Dear Car Talk:
I tend to drive my cars “into the ground.” The exception being my minivan, which I bought to replace my Mustang GT after my twins were born.
Well, that van now has 275,000 miles on it. At 210,000, I had to decide whether to replace the motor (which had self-destructed) or move on. It was close, but I put a new engine in it.
Now the body and chassis are rusting apart. Although I could replace the entire front suspension, tires, exhaust system, hood, doors, front fascia and rear brakes, I think I may be reaching the end of the road with this van. But the AC and original alternator are still good!
Here’s my question: When should a person move on from a car? And what is the sweet spot between price and age of a car when buying a “new” used one? -- Lyle
I’d say the time to dump a car is at 209,999 miles, Lyle.
I’m all for frugality, but I think you overdid it by putting a new engine in a van with 210,000 miles on it. As you quickly found out, every other part of the van also had 210,000 miles on it and was also ready to self-destruct.
There’s no absolute answer we can give you to this question. It varies by car and by how it was engineered, driven and cared for. But I can give you some general guidelines.
If you get 150,000 miles out of a car, you’ve done fine. You’ve rung the bell and gotten your money out of the vehicle. If you get 200,000 miles, you’ve done more than fine.
So, if you get 8-10 years and 150,000 miles out of a car and something big goes wrong, no one is going to criticize you for trading it in or selling it and starting over at that point. And if you sell the car privately, you can still get some money for it, even with 150,000 miles.
If you decide to keep it at that point, understand that there’s a good chance it’s going to be less reliable in the future. When you’re buying a used car, I’d say the sweet spot is two-three years and 24,000 to 36,000 miles. At that point, lots of cars will have depreciated by about a third. Some more, some less. But with most new cars easily going 100,000 to 150,000 miles, you’re buying the majority of the car’s life, for a third off.
Plus, by buying a car that’s only two or three years old, you can often get the latest, or much of the latest, safety equipment. And most importantly, the first owner of the car won’t have had enough time to really grind his personal smell into the vehicle yet.