Saving Money by Keeping Your Car Just a Few More Years

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Family in their car
(Adobe Stock)

If you watch the news, listen to the radio or read the internet, you’ve probably heard about the price of cars (and other items) going up. It’s a tough time to be in the car market. In most locations, supply is limited and prices are high. If you thought you were in the market for a new or new-to-you vehicle, you may be reconsidering and wondering whether it makes sense to hold on to your current vehicle.

From a financial standpoint, it often does make sense to keep an older car a little while longer. If you’ve decided to pursue that option, here are some steps you can take to make that older car continue working for you.

Find Your Repair Person or Shop

If you don’t already have a trusted mechanic, take the time to find one, and then develop a relationship with them. Ask your friends, query your community’s social media groups and read some online reviews to find someone who is liked and has a reputation for being honest and well priced. Take your car there for an oil change, introduce yourself and get a general sense of the place and the people.

Once you’ve found the right shop, build your relationship. Have a quick chat when you call for an appointment, when you drop your car off and when you pick it up. Ask more questions!

Knowing exactly who to call for advice or actual work makes owning an older car so much easier. It’s an awesome feeling to open your phone, call your mechanic and say, “Hey Bob, I smell/hear/feel/see something wrong with my car,” feeling confident that you’re going to get appropriate advice or quality work at a fair price.

Keep It Running Well

Regular maintenance means fewer surprise repairs, and surprise repairs are one of the biggest frustrations of owning an older car. It seems like things never break when you have a ton of free time, a spare car, extra money, and a ride back and forth to the shop. Make sure you are getting regular oil changes and checkups from that trusted mechanic, and keep up on any regular servicing that they recommend. Check your tires regularly, keep an eye on your oil and coolant levels, and pay attention to anything that looks, sounds, smells or feels wrong before it becomes an emergency.

Build Your Repair Budget

Another common complaint about older cars is that they require more repairs. That’s true, but the cost of those repairs is almost always less than the cost of a new car. The actual problem is that most people don’t build vehicle maintenance into their budget in the same way that they would budget for payments on an auto loan. But you can fix that!

However you set aside money for future spending, make a category for vehicle repairs and add to it monthly. How much you need to set aside each month will depend on the type of vehicle that you own, its age and its general condition. A common number to start with is $50 per car, per month. I recommend more because I never want to be caught short in my vehicle repair fund, and because any extra money that accumulates can be rolled into the next car purchase.

If you anticipate using a loan to buy your next vehicle, larger vehicle repair fund deposits can help you prove to yourself how much you can afford to borrow. If you can’t put $400 a month into your vehicle repair fund, how will you make a $400 per month car payment?

Make Some Changes

Are there any simple changes you could make to improve your car’s performance or comfort? Maybe a more supportive seat cover, or a hands-free device for your phone or even new child restraint seats to fit three kids across the back row of a smaller car. If your car is lacking in some way, what can you do to fill that want or need?

I once thought about buying a new car because my stroller didn’t fit in the back. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that a new stroller was going to be a lot cheaper than a new car. True story. Having four little kids can cause people to think strange things.

Keep It Clean

As your car ages, it can be tempting to stop washing, vacuuming and detailing your car. This can lead to dissatisfaction with an otherwise perfectly good car. If it’s in your budget, treat yourself to a detailing service, or spend a sunny afternoon enjoying fine weather while you wipe down nooks and crannies. Spend the money for regular car washes and vacuums. It’s a small investment if you remain happy with your car for a few more months or years.

Transportation costs are one of the biggest expenses in any family budget, and buying cars can put a strain on the most solid of spending plans. Cars are expensive. Finding ways to keep your current vehicle for another year or another tour can help you improve your finances, both today and over time.

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Personal Finance