Q: I have a 2003 Honda Element EX. It's the best vehicle I've ever owned (and I have owned 17 cars total). In 2011, my wife offered to buy me a new Element. At the time, I told her that I didn't want a different car. The interior of my Element has dog hair in the cracks, the dash is scratched from loads of lumber and pipes, it was the car we took on our first date — and it was paid for in full.
Honda stopped making the Element in 2011, and now I regret declining the offer. My 2003 Element has 197,000 miles on it. It runs well but burns and leaks oil, and the transmission is slipping. And in 3,000 miles, I'm due for a major service. That service and some now-necessary repairs will cost me about $4,000.
Or I could buy a 2008 Honda Element EX with only 37,000 miles that has some front-end damage for about $3,000. I think I can fix the 2008 for about $3,500. Should I keep and fix my trusted and beloved 2003 Element with all the problems I know well, or buy the younger, lower-miles Element and sell my current one, which is worth about $3,500 as is?
A: Cars are not spouses. They don't love you back. And despite our romantic notions, cars don't get better with age. They wear out, and at some point, they start falling apart faster than you can put them back together. And at that point, the cost becomes prohibitive, even if the inconvenience doesn't. So when it comes to cars, we fully endorse trading for a younger model. Especially in your case.
The best measure of a car's useful life is mileage. It's not a foolproof guide, because some people beat up their cars and some people baby theirs. But, generally speaking, a car with lower mileage will have more useful life than a car with higher mileage.
In your case, it's not even close. You're talking 197,000 miles vs. 37,000 miles. That's 160,000 fewer miles. So absolutely grab the 2008 Element with 37,000 miles while you can. And you can either sell your 2003 Element for $3,500 (although with a slipping transmission, good luck), or you can keep it as a parts car. Keeping it as a parts car has a couple of advantages. You'll still be able to sit in it, breathe in the old car smell and reminisce. And you can take your time transferring over all the old dog hair.
Q: I have a 2004 BMW 325xi with 24,000 miles. The body and exterior are in excellent condition. But the following repairs have been suggested: Replace the power steering reservoir, which is leaking, and flush the system. Fix a leak in the rear differential cover. Replace rear brakes. Replace original tires. Four-wheel alignment. The estimated cost is $7,000. Should I trade in the car or get the repairs?
A: That sounds like an outrageous amount of money for that work. Replacing the power steering reservoir and flushing it out should cost a few hundred dollars. Replacing the differential seal should cost no more than $150. For a four-wheel alignment, let's say another $150. The rear brakes, being generous, let's say $700. And for tires, even if you spent $250 per tire, which is what you'd pay for top of the line performance tires, that's $1,000. That's a total of $2,300. Even if you went to the dealer, where they charge a premium, that repair order shouldn't cost more than about $3,500.
So the answer is, if you like the car and it still serves your needs, you should keep it and trade in your mechanic.
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