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When Is It Time To Think About a New Car?

Rednecks on a road trip

We are almost the Scottsdale Hillbillies!

I’m not sure what it is about Flagstaff, Arizona, but there seems to be a car trouble magnet floating around the general vicinity. It seems like a nice town, but we can’t seem to get through there without some sort of road trip malady. Our recent Thanksgiving trip was no exception. Our vehicles are getting older, and I expect things to go wrong from time to time, but when do you know when it’s time to think about a new car?

We’ve only been on the right financial path for a few years, so this is our first foray into owning higher mileage vehicles. Currently our garage holds Jim’s 2006 Toyota Tacoma with about 150K miles and our becoming less trustworty by the moment, 2008 Altima, with just over 130K miles. The Altima is our main travel car because of it’s good gas mileage, and it has a DVD player!

Fred Sanford Would Have Been Proud

Nissans are pretty reliable, and I expect this one to make it to at least 200K miles before we part ways, but it seems to have some sort of problem on most of our road trips these days.

A couple of summers ago, we had transmission problems and had to call the tow truck about 30 miles outside of Flagstaff. This summer, something called a brake switch went out right after we got back from a road trip. Thankfully, that only left me stranded in town and not on the highway somewhere. Our most recent problem was actually quite comical, but annoying nonetheless!

To get to any major city from where we live, you either have to drive across miles of desert or go over several mountain passes. There are lots of places with no cell phone service. On our Thanksgiving trip to Scottsdale, we stopped at a little dot on the map called Tuba City, Arizona, which is right in the middle of the Navajo reservation. The actually have a small grocery store there, and we stopped for some lunch provisions.

It was fairly warm, so we rolled down the car windows while we got lunch in order. When we were ready to head out, one of the back windows would not roll up. After realizing that we did not have the knowledge or tools to manually force it closed, Jim fastened a sheet over the window and like the Clampetts headed to Beverly, we were off. Strangely, I couldn’t stop humming the theme song to Sanford and Son as we went down the highway.

I now know what if must feel like to be a flag on the most windy day as I had to hold one edge of the sheet to keep it from blowing out the

when your car window won't roll up

It’s not that Redneck, right?

window. I’m sure I have some sort of hearing damage from the noise. To top it off, our daughter got a touch of diarrhea about that time, so we had to stop at every nasty gas station along the way, including the one where the toilet seat was sideways. I had to keep my foot up to hold it in place while she was taking care of business. Let’s just say the 73 miles to Flagstaff were possibly the longest ones of my life.

Standing On A Corner In Flagstaff, Arizona

The dealership in Flagstaff was jam packed and at first, I was told it would be at least 2-3 hours before someone could take a look at our window. In my most sad voice, I asked if it would be possible just to tape on some cardboard it so we could be on our way. I guess the lady took pity on me because she called out a service tech who forced the window closed and put some duct tape over the down button so no one will accidentally get it stuck again.

Not fixed but we were able to complete our trip. We’ll add that to the list of things that no longer work, like all the check engine lights, the transmission in very hot weather, the driver’s side mirror that was knocked lose by a deer, and something called a Kamber clip that just seemed too expensive and unnecessary to fix.

During the hour or so we were at the dealer, we had to walk around outside because we had the dog with us. We could not help but look at all the cars that were for sale. We didn’t even go into the new section, but even the used ones all had low miles, working gages, and the promise that we could get to our destination without something tearing up.

No, we didn’t trade our car on the spot, but I would be lying if this incident didn’t make me think about it. I have no idea what to expect with an older car, so is it normal that we should plan for something to go wrong on long trips?

Alternatives To Driving an Older Car

I guess there are other alternatives. We could stay home. This would be cheaper, but one consolation we make to ourselves for living in the boonies is taking road trips as often as we can. It’s so cheap to live in Southwest Colorado, and usually we love it, but we do crave more action a few time a year.

I’ve also written about renting a car for road trips. This is cheaper than buying a newer car, but our plans have to be just right. We only have one rental car agency in our small town, and they open at 9AM. We wanted to be on the road before then and didn’t want to pay for an extra day to get the car early.

I’ve learned that car trouble is not the end of the world, but we’ve also been lucky that we’ve broken down in areas where we could call someone for help. If I crap out at the top of Lizard Head Pass in a storm, I’ll have to flag down the snow plow for a ride. That actually sounds kind of fun but would be inconvenient at best. I know there is no guarantee that a newer car would not break down, but we never used to have problems before 100K miles.

