This article previously appeared on Moneybluebook.com.)
Recently, I celebrated my car's 19th birthday (admittedly, it was a low-key affair). When I bought it nine years ago, a gearhead friend sniffily observed, "Oh, it's a BMW 520i. Bit basic and boring, but as long as you keep it topped up with oil and water, it'll go on forever."
And so it has. Every few years, I have to spend a couple of hundred dollars replacing some part or other. But overall, everything still works perfectly and it delivers cheap driving.
Having one of the oldest vehicles in town doesn't bother me at all. However, there are plenty of circumstances when you (and even I) should know it's time to make a change. Here are five:
1. An embarrasing episode If your teenage kids suddenly decide they want you to drop them off a couple of blocks from school because they'd "enjoy the walk" (even though it's raining), you can be pretty sure you're seeing your car through rose-tinted spectacles.
Maybe it's just not destined to become the classic you have in your mind's eye. Maybe your vehicle would look positively better as a cube of mangled metal after a scrapyard remodeling.
On the other hand, maybe the kids could use the exercise.
2. One too many stops for gas As a freelance writer with no commute, my old car sits outside the house 99 percent of the time. However, if I had a different job, or lived elsewhere, I'd almost certainly have to sell it because the car guzzles gas like it's 1995 — the year it was built.
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Old cars rarely get fuel economy the way modern ones do. So you may well find that if you have high annual mileage, you could cover a big part of your new lease or auto loan payments out of your monthly savings on gas.
3. An environmental epiphany Replace your 19-year-old BWM 520i or your 10-year-old Ford Focus with a newer car and your personal carbon footprint is almost certain to fall. But will that save even a single polar bear?
To start with, your old car (unless you scrapit) is still going to be on the road and likely to be belching out the same number of Earth-harming carbon atoms as it was when you were driving it — maybe more, if the new owner doesn't bother to service it properly.
Meanwhile, the damage done to the environment when a new car is manufactured is far from negligible.
Still, if your car routinely leaves a plume of smoke in its wake and you suspect its next home will be a junkyard instead of a garage, there may be some environmental sense in seeking a newer, greener model.
4. A series of breakdowns I recently asked my friend Mike, owner of a 1997 Volvo, for his pros and cons of having an older vehicle. He said his biggest isue was reliability; too often, he plans to leave his house to drive somewhere and his car won't start. But he plans to stick with the Volvo because it's so cheap to run.
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That wouldn't do for me, and I suspect it wouldn't for you either.
Things may be different for Mike, who's retired and embodies Zen calm, but when you and I get into our vehicles, we expect to get to where we need to be. So unreliability may be an issue that forces you to change cars.
5. A costly repair Every time I take my BMW in for service, I ask the mechanic whether it remains worth keeping. I know I can't get a guarantee, but I want a professional opinion on the chances of it remaining a good runner for the following year or two.
So far, I've been lucky. One day, I know, that bet will turn bad.
Perhaps it will be during a routine service or on the side of some road, but it's pretty much inevitable I'll eventually be told I'm going to have to spend thousands to repair a car with a market value in the hundreds. Then I'll have to decide whether to invest many thousands on a new replacement or just a few thousand on another geriatric vehicle that I hope will give me a similarly cheap driving experience.
What would you do?
Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com, Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money and writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans.
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