AAA consultant Robert Stringari offers a few guidelines to consider before you buy a new car—or repair an old one.
Own a car long enough and you’ll face the difficult decision of choosing the right time to replace it. “The first thing I ask a customer is, ‘Does the vehicle have sentimental value?’ ” says Robert Stringari, an automotive consultant for AAA. “Because if it does, then cost won’t be the most compelling factor.” Otherwise, Stringari says, it’s a matter of dollars and sense. Here are some key items to consider.
Focus on finances It makes little sense to spend more on repairs than your vehicle is worth. First, get an estimate on what it would cost to keep your car running safely. Then look up its resale value at kbb.com , nadaguides.com , or edmunds.com , where you’ll find calculators to guide you. Be honest about the condition of your car: Maybe you don’t mind those dents and scratches, but that doesn’t mean a buyer wouldn’t.
Look down the road Many cars need timing-belt replacement and other expensive maintenance around the 90,000-mile mark. Ask a trusted mechanic who’s familiar with your car make and model to test-drive and inspect your vehicle to give you an opinion on what repairs may lie ahead.
Uncover hidden costs What kind of gas mileage do you get? The expense of buying a newer, more fuel-efficient car might be balanced out in the long run by what you save at the pump. But newer cars often command higher insurance premiums, another expense you’ll want to weigh.
Know your needs As lifestyles change, so do vehicle requirements. Has a new job changed your commute? Is that minivan practical now that your kids are older? Taking stock of current needs will help you choose between your old wheels and a newer model that may suit you better.
Play it safer Newer cars have a greater number of advanced safety features, from side-impact air bags to lane-departure warning systems. It’s hard to put a price on peace of mind, especially if others in your family use the car as well.
Illustration by Ron Chan 
This article was first published in July 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.