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When do you walk away from an old car?

This past weekend, I got to enjoy an out of town tournament with my daughter and we had a great time as usual, however, there was one incident that marred the weekend a little, and made me wonder when do you walk away from an old car ?

The parents typically get lost easily (I include myself in that group), so we typically convoy to gymnasiums from hotels so we don’t all get lost. I had a small convoy behind me, and just as we came off a parkway in Hamilton, we came to a set of lights. We stopped, the light turned green, I turned left chatted with my passenger, looked in my rear view mirror and my convoy was gone!

That was very strange, but we went on to the gym, and I called the members of the convoy to find out whether they had turned left to go to a Tim Horton’s or the like. No, the car behind me “dropped” it’s transmission as it’s driver put their foot down on the accelerator. My heart sunk when I heard that because that is one of my pet paranoia’s (car breaking down in strange city).

This Dad luckily had roadside assistance, so he got it towed to the dealership, who declared the transmission “Dead on Arrival”, and gave him three options:

  1. Replace with brand new transmission
  2. Replace with rebuilt transmission
  3. Walk away from the van

This Dad wasn’t sure what to do, so he rightly decided to take a rental and figure out what to do and deal with it on Monday. Now over the next 24 hours, the Dad made a plan and decided to go with option (3) and not put good money after bad in this situation. He will find another car, and deal with it, instead of attempting to nurse this old clunker any more.

How the Heck do you Decide?

When do you pull the plug in this situation. This Dad did the right thing, he deliberated, called his wife, discussed it with her, they made a plan and are executing it, but I am always amazed when people can make that decision.

I can look back on decisions I have made and figure out whether they are right or wrong, but only in hindsight, making a BIG decision like, “let’s push the car off the cliff” causes me to go into decision brain freeze. I sit there make lists argue all sides of the decision and then usually don’t decide, or procrastinate. Luckily my mechanic is very honest and makes the decision for me (i.e., “Alan this thing is a death trap and I am not fixing it any more, go get another car”).

How do you decide when it is time to get rid of a car? When is “enough” money spent on a car?

Feel Free to Comment

  1. Good comments, I still don’t know what the “right” answer is, but they have flip flopped and will now put a new transmission in the van and attempt to keep it on the road for a while longer. Not sure that is the right decision, but, what are you going to do?


  2. I’ve heard the argument “Don’t fix the car if it is worth less than what the repairs cost.”

    In this case, if the transmission is worth $2000 in repair bills, and the fixed vehicle would be worth $2500, and the unfixed vehicle was worth $600 to a scrap dealer, it would not make sense to fix it ($2000+$600 > $2500).

    I never really know what my vehicle is worth, so I’d have to do the same thing the Dad did in your entertaining anecdote. I would think it over; run some comparisons with, and decide whether it was worth it. Since I drive a ’94 Taurus, I’d be inclined to buy a newer vehicle if it were a close call.

  3. I got rid of my old car last year. For me it was pretty simple, the repairs needed to pass inspection added up to at least twice what the car was worth and I fully expected more problems even after the repairs (the car was almost 11 years old). It was just not worth putting any more money into the car. I can only do basic maintenance myself and depend on my mechanic for all repairs. I’ve found that the 10 year mark is about when the cost of maintenance outweighs the value of keeping the car on the road. For me, once a car is 10 years old I either try to sell it then or I set up some kind of rule like “no repairs over $100” and drive it into the ground.

  4. I recently went through this with a 6 year old Ford Taurus who’s engine failed. I replaced the engine since I couldn’t find another car that was around 4 grand that will be as nice as mine.

    The place I took it to broke both the heat and the air conditioning, and are refusing to fix it.

    It’s really unfortunate that public transport isn’t better around here or I probably could have ditched it since we live fairly close to a grocery store. With the way the kids get to school and babysitting, my GF works one town over, we do need a car . . . but trying to keep a ford running is like trying to hold back a tsunami with a roll of paper towel.

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