When should you give up on an old car?

To service or replace… It can be a difficult – and often emotional – decision. Here are CANSTAR’s tips for knowing when to call it a day with an old car.

To service or replace... It can be a difficult – and often emotional – decision. CANSTAR’s best tips for knowing when to call it a day with an old car.

Plenty of people love their cars like a member of the family; penty of people even give them a name! (If your car doesn’t already have a name, why not try a car name generator like this one or borrow a car name from the celebrities?)

But no car is immortal – and most of us are not driving a brand-new car to begin with.

Safety first

When the rubber hits the road, it’s hard to put a price tag on the peace of mind that comes from the safety upgrades in a new car. Even if safety is not your top priority, I can guarantee it’s vitally important to your passengers.

Cars today are being designed better and better, with more safety features coming as standard. Plus, an old car simply cannot remain reliable forever, since old and worn-out parts obviously work less effectively. So even if you saved some money by hanging onto that 20-year-old bomb you inherited from Grandma, a blown drive shaft while driving down the highway can mean a life-and-death situation.

Don’t let a broken-down car make the decision for you. Think ahead so you have time to make a reasoned decision that works for your budget as well as your passengers.

Do the math

What are the pros and cons of repairs versus new car repayments? Answer the following questions and when you’re done, you’ll pretty much know whether your old car is worth keeping from a strictly financial viewpoint.

  1. How much is your car worth? You can check your car’s value with Redbook. A 10-year-old car may still have some considerable value, while that 20-year-old bomb from Grandma is probably worth $2,000 at most – or it may only be worth something to the wreckers. Note: If you’re going to sell your car pre-repair, you are required by law to let the buyer know about any repairs that need done.
  2. How much would it cost to replace your car? A car repayment plan for a relatively cheap car can be around a few hundred dollars per month, so it might cost less to just do the repairs. You can work out what your monthly repayment would be at different interest rates using our CANSTAR Car Loan Calculator. Compare car loan interest rates here. And don’t forget about car insurance, too!


  1. How much are you paying in services per year? If you’re paying more in repairs than the estimated car repayments would be, a new (or “new” used) vehicle could give you some peace of mind. Future repair costs are unlikely to be needed anytime soon for a new car, and also fuel efficiency costs are lower than in old cars.
  2. How much is this repair going to cost? If the repair costs less than half of the car’s market value, it could still be worth doing. But if the repair is going to cost more than the car is worth, cut your losses. Take that 20-year-old car from Granma. If it’s only worth $2,000, then repairs of $2,000 are worthless because you know the car is on its way out anyway, and more repairs are coming down the road.
  3. How long will this repair keep your car going? If the repair is for a once-in-a-while issue and will keep your going for an extra few years, it could be worth it.
  4. What can your budget currently afford? If you are currently struggling to pay an expensive repair every now and then, then your budget will probably also struggle to pay a few hundred dollars a month in car repayments.

Once you have these numbers, you are equipped to make a better financial decision.

Don’t be afraid to get a few quotes if your mechanic gives you a number that is downright terrifying. Other mechanics can give you a quote without seeing the car, as long as you can tell them what repair it needs. Get them to email you the quote if you can, so you can see how much of the price is labour costs (which can vary hugely) and how much is the cost of parts (which shouldn’t vary much).


Look at your personal situation

Okay, we’ve done the math. Now let’s get personal.

  • Were you planning on this car being a hand-me-down to your kids when they get their P-plates? If so, those mid-life crisis replacements like the timing belt or the water belt or the fan belt (what is it with belts?) could be worth it.
  • How much do you really need this car to last you a while longer? Maybe you need some time to save up and get your finances in order so that you can plan ahead for a down-payment on a first home. Pay for the repairs and keep that hunk of junk going for a couple more years.
  • Do you really love your car? Maybe it was your first car and you worked for five years to save up to buy it, or maybe it was a gift from a loved one or the car you proposed to your wife in. You might feel buying a new car would be a betrayal, giving up on an old buddy. We don’t dismiss those sentimental feelings – just make sure you still think about safety and do the math. It’s not betrayal if your old buddy is a black hole swallowing all your money.
  • Are you getting tired of driving to and from the mechanic every month for a recurring issue? You could be spending that time playing fetch with the dog!

Car Brands that New Zealanders are satisfied with

Our Canstar Blue award for Most Satisfied Customers in 2015  went to Suzuki, which scored five stars for value for money, reliability, performance, overall satisfaction and – importantly – after-sales service.

A number of other brands including Ford, Holden, Honda and Kia also scored a solid four stars for reliability. You can view the survey results here.

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