This is a question that we get a lot. Here is a basic look at what we do to help our customers make this decision.
First question-Do you like the car? This is a very important question. If you don't like the car, you probably do not want to keep it. Extensive repairs are not going to make most people like a car better. After all, if you replace an engine or transmission, the window may still not go up and down, that exhaust may still have that coat hanger holding it in place and that spring in the seat will still poke you when you sit down.
Second question-Have you had to do a lot of repairs in the last year or two? This is something that you need to look at a lot closer. If the brakes got replaced because they wore out, that is not a repair, it is maintenance. If the brake master cylinder failed, that is a broken part that needed to be replaced, thus a repair expense, not maintenance. Did you replace the timing belt? They need to be replaced on many cars as a matter of maintenance (some cars use chains that only get replaced if it wears out). Fluids need to be serviced from time to time, tune-ups need to be done, accessory belts need to be replaced.
This will all be true on a newer car. They are after all machines. Proper maintenance helps reduce the number of repairs that will be required on any machine, especially something as complex as a car.
Third question-Does the expense exceed the value of the car? Sometimes it will. Now you have to look at it from a different angle. What are your expectations for this car? Do you want to try to make it last while someone goes to school? Would a bus be a better option? If you had to replace it, what would it cost? You probably have repair & service records that you can review. Has the car been pretty reliable? Would an expensive repair be a good option because you know that for the most part, the car is reliable. . If you do not fix the car, will you replace it? Will you get the service records on the replacement vehicle? Why are they getting rid of it? Are the tires in good shape? Will they likely last while you use the car for this limited time frame? ( you still need it to be safe)
This is a basic format that I use when talking with someone about expensive repairs. I hope that it helps some of you that may have to make that type of decision. Some of it can be applied to other things that come up in our lives.
Andy is the manager @ Hockett & Olsen Automotive on Bainbridge Island. He can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org