Time to Sell, Trade … or Junk It?

Kids leave the house at 18, Christmas is always December 25th… but when is it time to sell, trade – or junk – your car? It’s a hard question, especially if you like the car. Even more so if it’s been reliable … up to now.

But, a day will come when you’re faced with a repair that could put you on the wrong side of the cost-benefit equation. For instance, having to put a $2,000 transmission in a car that’s worth maybe $3,500. You commit to the repair – and it instantly becomes much harder to contemplate selling the car because you’ve just put a wad of money into the thing. But the $3,500 car is not worth $5,500 because it’s got a new transmission. It’s still worth $3,500. What happens if, a month from now, something else expensive breaks?

You can see where this is headed.

So, the smart move is to cut bait before you find yourself on the hook. Some general rules apply:

* Fifteen years for the drivetrain –

A good rule of thumb for any vehicle made since roughly the mid-late 1990s (this was when build quality began a general uptick that’s continued to the present day) is that its engine and transmission ought to be basically ok for about 15 years and 200,000 miles. It’s not at all uncommon for the factory clutch to last 150,000 miles or more (which would have been exceptional back when I was in high school in the ’80s).

This assumes regular maintenance and decent treatment, of course.

But even with decent treatment and regular maintenance, wear cannot be eliminated. Eventually, everything wears out. Entropy, you know. For car engines, this point approaches as they enter adolescence. You may be able to nurse the car into its 20s, but (if it’s driven regularly) it’ll almost always be getting obviously tired by then.

Caveat: While modern engines are longer-lived than the engines of the ’70s, peripheralscan still eat you alive with repair costs. Things like alternators can cost $400-plus (in part because these are powerful units, necessary to provide juice to all the electronics found in newer cars) and both the engine and transmission depend on a multitude of sensors and interconnected harnesses, all feeding data to a computer. When these parts begin to wear out – or get “buggy”  – the car can become a balky, aggravating money pit – no matter how sound the engine (and transmission) may still be.

If your vehicle is getting close to being a teenager, it’s likely getting close to that point. Once stuff begins to go wrong with it regularly, you’ll know it’s reached that point.

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