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Repair or Replace: Is It Time to Wave Goodbye to Your Old Car?

What you'll learn: Learn when to repair your car or  replace it


Most of us find ourselves in a losing battle at some point trying to keep an old car on the road, even with the most conscientious maintenance and determined repairs. But the decision to put down the wrench and put your money into a more reliable vehicle can be agonizing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to patch things up instead of starting monthly car loan payments again? How do you know when the time is right?

Figuring out when to give Old Nellie the heave-ho is a highly personal decision. You may have a strong sentimental attachment to your car. You know its history and how it’s been maintained, and you know what costs and maintenance to expect in the months ahead. Still, most of us justifiably lose patience in the face of repeated breakdowns and bills. Consider these objective factors to help you see more clearly into a decision to repair or replace your old car.

It’s probably time to replace your old car when:

  1. Your maintenance costs are higher than 50% of your car’s value. If you’re essentially re-buying your car every other month, you’re pouring money down the drain. Time to shore things up.
  2. You’re due for a big repair or major maintenance. If your car’s value has shrunk and you know you have a major outlay coming up, trade up now. Don’t hope against hope that a big infusion of cash will solve your issues. Again, consider whether the money you’re about to spend on your car represents more than half of its current value. If so, it’s time to go.
  3. Your car has become unsafe or unreliable. When getting from Point A to Point B has become a roll of the dice, it’s time to get a new vehicle. If your car can’t pass a safety inspection or run reliably, that’s a no-go. Even intermittent mechanical issues can become liabilities if they risk stranding you or your loved ones in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  4. You can afford to upgrade. Use our handy car financing calculator to run the numbers on how much your payments might be. Does that fit into your monthly budget? Put a pencil and some thought to the figures to help decide how much car you can actually afford.

Replacing your old beater with a brand new vehicle is the ideal fix for a never-ending stream of breakdowns and repairs. If payments for a new car loan don’t fit into your budget, consider the alternatives instead. A PenFed Payment Saver auto loan could help bring a new car into reach, and the PenFed Car Buying Service helps make sure you don’t overpay. You might even want to buy your car online.

Still, the value of a new car drops by 20 percent the moment you drive it off the car lot, according to That means buying a used car sometimes makes more sense. Because you don’t want to trade one set of mechanical troubles for another, look for a certified pre-owned car from a dealer. You’ll get a warranty that gives you peace of mind and protection for your wallet.

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