When To Sell and When to Repair – A Used Car Owner’s Guide

Black wallet with cash coming out being held by a man in a blue shirt in front of a silver car

As an owner of a used car, it can be difficult to know when to draw the line. On one hand, you probably like the car you have – maybe it’s gotten you through some great adventures, or has just been a reliable vehicle for a long time, and parting ways can be emotional. Or, maybe, you curse your rusty beater every morning as you struggle to start the engine, wishing desperately for a better daily driver.

Deciding when to take your vehicle in for repairs and when to simply say “That’s it, I’m going to sell my car” can be difficult. Luckily there are a few basic things you can keep in mind when dealing with a problem-laden used car that you’re considering selling, which can save you a lot of money and prevent your making the wrong financial decision.


Are Major Components Starting To Go?

One of the first indicators that your car may be on its last legs as a functional vehicle is if main components, like the transmission, engine, or alternator, start to malfunction or break. These are basically core elements of your car’s construction and without them the car cannot properly drive. They are also some of the most expensive parts, requiring the most hands-on mechanical work to repair.

That being said, it’s important to judge how much this repair work is going to cost you, and if these repairs aren’t going to cost you more in the long run than the cost of a new car. In that case, you’re better off selling your used car for parts and putting that money toward a new car.

That being said, having a new engine or transmission put into your used car can actually raise the value of your car if you go to sell it later. Generally, you can expect to make back close to what you put into the repairs – provided you sell the car soon after the repairs are done. This isn’t a guarantee, but putting work into a used car usually pays off when it comes time for resale.


Are Repairs Getting More Frequent?

Although big problems, like engine failure, may plague old or used car, the real issues with used vehicles come from the constant stream of little repairs: maybe a broken window mechanism, or electrical issues, or brake problem, all of which are relatively inexpensive alone, but can combine to rack up a serious repair bill when together.

Since an older used car is more likely to encounter small problems more frequently as it ages, having to deal with these minor repairs over and over again can add up to large, unnecessary expenses spent fixing a car that is only going to keep needing repairs. Depending on how often you’re going in for small fixes, it might be more worthwhile to just put your money toward a new car than to keep patching up a dying car.


How Much Is Your Car Actually Worth?

Used cars can be tricky – depreciation can be a fickle friend with even lightly used cars, and as cars get older their value steadily decreases due to age. Combine this with necessary repairs or past issues and the value of your used car could be quite low – which should definitely come into play when considering repairs.

If repairs are going to cost you more than the value of your used car, you obviously should not get the repairs. No amount of repair is going to bring the value back to your car and the used vehicle should probably be scrapped and sold for what it’s worth.

On the other hand, if repairs are less than, say, seventy-five percent of the value of your car and you know you’ll get at least a few months o a couple years out of the repairs, it might be worthwhile to go for the quick fix. Sometimes it is better to take a used car as far as it can go, and if repairs are affordable this stays especially true.


Is Your Car Still Safe?

If your used vehicle is particularly old, it might be wise to consider how safe that beater actually is. Today, new cars come with a host of safety features, including everything from standard airbag systems to cameras and sensors for the driver to monitor around the vehicle. These are included in response to greater driver demand for safety as well as tighter regulations on included safety materials.

That bein said, if your car is a few decades old it may not contain all of the same standard safety features as new vehicles. Your used vehicle may have served you just fine for years with no problem, but it may not be worth it to take that risk when out on the road with newer, more secure vehicles. Whether you’ve got a new family coming or you’re simply concerned for the safety of your passengers, it might be time to trade in that used car for something a little safer.


Consider The Costs

When considering buying a new car versus keeping and repairing your used vehicle, it’s important to realistically assess the costs of each. In many cases a new car payment can seem like too big of an investment, but in reality, this may be comparable or even more affordable than huge, repeated repair bills.

To make the comparison easier, try to break it down into more easily comparable figures. For instance, a $300 per month car payment might seem like a lot, but if you have to bring your used vehicle into the shop for $2000 in repairs every six months then it is actually more affordable to take on the new car than to fix the old one. Plus, with a newer vehicle you’ll be facing a better resale value down the road than you would by simply running your used vehicle into the ground.

For all of these reasons, it’s important to consider just how worthwhile it may be to fix your used car or to simply look into buying a new one. While salvaging your used vehicle can save you money and keep you with your beloved car a little longer, it’s also important to recognize when a good thing has come to an end and when it’s time for a new chapter in your automotive autobiography. Next time you’re looking at your beat-up beater, take a minute to think and consider what your best option really is.