Should You Drive Your Car Until It Dies?

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Should you drive your car until it dies? This is a tough question to answer, especially when trying to balance competing desires for frugality and safety.

Many people in the frugal blogging community, myself included, are fans of driving cars until they die; that is, until they have so many miles on them and are worth so little that it’s finally time to let them go. I am not in favor of replacing my cars when they are just a few years old nor am I in the habit of taking out car loans. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to make a tough decision every now and then.

For those of you who have a tough decision of your own to make about whether or not you will keep your old clunker, perhaps my personal story will help you make a decision about how long you want to drive your car.

My Recent Car Conundrum


I currently own two vehicles. They are both really old Volvos and they are both paid for. One is an old Volvo sedan that I’ve been driving for 12 years and the other is an old Volvo SUV that I bought from a family member in cash when I found out I was having twins.

I’ve never had a car payment because of this, and I really don’t want one. I rarely drive or go anywhere, because I am a little blogging hermit with toddler twins. However, that doesn’t mean I want to go without a vehicle entirely.

So, imagine my frustration when my SUV completely broke down and left us stranded on the side of the road an hour away from our home. Luckily, we were going to a friend’s engagement party and one of our best friends who was also attending the same party was able to meet us, put the kids’ carseats in his car and take us to the party while he and my husband arranged for the tow truck, etc.

Weighing Cost Vs. Value


The car was in bad shape. We feared it was the transmission or the steering column because even in park the car was moving forward on its own. All of that sounded like tons of money to fix, and a car that is only worth about $3,000.00 to begin with didn’t seem worth it. Needless to say, we weren’t sure what to do.

On one hand, if we wanted to sell the car, we’d still have to fix it. After all, it wouldn’t drive at all and it was stuck at a repair shop. So, if the repairs were $1,000 or more, we’d have to fix it and then hope to get a higher price than that in a private sale.

Then we’d have to decide how much of our liquid cash we’d want to use to get another car, since I really, really enjoy not having a car payment. All in all, it seemed like either choice would be a pain. Then, we looked at cars online, and all I could afford it seemed were older cars like the one I already had which are obviously more prone to having issues.

A Simple Fix


Luckily, we found out a few days later that it was actually the front axles that died, not the transmission. The mechanic was a very sweet and honest small town mechanic who was willing to let us order our own parts online so we could get them for less.

So, we shipped new front axles to his shop and waited almost an entire week for the car to be ready. On our way to pick up the car, we went to the ATM and got out $1,000 in cash hoping that we could haggle with him if we offered a cash payment.

And then, an awesome thing happened. The repairs only cost $125! That was a surprise and something that would have never happened at the Volvo dealership that’s for sure. So, the repairs plus the parts were about $400, and for all those reasons we decided to keep our SUV and let it live in our driveway for a little bit longer.

Drive your car Until It Dies


It’s always really hard to decide when to let a car go, especially an SUV like mine that has 230,000 miles on it. At the end of the day, as much as I would love a newer, more reliable car, I reminded myself that I am, as I said above, a blogger hermit who works from home and never leaves the house.

I’m more likely to walk into town with my stroller than to actually pack the car and go somewhere. When my car was gone for an entire week, I hardly noticed its absence. Because of that and the high cost for a new one, I decided to just work with what I have.

At some point, I know we’re going to have to buy a new car. As I said one car is 12 years old, and the SUV is 9 years old, and both are around the 200,000 mile mark. But, there’s no rush. I’m glad we thought about the process and went through what it would cost to buy a new car so we can start saving for the future when it actually dies for good.


If you drive an old car, what keeps you driving it? If you’re planning to drive it until it dies, how will you know when it’s time to let it go? What hard repair decisions have you had to make about one of your cars?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • Mr.SelfReliance says:

    Not only should you drive your car till it dies, you should also learn how to do repairs yourself. Or at the very least find a small shop mechanic that you can trust if you really don’t want to be doing it yourself. You seem to have found a great trustworthy mechanic! Another thing is to look for Toyota or honda in a used car. People can argue all they want but those two brands have proven to be more reliable time and time again. My 2 Cents! Keep driving those Volvos till the engine falls out!

  • Brian @DebtDiscipline says:

    When an old car become unreliable (breaks down to often) or cost to much to repair than it has value is really the point at which I would make the decision to get rid of it. We upgraded recently to newer cars and paid cash.

  • Vanessa D. says:

    I’m big on driving cars until the costs of repairs become impractical. In the future I would like to be disciplined enough to have a “car” savings account, for repair and eventual replacement money.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

    Glad to hear the repair was only $400–what a relief! We go through this same debate with our 19-year-old Honda Odyssey every time it needs a repair. Our plan is just to keep driving it until it needs a repair that’s just too expensive (not exactly sure what that threshold is, but probably anything over $500).

