Scrap it or keep it?

When is enough, enough, or when should I give up on my old car and buy a shiny new one? That’s a tough question but perhaps these general rules will help you make a financially realistic decision.

Let’s begin with how the vehicle is used which has an enormous impact on how long you should keep it. Here’s a shocker! If the vehicle has been used mainly for short trip driving it will probably be ready for its trip to the bone-yard in fewer miles than the car that has primarily been highway driven. Short trips and low speeds are very hard on a car and are very misleading as to actual wear on its components.

Those of you who drive mostly at slower speeds may have a lot more hours on your car than you realize. Amazingly, automobiles and pickup trucks are essentially the only machines on earth that measure use by the number of miles covered by their wheels.  Nearly everything else measures use in hours of operation.

Hours-of-use is a far better indicator than miles driven. The math: if you drive at thirty miles per hour you’ll cover thirty miles every hour and at sixty you’ll cover sixty miles every hour. Rocket Science 303 not necessary for that! Okay, but that begs the obvious question, why doesn’t anyone pay attention to the obvious?

Drive your car 50,000 miles at thirty miles per hour and you’ll have twice as many hours on your car as the person who drives 50,000 miles at sixty miles per hour. That’s one reason why preventive maintenance recommendations are given in both time and mileage not just mileage. Those who drive short distances at slow speed accumulate hours while those driving longer distances at higher speed accumulate miles. In either case the number of hours of use will be similar.

But, when should you dispose of the old bus? There is no-one-answer-fits-all but a short-trip, slowly driven vehicle may be ready for retirement just as soon as a vehicle with significantly more miles but routinely driven at higher speed. Now doesn’t that just fly right in the face of what everyone accepts as car-gospel?

Analyzing your driving habits is step one of this momentous decision. If you’re a slow lane type person, the low miles on your odometer may present a flawed impression about overall condition, likewise for the high mileage vehicle. Typically, you’ll assume your low mileage car is in much better condition than it really is or your high mileage car is a lot worse than it is.

Do not assume! Have a bumper-to-bumper evaluation before, not after spending a lot of money for a major repair. Check all the normal things plus all the not so normal bits as well. A skilled technician can provide you with a good read on “what’s wrong now” and “what’s borderline or soon to fall off.” The physical should include checking the battery and electrical system, cooling system, brake system, steering and suspension systems, exhaust system, and engine and transmission condition plus an exam for structural rust. Also important is a search for recalls and technical service bulletins. Finally there’s your Internet appraisal which you’ll use with your test results to determine whether to fix or not to fix based on facts, not emotions.

Speaking of emotions, a car is metal, plastic and rubber and there are thousands made every day so forget emotional attachments and make your decision based on the numbers. You may love your old refugee from a junk yard but I guarantee it will never love you back.

© Copyright 05/07/2015 Pat Goss all rights reserved.

4 comments

David James said:

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May 30, 2015 at 2:11 pm

I believe that a vehicle well-maintained and driven gently can last well past the point of normal “trade in” and go for years and hundreds of thousands of miles. We have a couple of late 90s Toyotas that still run great and also look good with well in excess of 150K miles each. They have gotten regular preventive maintenance which includes 30K mile trans, brake and coolant flushes, 3-5K oil changes (depending on time no longer than 6 months in the crankcase) and have been kept clean and presentable. I would have no qualms about getting in either car and firing it up and taking a jaunt to the left coast and then coming back again at highway speeds and in whatever terrain presented itself. These are just two examples of what we have now in addtion to other vehicles that are frankly now our primary drivers. The older cars are worth more to us than they would be in trade.

Jay Webster said:

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April 15, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Yes, I think much like David James. 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo 4WD 4.0L straight 6, with 220,000 miles is easy for shade tree mechanic to work on. No expensive electronic tire pressure devices, etc. Mobil 1 Synthetic 5w-30 & change every 6 months. When anything breaks, fix it. Much less expensive than new vehicle.

Bill Hildebrand said:

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April 15, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I agree with David James. My 99 Tahoe has 155k & I just tk it to Maine for lobster. ….no worries.
Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

John Jennings said:

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April 17, 2016 at 10:39 am

I agree. I have a ’99 Escort with 178,000 miles that runs the same as ever. Summer gas mileage is 40+mpg, winter 35 or so. The new ones aren’t as good. What gives there? I just wish there was a good way to prevent/fix rust. They ought to be able to make them more rust proof. People will still wear them out and crash them, they won’t lose sales.

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