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A gray 2013 Honda Civic Si is shown parked after leaving an auto repair shop.

Repair or Sell: How Do You Know if Your Car Is Worth Fixing?

The check engine light seems to be a permanent fixture on your car’s dashboard, making you wonder if it’s worth another trip to your local auto repair shop. After all, you recently spent a few hundred dollars to have the transmission serviced, preceded by a small fortune in repairs after a fender bender. It’s been an endless and exhausting cycle, making a new model or even a used or new-to-you car incredibly enticing.

But before you dive head first into shopping for a new model, you’re wondering if your current car is worth fixing. How do you know? It’s a common question when car owners face expensive repairs and frequent problems, but answering it is complex. It requires careful consideration of a couple of factors, from your current situation to the vehicle’s worth and the cost of the repairs. Here’s a closer look at those factors to help you make the best choice for your wallet and your future on the road.

Factor #1: How Much Is My Vehicle Worth?

Before determining whether your vehicle is worth fixing, you must know its value. This starts by locating the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which you can find on your insurance card, on a sticker located on the driver’s doorjamb, and at the bottom of the windshield where it meets the dashboard on the driver’s side. Once you have the VIN, you can use the number on sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, inputting the number, the vehicle’s mileage, your location, and any special packages or modifications to your car, truck, or SUV.

These sites determine the value of your vehicle based on industry trends in your area and its current condition. For example, let’s say you have a 2013 Honda Civic with 90,000 miles on the odometer that’s in fair condition. Honda’s reputation for reliability means these models tend to hold their values well, which yields a Kelley Blue Book estimate of $6,000 for your area. So, how can you use this figure to determine if your Civic is worth repairing?

There’s a general guideline in the industry that a vehicle is not worth fixing when the cost of the repairs is over 50% of its value. So, if you’re looking at approximately $2,000 in repairs, having your Civic fixed is worth considering. However, there are some other elements that you need to consider.

One of the most important things to remember when navigating vehicle repairs is that the initial estimate is precisely that—an estimate. For example, while you may anticipate paying $2,000 to repair your Civic, you could easily spend around $1,500 or as much as $3,000. As a result, it’s essential to work with a reputable mechanic you trust who can give you better insight into what to expect. While no mechanic has a crystal ball, those who operate with integrity and transparency will do their best to explain everything you can expect and the likelihood of additional costs.

A gray 2020 Honda Civic is shown driving.

Factor #2: What Is My Current Situation? (Financial Investment and Level of Inconvenience)

While the answer may seem obvious (your car needs repair), you have to consider the situation from another angle. What’s your investment in the vehicle and its level of inconvenience in your life? For example, are you spending more time hitching rides from friends and coworkers because your Civic consistently breaks down? How much money have you spent on repairs in the last six to 12 months?

These questions force you to evaluate your situation at the level of convenience and practicality. For example, your Civic is worth $6,000, but the mechanic is confident the repairs will cost less than $2,000 and only take two days to resolve. The inconvenience is minimal, and based on the reliability and longevity of most Civics, it’s unlikely you’ll have to spend thousands more dollars on routine maintenance. Going forward with the repairs is likely the most practical and logical solution in this situation.

But what about the alternative? The $2,000 estimate for the repairs could fall closer to $3,000, meaning you’ll spend nearly half of what the Civic is worth to maintain its operability on the road. Even then, the repair won’t dramatically extend the life of your Civic. Moreover, let’s say the repairs will take a week or longer to complete, which adds to your investment. You’ll either spend a few hundred dollars on a rental car and fuel or reimburse your friends and coworkers for gas. Is the inconvenience and financial investment worthwhile? For most people, it’s not.

How Can I Be Proactive About Repairs and Knowing When to Sell?

Just as mechanics don’t have crystal balls, neither do car owners. However, there are several ways to be proactive in recognizing when it’s time to sell or when making the necessary repairs is the more practical solution. How so?

Do Your Homework

Get to know your model beyond your experience in the driver’s seat. Many off-roaders and car enthusiasts turn to forums for community feedback on upgrades, modifications, and repairs. While you may not fall into either of these categories, there are similar forums for every make and model. You can glean information about reliability indexes, projected model lifespans, and typical maintenance costs from other owners who have been there and done that.

These sites are also valuable before you invest in a newer model. Automakers like Honda have stellar reputations for building long-lasting vehicles that can log hundreds of thousands of miles without breaking a sweat, but some models are better than others. So before buying your next car, take some time to narrow down your options and use these sites to understand common issues or likely repair costs associated with the model you’re considering.

A 2021 Ford Bronco is shown off-roading.

Look at Your Finances

Along with learning more about your vehicle, look at your budget and track your maintenance and repair expenses. Every dollar you spend on routine maintenance and repairs adds up, but it’s hard to see that firsthand if you’re not actively tracking those expenses. If your vehicle needs more than a routine oil change every few months, start tracking your vehicle maintenance expenses for the following year. Then, after 12 months, total the expenses and compare that amount to the current market value of your vehicle. Is it more or less?

If what you’ve spent on maintenance over the last year exceeds your vehicle’s value, then it’s time to consider selling or trading. Likewise, evaluate what your current vehicle costs you each month by dividing the total by 12. If these monthly expenses are making you go over a reasonable budget, then a change might be best for your financial future.

As you evaluate your expenses, it’s also a great time to look at your budget and how much you can afford to spend on your current vehicle or a newer model. For example, can you afford a $300 monthly car payment on a newer model compared to what you’re spending to keep your Civic on the road? Or would that $300 investment yield more long-term savings since there’s a better likelihood the newer model will need fewer repairs?

Making the Best Decision

Knowing when your car is worth repairing or when it’s time to sell or trade is something only you can decide; there are simply too many factors for someone else to figure things out for you. Answering this question requires looking closely at your situation and evaluating your finances relative to the inconvenience of owning a car that isn’t reliable or that spends more time in the shop than it does on the road. As you evaluate your options, know that mechanics and industry professionals can give you insights and explain the advantages or disadvantages of the situation, but no one knows your situation better than you. It might take some time and energy to figure all of this out, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind and better budgeting that it can bring.