted with the mechanic.

I have been preparing myself for the air conditioning to be quite expensive and we did not know if there was anything else wrong that would also require immediate attention. This is one reason why we chose to wait to take the car in. Another reason was that Bradley’s vehicle, which we use more often and for longer distances, needed a few major repairs earlier this year. So we waited to work on my car until we had saved up enough money in our Vehicle Maintenance Fund to cover whatever repairs might required.

To our surprise, the mechanic quoted a significantly lower price than I anticipated, though we knew it could go up once they got under the hood and poked around. Still, when Bradley dropped me off at the office, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

About lunch time, Bradley received a call saying that the air conditioning damage was more extensive than they had seen in a long time. Yes, my poor car experienced an incident three years ago that caused a bit of damage, and yet it has continued running faithfully. Sometimes old cars are better than new ones! Especially old cars that are completely paid off and just need a little extra care to get it back in proper working order.

After work, we swung by the autoshop to pick up the car. I was actually surprised they were able to fix the air conditioning in one day. In addition to the AC, they did the usual check up and an oil change. The mechanic did let us know that a few other items will need to be replaced down the line. For example, the radiator reservoir has a big dent in it. No cracks or leaks yet, but it probably should be replaced in awhile. The final price, including labor, was actually a tad lower than the price we were quoted in the morning. Praise the Lord!

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Driving home was amazing! The car drove nice and smooth and the cool air was heavenly!

You have to understand, I have been without air conditioning in this car for three years, and I live in Arizona where temperatures in the summer often stay above 110° and it is even hotter inside a car driving on asphalt in rush hour traffic. Mornings were always fine, but driving home in the afternoons, I would be soaked in sweat and have to shower!

Now the vents are blowing lovely and wonderfully cool air! It is also powerful. I actually had to turn it down to low before I arrived home. Driving into work for August will be a breeze now, and once our little son is born, I will be able to take him on errands during the day instead of having to wait for Bradley to get home.

Maintain an older car or get a new one?

So how do you know if an old car is worth maintaining or if it would be more cost effective in the long run to trade up?

Here are a few things to consider before ditching your current vehicle and rushing out to buy a new or new-to-you used one:

Current monthly payments

Is your current vehicle completely paid off? If it is, than the only monthly expenses you have is your insurance and gas. Every once in a while, you may have to take the car in for a tune up or repair, but you are free from the burden of large monthly car payments.

I love that my car — old as it is — is completely paid off! I only have to pay for the insurance on a monthly basis, routine maintenance once or twice a year (which I admit I had neglected over the last two years), and repairs rarely.

Tip: If you are not already, you should start tracking your monthly expenses so you can get an accurate idea of how much you are spending each month and where that money is going. Learn more about tracking your expenses with our Budget Guide: Tips for Saving series!

Total maintenance costs

How much have you spent in the last year or two maintaining your current vehicle? Sure, a few hundred dollars here and a thousand there can feel huge when you are on a budget or, like us, want to pay cash and not use credit cards or loans. However, even if you spent $3,000-$5,000 on your vehicle in the last two years, that is significantly less than you will pay on a new car. Even if you get a new-to-you used vehicle, you do not always know upfront what the cost of maintaining that vehicle down the road will be.

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Tip: You can have your local, trusted mechanic give you a list of items that may need to be addressed in the near future but do not have to be repaired immediately. This can help you decide whether or not it is worth keeping your current vehicle and also help you properly save up for those repairs. Learn more about creating a Vehicle Maintenance Fund in your savings account!

Reliability of the vehicle

If properly maintained, how reliable is your vehicle? Does your car have a history of unexpected breakdowns? Is there a major repair looming in your near future that you will not be able to afford even with the savings from your Vehicle Maintenance Fund? Depending upon the past reliability of your car, you may lean towards keeping it or trading it in.

Satisfying needs

Does your current vehicle still meet the needs of you and your family? Sometimes, an individual or family simply outgrow a vehicle. Perhaps your current vehicle can no longer accommodate your growing family or changes in your profession, hobbies, or budget. However, if the car is still satisfying your needs, you may want to keep it longer and save the money that would otherwise go to a new car, monthly payments, and higher insurance.

After taking all of these things into consideration, you will have a better idea on which course of action is right for you. There may be unavoidable and practical reasons that necessitate a new car. Or perhaps you realize just how reliable and cost effective your current vehicle actually is — despite its age, quirks, and odd looks.

I understand. My Ford is, unfortunately, not the most attractive anymore. Hard water when I lived in California years ago damaged the paint pretty badly, but despite its looks, the extremely low maintenance costs, no monthly payments, and reliability of the vehicle make it a keeper! I think we can get a few more years out of it.

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