How Long Should I Keep My Car?

How long Should I Keep My Car? - Should I Keep My Car or Sell It?

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“How long should I keep my car?” is a question we are often asked. When things start breaking on a car many people think the only solution is to replace it with a new car. 

But is there a point in time when keeping your current vehicle becomes more expensive than selling it.

Making the decision to keep a car and repair it or sell it and buy another one is always tough. But if you follow our 3 step evaluation system, you’ll know the answer to whether it’s time to sell or keep your wheels.

How Long Should I Keep My Car & When Should I Get Rid of It? The simple answer is when you have enough money saved to replace your current car. We’ll explain how we’ve done this very thing without ever needed to borrow money.

Here are a couple of questions about car replacement to consider:

  • How long do you keep YOUR cars? The average car on the road today is 11 years old.
  • At what point do you decide it’s time to sell or get rid of it? Is it when maintenance cost exceeds the value of the car? Or is it when you get tired of the look of the car and want something newer?

How do you make that decision?

How to Decide When It’s Time to Buy Another Car

As a MoneySmart Family, our answer to when we should replace a car is, “When we have money saved to pay cash.

We always pay cash and regularly set aside money in our budget system in a car replacement account for buying our next car.

We’ve never financed a car … but if you decide to borrow money to buy a new or newer car, the best way to do that is to have a large downpayment. This will reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay. Then focus on paying off your loan as rapidly as possible.

Cars are expensive to buy and to maintain, so we’re careful about doing both of these things. We did write about this in Chapter four of our first book America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right On The Money.

Here are 3 steps we take in evaluating the decision to “retire” one of our cars.

1) Auto Maintenance — When Costs Exceed The Resale Value

An auto mechanic repairing a muffler on a car, using a cutting tool which is creating sparks.
Most times it’s worth hiring a mechanic to repair your current car, rather than buying a new one.

If we had a car that was worth $5000, and it needed a $2000 transmission repair, we would probably repair it. But if the car was only worth $2000, we would seriously have to question the value of repairing it.

How To Get Money for Car Maintenance

We keep our cars as long as they run and that’s usually a long time. We maintain them with a reputable mechanic. It is costly to keep a car running, so we allocate $200 per month in our budgeting system toward Gas and Car Maintenance.

The money accumulates in our Car Repair category in the budget and when it gets to about $800 to $1000 we know that something on the car is going to need repairing.

Making the decision to repair the car is not easy, but having the money saved for most repairs makes it less stressful.

Our Current Cars

We currently drive a 1999 full-size Ford Van (purchased in 2005) – it has about 135,000 miles on it.

Until 2014 we also had a 1997 Honda Accord (purchased in 2000) . . . we sold the Honda in 2014 for $1100 – It had 193,000 miles on it).

Since we work from home, we decided to try being a one-car family.

Our previous Honda Accord (1985) was sold when it had 250,000 miles on it in the year 2000.

In 2018 we purchased a used Toyota Camry with 130,000 miles on it. We did this to use as an around-town car that got better gas mileage than our van.

Why we keep our old cars running

We keep our cars running for a long time. We do this because driving the car you have and know is usually less expensive than buying another used car. A “new” used car will have some unknown issues that will need to be repaired.

What about buying a new car? 

And while a new car usually has no maintenance issue, it has a HUGE price tag associated with it. And in Arizona, like many other states, new cars come with a huge amount of sales tax in the purchase price. This is one of the big reasons we prefer to buy used from a private seller.

RELATED ARTICLE: Checklist for Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

Why Some People Decide to Sell or Trade-in their Used Cars 

We’ve discovered that many people want to get rid of a car when it has a “major problem” or several minor ones. Because we set aside auto maintenance money in our budgeting system with each paycheck we can fix little problems like a dead battery, bad wheel bearing, a broken electric window switch (with a part from a junkyard), and other problems.

We also have rebuilt transmissions and rebuilt engines.