    We’re scoping out used cars now so that when the minivan dies we can make a move pretty quickly on buying another one (with cash, of course). But, we’re happy to keep driving it until that fateful day comes. I honestly really like the car and Honda doesn’t make their new Odysseys in the same style, so I’m hoping it can eek out a few more years…

  • Edward Antrobus says:

    When I bought my Camry for $2000, it was a 12 year old car with 125,000 miles on it. When I was in an accident with it, it was 20 years old with 250,000 miles on it. In that 8 years, I probably put another grand into it in repairs.
    My current car is a 19 year old Chrysler that we’ve had for 5 years. It’s got 140,000 miles on it, 50k of which have been in the last 2 years. That car is on its last legs; it leaks everything, the windshield is cracked, the rear door doesn’t open. But I REALLY want my next car to be the Elio. So I’m trying to get the Chrysler to last until they start building the Elio. Because if I have to buy a car this year, It won’t make sense to turn around and sell it to buy a different car next year.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I’ve yet to have a need to purchase a vehicle in my life, but I have a feeling that when I do, I’m going the used car, as long as it will drive route.

  • Sarah says:

    My husband drives a 10 year old Corolla with almost 200k miles on it and I drive an 8 year old Honda CRV with around 70k miles. Both are paid for. The AC doesn’t work in his Corolla, which is rough since we live in Alabama. He decided he didn’t want to pay to get it fixed for multiple reasons – he parks in a garage at home and parking deck at work and we take my car everywhere as a family. We are currently saving what was previously our car payment so that hopefully our next car can be paid for with cash.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    What a nice surprise! You’re right- that would never happen at the dealership! We drive older cars because we don’t drive much and anything newer would be a huge waste of money for us. We’re actually considering going down to one car right now.

  • Miriam says:

    I’m with Sarah – I drive a 6 year old car (bought new) that is paid for and has 170K (kilometers) on it. Since we live in a rural area and almost everything requires that you drive a minimum of 70K just to buy groceries we put a lot of miles on the car. At the time I bought the car my husband was still alive (and ill) and we couldn’t afford to be in the position of having the car indisposed. I have a great small town mechanic and expect to drive it until that fateful moment when the repairs outstrip the value as everyone has discussed. I also agree with the commenter who said Honda and Toyota keep their value but also seem to need repairing less. One of the challenges we face is that we are a one car family and my daughter who now lives with me travels 40K to her office daily. We’d survive a short time with an indisposed car but a taxi to the city where she works costs $40 so it would get unaffordable really fast.

  • Kim says:

    I think if you can do some minor repairs, it makes sense to keep your car for as long as you can, but I would not want to be breaking down all the time with little kids, so that is a consideration as well. We just bought a 2012 Accord in cash that should last for many, many years. It was the first newer car we’ve ever bought without a car loan. You would think we had 3 heads because apparently very few people do that.

  • Kristina-Cents and Order says:

    We had a 10 year old Toyota with about 150k miles on it. We kept driving it until it needed major repairs-that were almost as much as the value of the car. Although we did take out a loan for a replacement vehicle, we went with another Toyota that was a few years old. We plan on driving both our vehicles until the costs of repairs are too much.

  • Retire29 says:

    Want a horror story that stands out from all these other comments? I drive a Mercedes and a Corvette, both with very low miles and both are being financed.

    I know!

    I’m changing that situation, though. I’d love to be like everyone else here.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    That’s awesome that the repair worked out so well!

    I have a 2002 Toyota that some people in my life think I should be considering getting rid of… but it doesn’t even have 100k miles on it! We recently put $1,200 in repairs into it, which I thought was well worthwhile, even though the car is probably only worth a couple thousand dollars. To me, that is a small price to keep driving this car vs. having to buy another one.

  • Hannah says:

    If the value of the repaired vehicle is less than the cost of the repair + the cost of insurance for one year, I call it quits with the car. It seems that this type of thing starts to happen when a 4 door sedan hits the 2K Value in Kelly Blue Book.

    We’ve gotten “lucky” because all of our vehicle killing repair issues have been the result of someone hitting us. Meaning that we get the full cash value for the car, and we combine it with a few grand for a sweet upgrade.

  • Jason B says:

    My car in pretty old. The good thing is that it was basically sitting for about 3 years before my Dad gave it to me. I plan on driving it for at least another year or until I have enough cash to pay for another one. I love not having a car note.

  • Dividend Beginner says:

    Hi Cat,

    Sorry to hear about the car troubles you had; they’re definitely stressful times. But looks like you got out of it for a pretty good deal!

    I’m with you on the NO to car payments and just buying something you can afford outright. People seem to be so in love with debt nowadays.

    I’ll be driving my little Civic 03 until it’s life is over; only have a mini 70k kilometres on it right now. Got it used from someone who barely drove it; best way to go!

    Best regards,
    Dividend Beginner

  • Mr.SelfReliance says:

    See, look at the comments, mostly Toyotas and Hondas!

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    As long as the car deserves some fix, I can still drive it. I have had my car for seven years and am planning to use it for another 3 years as long as it is functional.

