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

By Autolist Editorial | June 18, 2021

Every vehicle owner faces a choice at some point to get rid of their existing car. And although the answer may be partially subjective, the truth is that whether to keep your car or not 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. All of these could determine whether it's time to go car shopping.

What Factors Into Vehicle Longevity?

If you're asking, "How long should I keep my car?" it can be helpful to think about the factors that go into your vehicle's longevity. Several things 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.

Still, there's no doubt that certain cars like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have reputations of being reliable, long-lasting vehicles and tend to come with higher resale values.

Similarly, in terms of other factors, some conditions are better than others. A temperate climate is better than an extremely hot or cold one, while a garaged vehicle typically wears better than one kept outside. Highway miles are usually better than stop-and-go city miles, and a car that doesn't get driven as much will have less mileage on it.

The Average Car Owner

The average person does not keep their current car for much longer than 10 years, although a report in "Car and Driver" notes that people are keeping their vehicles longer now than in years past. On average, according to research from IHS Markit, people are keeping their cars an average of 11.9 years, an entire month longer than in 2020.

However, new cars are usually kept for even less time, at six years, because people want the latest features and technology, in addition to the new vehicle. And that's the prominent problem people run into with an old vehicle. Vehicles older than 2003 will be without some of the recent safety features and technology gear, increasing the car's depreciation. That has led many people to think of their vehicles as relatively disposable, like phones and electronics and diminishing the value of the car.

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.

The number of new cars on the road declined during the COVID-19 pandemic when Americans purchased fewer new vehicles. That's not to mention that automakers are building cars that last longer than ever before, driving the average age of vehicles on the road up.

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 pricing (and 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 and reduce the cost of car ownership.

The only exception to this comes when you have high repair costs. If your monthly repair bill exceeds a monthly payment, it might be time to move on. However, keep in mind that the average car payment is about $563 for a new car. Only the most expensive repairs are typically going to exceed that.

Cost of Ownership

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. 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, you should generally expect to pay about 57 cents 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 determine what needs to be performed and when. Keeping up with maintenance alone can allow any car to remain on the road longer.

Also, consider 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 owner's 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 a harsh climate, you may want to consider following this schedule over the basic one.

Don't Be Cheap With 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.

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.

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.

Cars That Last 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, Buick, Audi, Toyota, and Honda.

Another thing to remember is that you should pick a car that you want. If you compromise on features, buy more or less than you need, or settle for a vehicle that you don't actually 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.

You can also choose a car based on its proven reliability. Consumer Reports puts out an annual list of the most reliable cars, trucks, and SUVs for each model year. Consumer Reports arrives at its rankings based on recent vehicle performance data provided by more than 300K vehicle owners. The vehicles on the list are those whose owners reported the fewest problems in the previous year.

For 2021, if you're looking for a reliable car, the organization says to choose:

  1. Toyota Prius

  2. Lexus NX

  3. Buick Encore

  4. Lexus GX

  5. Honda HR-V

  6. Toyota Prius Prime

  7. Hyundai Kona

  8. Audi A5

  9. Audi A4

  10. Mazda CX-5

That's not to say that choosing one of these cars guarantees that you'll want to keep your car longer. It just means that the chances of getting a reliable vehicle are more likely, which may make you want to hold on to it for more years than if you choose a car that gives you lots of headaches and needs continual repairs.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the cars, trucks, and SUVs that Consumer Reports' data shows to be unreliable.

This list for 2021 includes:

  1. Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500

  2. Subaru Ascent

  3. Volkswagen Atlas

  4. Jeep Compass

  5. Volvo XC90

  6. Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon

  7. Tesla Model S

  8. Jeep Wrangler

  9. Ford EcoSport

  10. Volvo XC60

While making the list of least reliable cars is certainly not something to be proud of, that's also not the only factor to consider when purchasing a new or used vehicle. However, if reliability is crucial to your purchase, then these cars have a track record of proven unreliability.

What to Look For in Buying a Car

If you're buying a new car, another thing you'll probably be looking closely at is the latest safety 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 worth seeking out, although they're now required on new cars sold in the U.S.

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, you'll want it checked by a professional mechanic. At the very least, look for leaks, signs of water damage, paint overspray, and corrosion.

Purely from a safety standpoint, cars rated Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are invariably an intelligent choice. The IIHS is widely regarded throughout the automotive industry for its safety rankings. Like Consumer Reports, they compile an annual ranking of the safest cars based on size and class and the safest SUVs and vans.

For 2021, the criteria for becoming a coveted Top Safety Pick+ was based on ratings for crashworthiness, which is the level of protection that the vehicle provides occupants during a crash simulation, and crash avoidance and mitigation, which is the technology that lessens the severity of or prevents a crash in the first place. Head restraint tests, roof strength, and headlights were all factored into the rankings.

The IIHS notes that large, heavy vehicles provide more protection than small, lighter vehicles. For this reason, a larger vehicle might be safer than a smaller one, even if the smaller one is a Top Safety Pick+.

Is It Time to Get Rid of Your Car?

As you can see, many factors go into determining whether or not to get rid of your car or hold onto it a little longer. If your car is old and requires significant repairs that will cost more than the car's Blue Book Value, then it might be time to say goodbye.

Likewise, if your car is starting to rust or is unreliable despite repairing it, or if it was involved in a severe accident, fire, or flood, then a newer model may be in your future.