My thought for now is to keep the car for a few more years. We only have one more road trip this year, and it’s only 4 hours. We do have some big trips coming up next year, but we are using points and miles to fly out of our regional airport and shouldn’t need to be on the road that much. Hopefully, we won’t have any more car trouble to make me change my mind!

For people who drive older cars, do you expect to break down? How do you plan for longer trips?

Beverly Hillbillies Image courtesy of Wikipedia

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I cannot even imagine what it was like driving with a sheet for a window! That’s hysterical! I have a few clients with older cars who tell me they need new or new to them cars. I tell them that you should wait for the car to tell you you need a new car. Meaning, if the car needs a repair at some point over $1,000+, then it’s probably time to start looking. Until then, I have them save the monthly payment for the other car if they do plan to finance. This way their monthly budget gets used to the payment and they are saving for the down payment on the car at the same time.

    • It was pretty funny. Most of the time I don’t care what people think about me, but I surely felt like a redneck with our sheet flapping in the wind!

  2. Ouch, sorry to hear that Kim! I’m sure it sucked, to say the least, while it was going on but can look back now and laugh. As you know, we have the same Altima and it has worked well for us aside from the same brake switch issue. Our other car though is a different story – to the point we don’t even drive the stupid thing anymore. We just make sure to keep a healthy amount of cash aside for repairs until we get the cash needed for a new to us car.

    • I think it’s probably time to start that new to us car fund. Even if we get a few more years, eventually we’ll have to replace one or both vehicles.

  3. Tough decisions! Every time we have to repair our car that’s paid for and has 140K miles on it, it’s tough, but I keep reminding myself it’s better than a car payment, since we can’t afford one out of pocket. But, we haven’t taken any long road trips, so I supposed my attitude might be different if we were.

    • Yes, whatever repairs we’ve done over the last few years are still cheaper than a new car. I keep reminding myself of that.

  4. I always think it’s time to get a new car when the cost of repairs is outweighing what you could pay cash for a new or used car, or at least putting down a huge chunk of change for a downpayment. That’s the point I got to with my subaru. I was dumping too much cash into my dying car where that money could have served me better with a better used car. Weird about Flagstaff. Maybe there is some kind of negative vortex in that town? 🙂

    • I’ve heard there is a strange energy in Sedona. Maybe it spreads to Flag as well. It’s funny, though. Both times we’ve broken down, we didn’t need much repair and the shops took care of us and didn’t charge. At least the people there are nice to stranded strangers.

  5. We drive Greg’s car for long trips but my old van is fine for around town. When it finally dies, I’m not sure we will replace it. We might just share a car.

    • I think if we only drove around town, our cars would last forever. My dream is to live somewhere someday where I can walk to everything I need. Maybe we could get a golf cart when we’re too old to walk around.

  6. Sorry to hear about your recent car adventures! To me, it’s always about safety first. If my car is unreliable and the cost of fixing it isn’t worth it, then it’s definitely time to start looking for another car. However, if the car is reliable enough for local driving, then I would consider doing the whole rental car for longer trips, especially if you don’t have the money saved for a new/ish car or bigger priorities. Or maybe you just avoid Flagstaff, AZ from now on! LOL!

  7. This reminds me of my car this summer. My window wasn’t even rolled down when the piece that holds the window up broke. I got out of the office to get in my car at the end of the day and the back window was just rolled down. I tried rolling it back up, but no luck. That’s when I found out what was wrong. I had to pull the window up with my hands and tape it in place. I finally got it fixed in late September so I wouldn’t have to worry about it falling down on a roadtrip I was taking the first week of October.

  8. My 2002 Corolla was deemed no longer safe to drive. I could have spent another $800 to replace the brakes and rotors (just replaced them at a shady Meineke about 1.5 years ago that put in sub-standard parts) and with a bad catalytic converter, a need for new shocks and tires, and 183,000 miles, I decided to give it up. I would have spent over $2,500 making it right again and something else could have died. We opted for a 2012 Ford Fiesta hatchback with just under 31,000 miles. We got it certified pre-owned. We could have gotten a cheaper non-certified used car, but since we’re a one car family and I’m driving far distances a lot lately, we thought it best to go this route.

    I will say that if you search a lot of the car discussion boards, you can find a great used vehicle for cheap that will last a long time. My friends lucked out with a few years old Pontiac Vibe with higher miles but in great condition. It was a car that was well-reviewed for longevity online and they are very satisfied with it. I’m partial to Ford’s and I loved the Fiesta (only released in US starting in 2011) and so certified used it was!

