I purchased my vehicle (2007 Acura TL) back in 2015. At the time, the car had around 100,000 miles. This year (2022) — the car officially turned 15 years old.
Given this, I feel uniquely qualified to talk about whether or not it’s worth it to either buy, or keep (if you already own) a 15 year (or older) car.
We’ll use my own math and experience to analyze the situation to see if I should continue on with it–or to go get something else.
Let’s get after it!
15 year old car repair costs
For budgeting purposes, I like to look at my car repairs on an annual basis, and to then assign a monthly budgeted number to my car.
For my car, I took a look at the trailing costs for the previous year as my baseline for what the next upcoming year will look like.
In year 14, my car repairs totaled a little over $3,000 for the year. This includes everything–including what some would call “maintenance” items (things that all cars need).
Monthly, this comes out to around $250 per month that I need to budget for car repairs. Some months, there will be zero repair / upkeep costs, other months it could be a lot more if I have an expensive repair.
Going in to year 15 with the car, I can take my year 14 upkeep cost baseline, and adjust if I know something expensive is coming up.
Going into year 15, I went ahead and increased the budget for repairs just due to the age of the car.
I bumped my monthly number up to $350 this year for maintenance–so for this analysis, we’ll run with this number for upkeep costs.
The next thing to keep in mind when you’re driving an older car is the hidden “cost” of operating a car–which is that the car is a depreciating asset.
Your 15+ year old car has done most of the depreciating already
Here’s the thing most people miss with buying newer cars–they still have room left to go on the “depreciation” curve.
As you drive them, they lose value, which is essentially lost “money”. For example, if I drive a car worth $10,000, and a year later it’s market value is $8000. It cost you an extra $2,000 in depreciation that year–and that’s on top of any maintenance you paid to keep the car up, or the interest you paid if you had a loan on the car.
Now, let’s look at the value loss of a typical 15 year old car:
It’s hard to get exact value for my car in the real world, but I estimate that this year, my 15 year-old car was probably worth about $3000 on the high end at the beginning of this year. By the end of the year–I’d guess the car is worth somewhere around $2500–especially with the new tires I just put on there.
From this point forward, as long as the car is running good, it’s going to be worth about 2 thousand bucks from now until eternity.
All of this is to illustrate one simple point: Driving a 15 year old car is smart from a depreciation standpoint.
Remember when you’re thinking about the pros and cons of keeping the old car, keep that in mind.
Replacement cost for a 15 year old car is insane right now
Assuming your car is still running well, shifting and is safe to drive–you’re still getting around from point a to point b.
Replacing that old car is pretty insanely expensive right now, and likely will be for some time moving forward.
I’ve taken a look at what it would take for me to find a car similar to age and condition to my car when I bought it back in 2015.
It would take somewhere around $18,000-$20,000 to make a similar replacement move today.
That’s lot higher than the approximately $11,000 that I shelled out back in 2015. Talk about inflation!
Car Payments Just Stink — Your 15 year old car is paid off
When I paid off my car in 2020–I got to enjoy months where all I had to feed my car was gasoline and pay the (minimal) insurance bill.
Speaking of insurance, when I paid off my car, I was able to take my insurance costs down from around 80 bucks per month to around 55-60 bucks per month.
Since the value of the car is much lower than it was when I first bought it, the insurance to cover the value of it goes down. That’s another ancillary benefit.
But, beyond insurance costs being lower–you now have zero car payment.
Let that sink in–no car payments.
Now, you need to budget for those car repairs, but if you’ve maintained your car well over the years, these probably won’t exceed what my repair bills have been in year 15–which means you’re coming out ahead vs. getting another car, probably on payments with an interest rate, etc.