Buying new is sometimes a better investment than repairing

Dear Car Talk:

I have been driving my 2005 Honda Civic 4-door EX since 2009. It had 59,000 miles on it then, and has 202,000 now. I have consistently gotten 40 miles per gallon. For the past six months, I have had to add 1-2 quarts of oil between 5,000-mile oil-change intervals. My mechanic says that there are no leaks, and that the oil burning is due to the aging engine. For the past six months, I have been getting less than 40 mpg – usually about 36-38. Other than these changes, the car runs well. Should I get a rebuilt engine for this car for around $4,000, and possibly a new transmission and timing belt for another $2,000-3,000? Or should I fork over $13,000 for a new used car, like a 2012 Honda Civic? I'm 74 years old, and hope to drive another six to 10 years, maybe longer, but one never knows. – Bobbi

RAY: I think you should start saving for another car rather than investing in this one, Bobbi. With over 200,000 miles on it, you've almost driven this car the equivalent of to the moon. But you're not going to make it back.

Burning a couple of quarts of oil every 5,000 miles is not great. But it’s not an emergency, either. When my brother’s cars went from burning a quart of oil every 50 miles to a quart every 5, that was an emergency. That’s when he’d have to mount the 55-gallon drum of Castrol to the roof, and run an IV drip.

The mileage drop is not an emergency either. Even at 36 mpg, you’re still getting better mileage than 90 percent of the cars on the road.

Both of those issues probably will get worse over time, especially the oil burning. But unless you forget to check it, and you run the engine out of oil, neither of those problems will leave you stranded.

So my suggestion would be to put that $7,000 of repair money aside, and start adding to it every month. And when the oil burning gets intolerable – when you’re traveling in a moving cumulus cloud of blue smoke – or when something major, like the transmission, really gives out, then take the plates off the old Civic, and buy yourself a brand-new car. Brand new!

You’re only 74. And even if this next car does turn out to be your last one, don’t you want to enjoy it? Don’t you want to be rocking Led Zeppelin IV through the subwoofer via Bluetooth on your iPhone 8?

And more importantly, with a lot of new cars these days – including the new Civic – you can get the latest and greatest safety equipment, particularly automatic emergency braking. That’s great for everybody, but especially for older drivers, whose reflexes may not be as quick as they used to be. Or who are distracted by filling out the Bingo card they keep next to the shifter.

And who knows, that automatic emergency braking may save your life and give you even more years behind the wheel. It may work so well that you’ll need a 2032 Honda Civic someday.

So if you can afford it now, I’d say sell the old Honda and buy yourself a new car. If that’s a stretch, don’t put any more money than you have to into the old Civic, and save up until you’re ready.

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