We try to keep in mind the current value of the car and compare it to the cost of repairs. But sometimes we’ll spend close to the value of the car on a repair. We do this because we know that we’ve maintained the vehicle well and that we couldn’t replace it with as reliable of a car for the price of the repair.

But if the cost to repair the car is more than the value of the car, we may replace it. But only if we have the money saved to pay cash. Otherwise, we will repair the car (more about this below)

Great Money Saving Idea

Quoting your Auto Insurance is a fast way to save money. We use GABI Insurance to get fast and easy comparison pricing.
Just connect your current policy with their quote tool and you’ll be on your way to saving money.



2) Planning Ahead — Saving for Car Replacement

The second factor in deciding to repair or replace a car is this question:

“Do we have enough money saved to pay cash for a good used car?”

Because we’ve decided that we won’t ever borrow money for a car, this limits our car buying to those times when we have enough money saved.

And when we do buy, we patiently watch and wait to find someone who has a gently used, well-maintained car that they desperately want to get rid of. By waiting for the right person with the right car, at the right time, we’ve always found great deals.

A car buying example that saved us a ton of money

For instance, our full-sized Ford van was purchased from a hotel that used it as an airport shuttle. Most of their customers drove either their own cars or rental cars, so the van wasn’t used much. But it still cost the hotel about $5000 per year to keep — between gas usage, maintenance, and insurance costs.

We had $11,000 saved. We wanted a full-sized window van and they wanted to get rid of the vehicle. So we bought our Ford van with 20,000 miles on it and paid only $8,000 (and they put a new set of tires on it!).

The combination of having the money in the bank and finding a motivated buyer will usually result in a great deal for both parties involved.

Money Saving Tip: Quoting your auto insurance ever 2 or 3 years can really save you some cash. We like using the website Gabi Insurance – it takes a few minutes to enter your info and they’ll give you quotes from multiple insurance companies. It’s super easy and saves you time and money.

3) Researching and Shopping Smart for a Used Car

Many folks think that buying a car from the dealer is the only way to go; that it’s a “sure thing.”

We’ve never bought a new car from a dealer – we’ve chosen instead to find great used cars for four reasons:

  1.  The depreciation is less compared to a new car.
  2. The insurance on older cars is less.
  3. In Arizona, the annual registration is less on older cars too.
  4. Plus in our state we don’t pay sales tax on used cars purchased from individuals – that alone saves us almost 9 percent!

Our auto/car buying super page has some great ideas and websites listed on it. It also has a link to a site that has a comprehensive used-car checklist.

We’ve used the Samarians Checklist for several cars we’ve been considering.

We have a trusted mechanic evaluate the car and we also read lots of reviews, including Consumer Reports used car guide to learn about the model we’re considering.

A word of caution about buying a used car

We have learned that not everyone we encounter on our used car-buying journey is honest. We want to trust people, but we have been burned.

So when we’re buying a car from an individual we have to do our research (Consumer Reports and talking with our trusted mechanic).

We’ve ordered CarFax reports, checked Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds Used Car guide. We’ve asked for insurance and maintenance records and we’ve inspected titles, to ensure that it is clean . . . no “Salvage Title.”

For us, because we’re paying cash we tend to be a little slower to trust and a lot slower believe everything we’re told.

How Long Do Average People Keep Their Cars?

Most people don’t keep their cars forever. But with newer technology and better construction standards, cars are lasting longer than in the past. The average age of a car on the roads in 1995 was 8.5 years old.

But now, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics,  people are keeping cars running longer. In 2016, the average age of a car on the roads was 11.6 years old.

This chart shows the average age of cars on the road from 1995 to 2016

How long do people keep their cars. Average age of cars on the road 1995 - 2016 chart.

But how long do most people keep their cars?

According to Statistia people are keeping cars longer:

Length of Car Ownership by Month. Chart.
  • 2006
    • Used Cars: Kept 38 months (3.2 years)
    • New Cars: Kept 52 months (4.4 years)
  • 2016
    • Used Cars: Kept 66 months (5.5years)
    • New Cars: Kept 79 months (6.58 years)

Great Money Saving Idea

Quoting your Auto Insurance is a fast way to save money. We use GABI Insurance to get fast and easy comparison pricing.
Just connect your current policy with their quote tool and you’ll be on your way to saving money.