  • Fervent Finance says:

    I don’t currently own a car, but will once I move out of the city. I will definitely buy a used car with cash, and drive it as long as possible! It’s awesome you got over 200k miles out of that Volvo!

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    So glad the repair bill turned out reasonable for you! Two years ago, my wife and I shifted from two older cars to one shared new car. We plan to drive that new car for many years to come. Probably not to the point where it’s about to die, but more likely until it becomes somewhat unreliable. While we drive fewer miles than most, we still need a reliable vehicle in the household.

  • Todd says:

    It seems quite a few people have commented that they will get rid of their old car when the cost of a repair is more than the value of the repaired car. From personal experience I would say there is not a magic number where it is automatically time to get a newer one. I drive a car I have had for 16 years (I paid cash for it). On two occasions within the past 4 years I have spent more than the value of my car, which is now $700, on a repair and it kept on chugging without any other major problems for a few more years. In the mean time I started setting aside money 10 years ago every month twords my next car. Since this one keeps going I had enough money set aside 5 years ago to upgrade in cash. Even though I didn’t need to any longer I kept setting aside the same amount every month and now have double the amount set aside I will spend on a newer car. I like having the security of that extra money so much now that I am loath to part with it. Watching it grow over 10 years has been the greatest incentive not to buy a newer car. Every year I drive this car is more money in the bank, I hope to make it another 5 years.

  • Brandon says:

    This is an older article but I thought i would chime in. My wife drives a 2011 Yukon XL to haul our large family around. It has around 70K miles on it. We wanted her to have something reliable. For me, I drive a 1996 Corrolla with a manual transmission. (42mph freeway). It has 251K miles on it. My son constantly reminds me that I have the junkiest car in the parking lot. I have driven it for 15 years. Can’t bring myself to upgrade until it dies.

  • Ironmjf says:

    Why drive a car without air conditioning or drive junk cars just because you want to deprive yourself of some driving enjoyment? Frugal, misinformed, stubborn or more?

    • John Schmoll says:

      I think you’re missing the point here. If the cost can’t be justified then it’s not worth the expense. Yes, time does come when you do need to replace something but that’s different for everyone.

  • Kevin says:

    Seems likely that repairing a car would always be cheaper than buying a new one (loan or out of pocket cash).

    • John Schmoll says:

      I would tend to agree with that in most cases Kevin. I think the main sticking point would be if the old car is worth repairing vs. being better off putting the money towards buying a new to you one. That’s also assuming you have the funds for the latter, of course. 🙂

  • Fernando Gonzalez says:

    We had a 08 Saturn pushed the car to 180k miles before it had a starting issue an couldn’t find a good mechanic to solve the problem…god I miss that car.. So we sold it..i have a avalanche with 184 k miles an still going..not sure if I should get a used Toyota or Honda to let my truck rest since we need it out in the country an trucks becoming more expensive..choices choices..

  • Tom heinlein says:

    I agree with a lot of the postings about keeping the car until repairs become impractical. My Honda Accord has 342000 miles on it and is still chugging along. I replaced the tranny at 285000 miles which was a tough decision, but has been totally worth it. My wife’s Honda Accord has a mere 182000 miles and we just replaced the tranny on it. My son also had a Honda Accord that reached 210000 miles until it was hit. My other son had a Toyota Camry that is still going at 185000 and costs extremely little in repairs. Like the post above, I’ve been saving for a car for ten years ( I’ve had my Honda for 15) and plan to pay cash for my next vehicle, which will likely be a 2 to 4 year old vehicle. Score one for the frugal family!

    • John Schmoll says:

      Nice work Tom! This is our philosophy as well, to drive the cars til it doesn’t make sense to put the cost into repairs. We paid cash for our last car and it was an awesome feeling.

      • monique says:

        For me, the only time I will let my car go is when the repair shop informs me my car is hopeless and there is nothing they can do. Thats my definition of “until the car dies.” I own a 1993 Ford Taurus station wagon and had it when it was brand new. 25 years of use. And now I am looking into buying my next car…

        • John Schmoll says:

          Wow, great work Monique! I’d definitely say you got to drive your car to the full extent of its life. 🙂

  • Joseph says:

    I am driving a paid off 2007 4 Runner with about 140,000 right now that gets about 18 miles to the gallon and have realized how much gas I am spending over the years. I do a lot of driving, somewhere near 20,000 miles a year. There have been no issues mechanically for me with this SUV.

    However, I am finding it very temping to purchase a Tesla model 3 because there would be a lot of fuel savings in the long run as well as no maintenence.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Have you considered something like a Honda or Toyota? You could get similar gas savings without the cost of a Tesla.

  • Squiggy says:

    I plan to drive my Accord until it dies. I bought it new and it is my first and only new car. It is going on 22 years old now but still runs and drives great and I’ve never had any issues with it, however it also only has 94,000 miles on it. You mentioned being a hermit… I can relate. 🙂

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