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Should You Replace Your Car?

An internal debate that may help you gain clarity.

Mariordo, CC 4.0
Source: Mariordo, CC 4.0

Other than perhaps a house or education, we spend more on cars than anything. The average cost of one car is now $33,000 plus 68 months of interest.

Should you spring for one? Perhaps this internal debate will help you clarify.

PERSON: My Prius has 250,000 miles and while it still runs perfectly, it seems time to change.

ALTER EGO: Why replace something just because it seems time to change?

PERSON: Well, it's a little embarrassing having a car with dents--and it's not worth repairing them.

ALTER EGO: So you're willing to spend $30,000 so little minds won't think less of you for having dents in your car?

PERSON: Of course, there's the reliability issue. At some point, something's going to go wrong. I'd hate to have to be somewhere and break down.

ALTER EGO: That's not that likely. It's lasted this long and hasn't broken down once. When your car starts driving badly, burning oil, or making scary engine noises, fine. At least, wait until your tires wear out--another year or two?

PERSON: It'll be kind of fun to have a new car, to try the new gadgets, enjoy the new car smell.

ALTER EGO: That could be carcinogenic. And you hate having to learn all the new cars' technodoodads. Even though you'll end up using only 10% of them you'll feel the need to learn them all because the car cost you so much.  For you, a car is an appliance: All you care is that it reliably and economically gets you from Point A to Point B. And your Prius does that.

PERSON: My wife wants me to get a new car.

ALTER EGO: Yes, that's to be considered but it has to be weighed against the factors I've mentioned, plus others. For example, there's the opportunity cost. If you invested that money, instead of losing half the money the minute you drove off the lot, you'd probably make money.

PERSON: If I adopted that philosophy, I'd never buy anything.

ALTER EGO: Don't exaggerate. Just because you're waiting a year or two to replace your car doesn't mean you believe in buying nothing.

PERSON: I'll probably have to replace the car in a year or two, so why not do it now, which would reduce my chances of a breakdown?

ALTER EGO:  The chances of a breakdown are small, and there often are new-car problems. Plus, do you really have the time to buy a car now when it's unnecessary?  Think of the hassle of buying a car: You know yourself. You'll take all the time needed to get a really good deal. Then, because you don't want to overpay on insurance or financing, you won't let the dealer sell it to you; you'll shop for the best deal. Then you have to go to the DMV and you know what that's like! Plus, in addition to having to learn all the new car's gizmos, you'll have the annoyance of having to get used to where everything is: the windshield wipers,the A/C, the car audio controls. There's even safety issues---the blind spots are different in every car.

PERSON:  I had to do all that with my previous cars and it wasn't anywhere near as big a deal as you're implying.

ALTER EGO:  If there was a new car out there you were dying to have, you'd buy it, but there isn't. The new Prius looks like it was designed for the gang-banger market.

PERSON: There are a zillion cars out there. Go look.

ALTER EGO: That's like saying I should just go to the pound to see if there might be a doggie they want to adopt. There, emotions get the best of people and they adopt one, which could be a mistake. No, the time to buy a new car is when it needs a big repair or the tires wear out. Then sell the car.

PERSON: I'd get so little for it and if I'm selling it with a defect, even though I'd disclose that, I could have a hassle with the buyer. Shouldn't I give it to charity, to one of those services?

ALTER EGO: Those "services" actually keep most of them money for themselves. Only a tiny fraction goes to a charity. That's another good reason to wait. Right now, you  don't know of a charity that needs a car. When in the course of events, you hear of one, that might be a reason to get a new car. Or if the car has a serious problem, for God's sake, just junk it.

PERSON: I'll think about it.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.