Is My Car Worth Fixing?

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I recently found myself at a crossroads with one of our family vehicles, a crossroads that so many of us will face at some point in our driving lifetimes. The question before me: Should I fix this car, or is it time to get rid of it before I end up in a financial hole over it?

In my case, the car was a long-trusted Volvo station wagon. The car had been used on and off for years and had served the family quite well, never leaving us stranded and always navigating surely through any type of weather.

In fact, the only repair I had done on the vehicle in 170,000 miles was a rear spring replacement. Something caused the right rear coil spring to snap in half, resulting in a noticeable slump on that corner and lots of loud clunking.

Outside of regular maintenance, that was the only money spend on the vehicle in all those miles of driving. At about the 172k mile mark, the other rear spring broke, and my headlight wiring went bad, and it was time for a big batch of regular maintenance on top of the repairs.

The bill would be substantial, and an old Volvo with high mileage certainly doesn’t have the value to justify very high a repair bill. This is a dilemma lots of car owners face. On one hand, you have a car that you still use, still enjoy, and still know what to expect from. On the other hand, every vehicle reaches that point of diminishing returns where you need to unload it before you waste any more repair cash on it.

But how do you know which hand to choose? Before you jump into the decision, it’s probably a good idea to see what you think your car is worth.

Body Repairs

If you’re faced with the keep it or chuck it question, and the repairs you’re facing are cosmetic, there are a few factors to consider. You might have a car that still serves you well but is in desperate need of a paint job.

Is it worth painting? First you have to ask yourself whether the car or truck is in good mechanical shape outside of the needed body or paint work. This isn’t just a question of whether or not the vehicle is running. You have to give yourself some idea of its overall condition in terms of future reliability. Unless you have a crystal ball you won’t know for sure, but if the car rattles, jiggles and wanders from side to side going down the road as you smell antifreeze from the front and gas fumes from the rear, it might not have a bright future. Dent repairs are one thing, rust repair is another. If your car is suffering from rust holes, it’s probably not worth doing much cosmetic repair. A rust hole the size of a quarter will usually require a repair area the size of a basketball. For this reason you can be looking at serious repair costs when repairing rust

Mechanical Repairs

A decision on whether to jump into a big batch of mechanical repairs is quite different from a paint and body question. But the aesthetic condition of your vehicle does come into play. If your car looks great and you still love it, you should definitely lean more toward making any needed repairs — that is, if the numbers make sense at all.

The most important things to consider are first, your desire to hold onto the vehicle and second, the condition it will be in after this repair is made. If your car is worth $3500 and needs $2000 in repairs, it may still be worth it. If you spend $2000 on the repairs, and you go back to enjoying a reliable vehicle, it's smarter to spend the repair money than to spend lots more on a different vehicle.