Car Care

Should I repair or replace my car?

With owning a car comes maintenance, and no matter how old or new it is, in order to keep your car being good to you, you’re going to have to spend some money on it occasionally.

But is there a point where you say enough is enough? Do you fix that blown head gasket? Do you replace the cambelt?

It can sometimes seem like there’s a fine line as to whether your “old faithful” is costing more money than a replacement vehicle would. The answer usually involves maths, and perhaps a bit of soul searching.

Maintenance and ongoing repairs

An average vehicle (without problems) can cost around $1,000 per year for repairs and maintenance. This includes servicing, minor issues (bulbs, wipers etc.) and tyre replacement cycles. Naturally, over a vehicle’s life there will be a few larger service schedules which may bring up the costs a little, but should even out the figures with the costs spread over a few years. This can be a good benchmark - if over the last few years it looks like repair costs are blowing this figure out of proportion, then it might actually be time for a change.

It may seem like the grass could be greener by trading up to a slightly newer model with (hopefully) fewer problems. You may be better off, but you’ll lose the money already sunk into the old vehicle by having to start from square one in maintenance, not to mention all that interest if you could still be paying it off. For example, a car might be sold just before the cambelt and waterpump are due, and the next car has a “no-maintenance” chain system. If this ever stretched and required replacement it could cost three times the amount a cambelt replacement would.

The big one

Your heart sinks while the vehicle is being towed to the repair shop with steam still streaming out from under the bonnet; you know it’s going to need a big repair this time. In a few days’ time, you will be faced with a decision ‘to scrap or repair?’ In some cases, the answer will be clear - sell it to the scrappies or to your local car auction house and take the few hundred dollars that may be on offer, as the car is only worth $2,000 running, and will cost over $3,000 to repair.

Sometimes it’s not so clear, where a vehicle is worth around $6k going, needs $3k to repair, and is only worth $1,000 as it stands, damaged. In this case it might be better to repair it. By spending the $3,000 you don’t lose $5,000, you have a car you know the history of and now has some new parts fitted. The benchmark question to ask might be ‘Is the repair less than half of the car’s market value?’

Another bonus of repairing instead of replacing is that you may extend the life of that vehicle. A reasonable repair on your pride and joy might be worthwhile if it gives another year or so of motoring to help you save for an upgrade a bit further down the line.

Vehicle Safety

The newer the vehicle the safer it should be, so if your car is on the verge of ruin or is not deemed a safe choice in an accident, then it might be time to think about that upgrade. We always recommend buying the safest car your budget allows. To check the safety ratings of a used vehicle visit or a NZ new/near new vehicle’s safety rating can be found at

What’s peace of mind worth to you?

The flipside of replacing a vehicle that has turned into a bit of a lemon is peace of mind.

If you can’t venture past the local dairy without your eyes being glued to the temperature gauge because you can never tell if it will overheat or not, then it may be time for change. While there are no guarantees that a newer vehicle won’t run into repairs or breakdown like the old one, the odds are certainly reduced, and the vehicle should be more dependable.

You may even now have a warranty or breakdown insurance where all you need to worry about is making sure the vehicle is serviced on time. With a more modern vehicle, you’re more likely to benefit from better fuel economy, technology and cutting-edge safety systems.

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