How Long Do People Keep Different Brands of Cars commissioned a survey of car owners and discovered which brands of cars are kept the longest. It was no surprise that Volvos were kept the longest.

But we were surprised that Mercedes and BMWs were traded in after so few years. According to the research, many of those cars were leased and then traded in for newer models.

Car Brands that owners keep the longest

Car Models that Owners Keep the Longest

The study also discovered which car models were kept the longest. This list of 19 different car models was fascinating to review.

Car Models that Owners Keep the longest.

The top 3 longest kept cars are Toyota Sequoia, Chevy Covette and Ford Expedition. At the bottom of the list were the Nissan Rogue, Ford Fusion and Chevy Equinox.

How Long Have We Kept Our Cars?

  • The first car we purchased was a 1985 Honda Accord. Bought in 1989; Sold in 2000. Owned 11 years
  • 1 Ton Chevy Van 1996. Purchased in 1999. Kept until 2005 when it was totaled in a not-at-fault accident. Owned 6 Years.
  • Ford Econoline Van 1999. Purchased in 2005 – still have today. Owned 13 years +.
  • Honda Accord 1997. Purchased in 2000. Sold in 2013. Owned 13 years.

On average we keep the used cars that we buy for 10.8 years.

Great Money Saving Idea

Quoting your Auto Insurance is a fast way to save money. We use GABI Insurance to get fast and easy comparison pricing.
Just connect your current policy with their quote tool and you’ll be on your way to saving money.



My Car Needs Expensive Repairs – Should I Fix it or Get Rid of It?

Question: My husband is a Realtor and with the slow housing market, we’ve used up all of our savings. Our 8-year-old, paid-for minivan needed $1,500 worth of repairs two months ago.

Now, at the tail end of summer, the air conditioning stopped working. We need a new compressor and probably a new timing belt, too, an estimated cost of another $1,500. Should we just throw in the towel on this car and get a new one?

Answer: Our answer may not be what you want to hear but it is pretty simple: No.

With no money in savings, there isn’t enough money to pay cash for a replacement car. And with “iffy” household income, taking on more debt, especially in this economy, is not good. The cheapest car to drive is the one you have. Save up the money and get it fixed. There are reputable mechanics out there, get a couple of recommendations from friends and get several quotes.

Consumer Reports Research

Years ago, Consumer Reports did a survey of original car owners who drove their cars to 100,000 miles and more. They found that the most expensive year of car ownership, on average, was the seventh or eighth year. Remember, cars are expensive. After you get it fixed, you’ll feel better about keeping your car. Then you should start putting money aside for regular maintenance.

We expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 per year per car for maintenance and repair. If you save the repair money and don’t need to spend it, you can use that money toward your next car purchase, which hopefully you will do with cash. Living life without a car payment isn’t impossible, it is the “American Dream.”

What’s the bottom line about How Long I should Keep My Car?

Because cars are so expensive, we’re very slow to make a decision to get rid of a currently running car. Even if there’s a major problem, we wait, research and evaluate before we buy.

Take your time, set aside maintenance money each paycheck and save money to pay cash for your car.

By doing these three things you’ll be more certain when it’s time to get another car.

More Tips on How to Keep Your Car Running Longer

Read our book – Chapter Four is dedicated to saving money on cars. The bottom line is cars are expensive and we need to do all we can to be smart drivers.

For amazing tips regarding how to keep your car running longer and other Auto Money Saving Tips, please visit this page. You won’t regret it!

2 thoughts on “How Long Should I Keep My Car?

  1. David J Soby

    Thanks great info. We actually keep our vehicles maybe to long just sold my Toyota Corolla 2007 with over 300000 to an organization that pays cash for what? No clue. I put all but 11k on the car as bought it used. Definitely got money use our of it. Now looking for another Toyota used car

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