Author Topic: Case study: Replace or repair my car?  (Read 3702 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« on: March 12, 2015, 10:02:44 PM »
I've recently found the MMM community, and though I've never been a spendthrift, I have recommitted to more frugal ways. 

My current conundrum is whether to replace my current car, or fix 'er up and try to keep 'er going.  My current car is a not exactly fuel-efficient Suzuki Grand Vitara (a smallish SUV that seemed like a great idea in my teens). It's 15 years old (I've owned it for 10 years) and has just shy of 120k miles.  It's paid off, but needs a bit of work:

*The air compressor is shot, estimated cost to repair is about $1000. I'm fine without A/C now, but I live in a climate where it will be unbearable for most months out of the year to drive without it.
*The power window motors are starting to go out.  I'm afraid to roll them down for fear of having them stuck that way.  I've already had them replaced once, and I believe it was over $150 for a junkyard part for just one window. 
*The service engine light is perpetually on, related to something with the fuel system getting clogged with bits of flaking off rubber.  Doesn't impact the function of the car, but doesn't help re-sale value either.
*It's definitely due for some standard maintenance based on mileage.  Some I could probably teach myself how to do, but I don't have a space or tools right now to do it.
*Probably could use some new tires too, though they're not threadbare yet.

Right now, I drive pretty infrequently.  I am able to walk to work, and my significant other usually drives when we go places.  Unfortunately, said significant other will soon be moving closer to work, resulting in a 40 minute (highway) drive for me to visit on weekends. 

It seems obvious that I'm going to need a new car soon, and I've been wanting to switch to something a little more environmentally friendly, but I'm just trying to tease out the value in putting more money into the car than it's worth so I can pay off student loans faster, or possibly needing a loan to buy a used car.  It doesn't seem sensible to spend over a thousand dollars on a car that's probably worth half that, but it also seems wasteful to me to spend several thou on a car that I'll only drive a couple times per week at most.

My current take-home pay is about $2900/month, after insurance and 401K contributions. I figure if I tighten up on my splurges, I can live comfortably on half and put the other half toward debts/savings.

Monthly Expenses:
Rent $470
Utilities $100
Internet $55
Phone $70 (will be dropping to $33 soon after I switch carriers)
Car Insurance $55
Food/incidentals $300-$600

(Subtotal $1350)

Current debt:
Student loan ~$2900 (~$2k @ 5%, rest at 2%). I have been paying my student loans aggressively and have it set to $250 minimum automatic payment. I'm several years ahead in payments so could pause these if necessary.
PLUS student loan ~$5980 @ ~7.5% (-technically under my mom's name, but I pay for it.) This is set at $150/month, which is about $50 over the minimum if I didn't want to accelerate payments. 
Medical bill $950
(subtotal ~$9830)

Upcoming expense:
$3000 MBA tuition (every 6 months)- this MIGHT be reimbursed through work, still trying to figure it out with HR.

Between my checking and savings accounts, I have about $6300 on hand. I never carry a balance, but I also have about $25k in available credit cards. I have about $20k in my retirement accounts.

I was planning on using my cash on hand to pay my MBA tuition, then putting the rest toward debt repayment, but maybe I should put it toward a cheap used car instead?

« Last Edit: March 12, 2015, 10:07:45 PM by SJtoFI »


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2015, 12:08:07 AM »
I'd say fix and keep the car. It should still have another 50,000 miles at least left in it.

You'll spend a lot more to replace it than to fix it, and even then it'll eventually need maintenance.


  • Stubble
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Re: Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2015, 12:42:44 AM »
I drive a 20yr+ old car and I bought it used appx 10 yrs ago. I have followed the following rules in helping me decide to repair and keep the car OR get a new one.
+ If I spend $1000 on repairs, I tell myself that I will use it for one more year to recover the cost.
   For example, paint was chipping away...repainting cost me appx $400 or so....add one more year of use. Been 2+ years now...
+ 3 major repairs a year, ditch it. Major repairs (to me) are those costing >$500.
    Came close tires and compressor broke in the same year....added one more year of use....4+ years now...
+ I am very particular about periodic oil changes, sir pressure checks, txn fluid changes, etc. This maintenance
   cost is roughly 3 times a year and on average is appx $75 per visit. This is separate from the repairs I mentioned above.
+ Never compromise on safety...if the car is unsafe, it is better for physical and mental sanity to get a different car if possible.

Hope this helps.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2015, 05:24:12 AM »
It sounds like you have several expensive repairs for the car:tires 400ish, compressor 1000, window motors 300?, whatever w/ engine 500-1500???, 120000 mile standard maintenance (which could be the timing belt and a bunch of other stuff - 1000.

How much is the car worth? Could you get another reliable vehicle for what the repairs would cost you? What about taking the car in and getting an estimate on all the needed repairs?


  • Stubble
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Re: Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2015, 03:30:21 PM »
If you did not have the prospect of regular long round trips every week to visit your SO, then I'd say you could pretty easily keep on plugging away in the Vitara. With regular longish trips, I think you are probably a bit better off selling it more or less as it is and budgeting around US$3k for something reliable with better fuel consumption. A few grand is about the price of entry for a cheap, basically reliable car, whatever kind of driving you do, though that that price you will of course still have a car with enough mileage on it to require more maintenance-related parts replacement than something newish. You can find better value if you pick something with a known good history of reliability that is not a Honda or Toyota.


The Beacon

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Re: Case study: Replace or repair my car?
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2015, 04:12:09 PM »
Can you ask your SO to visit you?  If you drive so little to work, you should not buy a car.  Plus I do not see any major issues with your car except the air compressor.  If your car was not abused in the past, it still has a lot of life left.  BTW, window regulators are easy to replace. You do not need to get a junk yard part. You can get a brand new one for around 150 from any auto parts store.


Wow, a phone plan for fifteen bucks!