At times like these, I remind myself about how nice it is to not have a car payment. And how relatively cheap the insurance is, because book value has dropped to about $5,000.
Modern cars are fairly well built. If you take care of your car, chances are it will serve you well past 150,000 miles. Chances are you will tire of your car before it actually dies on you. Financially, it almost always makes more sense to fix your old car than buy a new one. Consider: a typical new car payment is around $300-400/month, or $3,600-4,800/year. Here is a list of common repairs that a well used car may need, with ballpark costs:
- Shocks/struts $350
- Ball joints $300
- Tires $400
- A/C compressor $400
- Exhaust system $500
- Clutch $700
- Brake pads, rotors $400
- Alternator $200
- Battery $80
- Timing belt $350
So, here is a list of things you can do to renew your relationship with your trusty old car. I have tried some of these, and they work for me.
- Clean it up. If it looks more like a new car, you'll get "the feeling" back.
- Take it to a full-service wash (like Jax in Detroit) and have it cleaned and detailed inside and out. You'll be amazed at how much nicer your car is when it is brand-new clean. ~$130.
- Have your faded Clinton/Gore bumper sticker removed.
- Repair the little dings and paint chips that make the car look old. If your seats are ripped, buy a cover, or get them repaired. You may be able to find replacement seats for your car from a dismantler at a reasonable price.
- Upgrade the ride. Cars get flabby over time as the suspension components wear.
- Buy a new set of good tires. It's amazing what a new set of grippy, quiet tires can do for a car. ~$500.
- Buy an upgraded shock/strut package. Tighten up the ride, get back the road feel. ~$500.
- Get a new set of wheels. I personally like steel wheels on Michigan's nasty roads (they're easier to fix or cheap to replace) but some people really like a nice set of wheels. $600-$1000.
- Upgrade the engine.
- Put in a set of platinum spark plugs (long life) and a new set of ignition wires.
- Put in a high-flow air filter such as K&N.
- Take it to a tuner and put in an aftermarket supercharger or turbocharger. ~$5,000. Expensive, and somewhat risky, but you will notice a difference!
- Get high-flow headers and exhaust. Less radical than a turbo, but no reliability problems.
- Upgrade your interior. The parts you touch have big impact.
- Get a real leather steering wheel cover and shift boot, such as WheelSkins. These are very nice, and don't cost much. ~$80.
- Get a new shift knob, like a nice Momo.
- Replace your worn out floor mats with new ones. ~$50.
- Get a set of carbon fiber or fake wood trim pieces for your interior. Not my thing, but some people like them. $100.
- Upgrade the audio. Who needs a new car to get new gadgets?
- Get an aftermarket stereo head unit, perhaps with MP3 or XM capabilities. $150-$400. It's amazing what good sound can do.
- Add an aux input for a portable MP3 player. Or an iPod interface. Or a CD changer.
- Swap out your stock speakers for good aftermarket units. $300-500.
- Mount a powered sub in your trunk, such as the Bazooka. $250.
There are some reasons that you may want to spring for a newer car. My main reason would be safety--I would not drive a car older than about 10 years, because I would want more recent crash structures, ABS, airbags, etc. I especially would be careful about driving an older small car, such as a Chevy Canalier. As a car gets much older than 10 years, spare parts get harder to find and more expensive. And some cars are just ugly. If I was driving a rusty Ford Aerostar, for example, I would not keep it!
*What, am I nuts? People buying new cars keep me employed! Interestingly, many automotive engineers drive older cars.