    • Oh, I wanted to add that I had the window motor string connection to the window break. Basically, my window dropped as nothing was holding it up any longer. (A rear window did the same thing later) I was working in Yellowstone National Park and luckily, my uncle who lives in Jackson, WY is super handy and replaced the whole part for me for free! He had to buy the whole motor as they didn’t just sell the cheap plastic connector from the window to the pulley system. I am forever grateful that happened somewhere with a family mechanic nearby.

    • If my car was deemed unsafe to drive, I think I’d get another one for sure. That reminds me of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles after the rental car catches on fire. Classic!

  9. I just passed 185k on my 05 Camry. I love that car and hope it never dies. My wife bought it the day of our first date and it has had zero repairs…it is amazing. However I start to think maybe I can get 250k hopefully without any issues. It is our long distance travel car.

    My parents did not have much money so they always spent $400-600 on cars and they were junk. We broke down so many times and once in the middle of Nevada at night and my dad had to hitchhike with strangers to the next town. We didn’t know if we would see him again. Besides that and constant repairs I determined to try and avoid that situation. A little more money upfront for a quality used car will save more in repairs over time and a lot of sanity.

  10. Our car is around 130K too and just went through a slew of repairs. They seem to come in waves. I’ve been pretty fed up with the repairs recently, but I know that we probably won’t start looking until the car hits 200,000km. (ask me again if something else breaks)

  11. Until earlier this year Victoria and I both had very old cars (mine hit 220k miles!) that were pretty unreliable. My commute was spent listening for noises or any warning signs that something was falling apart/breaking. I’m not even joking! But we got a used Ford Escape and just a couple months ago I bought a very affordable 2008 Kia Spectra. As far as longer trips go, we did take Victoria’s Dodge Stratus to Des Moines and back, but I’m thankful for the cars we have now because I’d be comfortable going cross country in either of them.

    Our CFO talked about driving in Arizona and how once his car broke down when his wife was pregnant. He said he learned really quick how important it was to have a water supply in your car – walking even a mile in that desert heat is tough.

    • We pack pretty well for road trips with lots of water, snacks, blankets, flares, flashlights, etc. That being said, it’s never fun to break down. It makes a good story afterward, but spending three hours on the side of a road really makes you think about getting a new car.

  12. What a huge PITA! Kim, you guys are rocking it financially: buy yourselves a new car. 🙂

  13. Too funny. I love that you can laugh at a tough situation. Good thing you had a sheet on hand too! My hubby drives a 2002 Dodge Dakota and it keeps trucking along. He did have the same window incident that a few others here shared. Went out to leave work and the driver window was down. Funny how it breaks and just rolls down on it’s own. Good thing there was nothing valuable in there. He also tried to jump start someone’s car at work and ended up blowing up his battery and killing the radio. He now drives music free. On the other hand, I drive a 2012 Tahoe and LOVE it. Don’t love the $958/monthly payment though.

  14. What a bummer! I’d be most upset about having to give up some of my vacation time at the dealership. Our vehicles are 07 and 09 models with 125k plus mileage. So far we’ve had wonderful luck with them in the repair department. Mine needs new tires which I’m less than excited about. But hoping we can still get many more years out of both!

  15. We have a really old car, and fortunately, it’s still surviving. When we take long road trips, we do an inspection before we leave and hope for the best!

    With cars, just like any item that depreciates, it’s best to sell it while it is in good condition. That way, you can get a small sum of money to put into your next used vehicle purchase.

  16. Our minivan is crossing 180k after 10 years and we are looking to sell it and upgrade to something newer. There isn’t anything wrong with it although we are outgrowing it a bit. But the mileage and other wear and tear is a concern to me. I’d rather get something for it now while it still has a little bit of value left.

  17. My 2010 Toyota Corolla already has over 90,000 miles on it. I do my best to take care of it. I want a solid five years of no-car-note time, which means it has to last me another 7 years! Hahaha. It’s hard to predict how many miles I’ll put on it in that time because of inevitable life changes, but I’m going to do my best!

  18. Sad to know about what happened to you Kim. I am glad that you’re safe. What I do is if the car is no longer in that good condition or I am not confident in its functionality or it causes trouble, that is the time I look for another car. It really depends on your gut, if it’s time to change…

    • Ours has just been inconvenient up to this point and not too expensive. Hopefully, it will stay that way for a while longer.

  19. We drive older cars. I’m very lucky that my hubby is very handy and can easily fix any kind of car trouble. For us it will always be cheaper to fix the car, than to go out and buy another.

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