Q: I just took my 2000 Honda Accord in for an oil change and inspection and was told it needs a lot of work – mainly maintenance items – approximately $3,000 worth. Is it time to buy a new car?
A: Only if you want to. Generally speaking, it is more cost effective to repair the vehicle you already own than to buy a new or even a newer used vehicle.
The secret to vehicle longevity is maintenance – more importantly, the correct maintenance – doing what is needed when it needs to be done. With the correct maintenance, your engine, transmission and differentials can last hundreds of thousands of miles, and you can save thousands of dollars in automotive expenses.
For example, assuming your car is paid off, examine the next three years during which you will probably drive between 36,000 and 50,000 miles. Regular maintenance and repairs should cost less than $3,000; insurance, approximately $1,120; and state fees, a couple of hundred dollars. Your projected expense over the next three years, including the $3,000 you spend for repairs now, is less than $8,000.
In contrast, for a new $20,000 vehicle with a down payment of $5,000 and sales tax of approximately $1,100, you would be financing more than $12,000 with monthly payments that could range from $200 to $400 or more per month. Maintenance costs over three years might run about $2,000; insurance, $2,500; and state fees, $1,000 or more. Your expense over three years could total more than $17,000.
The other fact to keep in mind is that your new car depreciates in value the minute you drive it off the lot – it immediately moves from new car to used car.
Keeping the car you already have and making timely repairs to keep it reliable could save at least $9,000 over a three-year period.
How do you know if your vehicle is being taken care of properly? You can choose the dealer, but it may not always be interested in your efforts to prolong your car’s life. Dealers are, after all, in the business of selling new cars. The most likely place to work with you on prolonging the life of your vehicle is an independent repair shop that wants to have an ongoing, long-term relationship with you.
Look for an independent repair shop certified by AAA. AAA visits each of its member facilities quarterly to make sure that they have the correct tools and equipment, ongoing training programs for staff, the correct insurances, paid business fees and a high customer satisfaction index.
Another affiliation to look for is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence). This is an organization that tests auto service employees. The voluntary testing is the only program in the industry that evaluates whether an auto service employee is competent.
Last but not least, look for a clean, well-organized facility that reflects pride in workmanship.