How Long Should I Keep My Car?
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How Long Should I Keep My Car?

By Autolist Editorial | July 30, 2019

At some point, every vehicle owner asks the question: how long should I keep my car? The answer usually depends partially on the vehicle in question and partly on you. Modern vehicles are generally made to last longer than vehicles in the past, and there are some makes like Honda and Toyota that are well-known for going the distance. But even the most reliable makes and models of cars can eventually develop significant problems that are expensive to fix. It may also depend on whether you buy a new car or a used car.

What Factors Into Vehicle Longevity?

There are several factors that affect how long your car will last, including the environment you live in, the driving conditions, weather, whether it's in a garage or outside, how many and what type of miles you drive, how well it's maintained and, to an extent, the type of car it is. Any vehicle that is well maintained stands a good chance of having a long life, but there's no doubt that certain vehicles like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have reputations of being reliable, long-lasting vehicles. Similarly, in terms of other factors, some conditions are better than others. For example, a temperate climate is better than an extremely hot or cold one, highway miles are usually better than stop and go city miles, a garaged vehicle typically wears better than one kept outside, and a car that doesn't get driven as much will have less mileage on it.

The Average Car Owner

One thing to keep in mind is that the average person does not keep their current car for much longer than 10 years. The average, as of 2015, is 11.5 years. However, new cars are usually kept for even less time, at six years. The main problem people run into with an old vehicle is safety features. Another problem is technology. Vehicles older than 2003 will be without a lot of the more recent developments in safety and technology. That has led to a lot of people to think of their cars as relatively disposable, like phones and electronics. If you're looking at an older car, that can be a boon as you may find a great deal on a gently used car.

Financial Reasons For Keeping Your Current Car

Another thing to take into account is the money factor. If you get rid of your current car as soon as you've paid it off, you're essentially signing up to make monthly payments forever. Not only that, but your payments are likely to be higher on a new vehicle versus your old one. Car insurance is also higher on new vehicles and vehicles with a loan. If you can hold off on getting your next car after paying off your current one, you can save money on both payments and insurance. The only exception to this comes when you have high repair costs. If your monthly repair bill is exceeding a monthly payment, then it might be time to move on. However, keep in mind that the average car payment is about $483 for a new car. Only the most expensive repairs are going to exceed that, generally speaking.

Ownership Costs

Both new and used cars have various costs of ownership. Both will need regular maintenance, oil changes and fuel, but from there some of the costs diverge. As previously mentioned, newer cars will generally have higher registration and insurance costs, but older cars may have more repair costs. As cars rack up more miles on the odometer, they typically become less fuel efficient as well. That means you will eventually be paying more at the pump every time. It's essential to compare and weigh these costs to see if it makes sense to sell or trade in your old car for a new one.

Average Car Repair Costs

According to the AAA, if you drive the current average of 15,000 miles per year, then you should generally expect to pay about $.57 per mile in various maintenance and repair costs. That works up to about $715 per month, but that also includes fuel costs. One way to weigh the costs between an old car and a new car is to compare the fuel costs of each and then the repair costs vs. a monthly payment. If it turns out that your older car has a higher bill, then it might be time to look for another vehicle.

Emotional Attachments

One of the more intangible factors of keeping a car is how attached to it you are. Some people have strong memories and feelings associated with a vehicle they've had for a while. It may be tempting to dismiss an attachment like that, but on the other hand, it's good to remember that you can't get it back once you've sold it.

What Are Some Good Ways To Preserve Your Car?

The most consistently reliable way to keep your car running is to do regular maintenance. That includes oil changes, not driving on worn tires, changing fluids when they get old or dirty, cleaning the interior and exterior regularly and changing the air filter. Every make and model has recommended maintenance intervals to help you find out what needs to performed and when. Keeping up with maintenance alone can allow any car to remain on the road longer. The other thing to consider is your driving habits. Driving aggressively, in adverse conditions or off-road can all shorten the life of your vehicle. If you drive like this regularly, you can expect to have more maintenance costs.

Follow the Maintenance Schedule

All car manuals should indicate a service schedule for 100,000 miles or more. That includes oil changes, tire rotation, belt changes and the like. You may have heard that changing your engine oil is the most critical maintenance item and it's very accurate. Engine oil protects engine parts and keeps them working properly. Letting oil change intervals stretch way past the recommended amount is an excellent way to shorten the life of your car. Sometimes the manual will also have a service schedule for extreme use. If you live in the city or an extreme climate, you may want to consider following this schedule over the basic one.

Don't Be Cheap on Parts

Saving a few bucks here and there on cheap fluids and parts could cost you a lot more in the long term. Using inferior oil filters, the wrong oil or generic parts could cause premature breakdowns and damage. Your car's owner manual should tell you what type of oil it needs and what fuel it will allow it to perform best. If your vehicle doesn't require premium fuel, you won't get any benefit from using it. However, if your car does require premium fuel, you could have some serious problems if you don't use it. When replacing parts, it's a good idea to use OEM parts whenever possible. That especially applies to vehicles still under warranty, but in general, OEM parts are made for a precise fit and should last as long as the original part.

What Kind of Car Lasts Longer?

With proper maintenance habits, you can probably get nearly 200,000 miles or more on just about any car. However, there are specific makes known for long-lasting vehicles, including Lexus, Nissan, Volvo, Toyota and Honda, among others. Another thing to remember is that you should pick a car that you really want. If you compromise on features, buy more or less than you need, or settle for a vehicle that you don't really want, you'll likely be tempted to get rid of it sooner than you need to. Look for a car that you'll enjoy having for a long time.

What to Look For in Buying a Car

If you're buying a new car, you'll probably be looking closely at the latest safety features and technology upgrades. Some features to keep in mind include automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning. Electronic stability control and rear cameras are also excellent safety features. When car buying, make sure to research any prospective vehicle for crash test results and reliability ratings. When you're looking at older cars, then things get a bit more complicated. At that point, you'll want to look at vehicle history reports, such as Carfax or AutoCheck. If you have limited mechanical knowledge, then you'll want to have it checked out by a professional mechanic. At the very least, look for leaks, signs of water damage, paint overspray and corrosion.

What Are Some Less Reliable Newer Cars?

According to Consumer Reports, these are the ten least reliable newer models of cars:

  • Volkswagen Atlas has issues with its climate system, steering and suspension and power equipment

  • Cadillac CTS has problems with the drive system and transmission

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia has engine, power equipment and electronic issues

  • Kia Cadenza has engine cooling, fuel system and climate system problems

  • Cadillac Escalade is known for transmission, climate system and electronic issues

  • Cadillac CT6 has trouble with its climate system, transmission and electronics

  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD has trouble spots in its fuel system, drive system and steering and suspension

  • Tesla Model X has issues with its body hardware, paint and electronics

  • Buick Enclave is known for transmission problems as well as noises and leaks

  • Jaguar F-Pace has trouble with its electronics, drive system and power equipment

Tips to Decide on Whether to Get a New Vehicle

  • Your old one needs a significant repair that costs more than the value of the car

  • Rust is beginning to corrode the frame integrity

  • It continues to be unreliable despite repairs

  • It was in a severe accident, fire or flood