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Good Question: Repair Your Car, Or Replace It?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a common dilemma: your car is over 100,000 miles and you need an expensive repair.

When does it make sense to repair the car and when does it make more sense to just give up?

“We’re torn on what to do,” said Brent Carlson-Lee, whose 2002 Volkswagen Passat is covered with snow because he can’t drive it.

“It’s a 2002, it has 130,000 miles on it — thought we had plenty of life, until it started overheating on us,” he said.

The shop told him he needed to spend $1,800 on a repair, after which he’ll find out if he needs another $1,000 fix.

“Add those two up, and it’s about what the car’s worth,” he said.

Even experienced mechanics admit, this is a difficult question to sort out.

“Most definitely a very difficult decision,” said Stephan Reinarts, the Chrysler Repair Senior Instructor at Dunwoody College in Minneapolis.

“As a tech, I would tell the customer to think twice about the repair if the cost of the repairs exceed the value of the vehicle,” Reinarts said. “I feel uncomfortable recommending the customer does that.’

Clearly it’s a calculus that includes the best bang for your buck, because simply going on the least expensive solution, it’s almost always cheaper to keep fixing a car rather than buying a brand new car.

But, according to Reinarts, think twice about repairing if … the repairs costs 75 percent to 100 percent of your car’s value, if it’s an entry-level car (typically originally priced at $12,000-$18,000), or if the car is more than 10 years old.

“You get to a certain point some shops, if not most, will have a hard time accessing service information or getting parts,” Reinarts said.

Because newer model car engines will easily last 200,000 miles, putting the money into a repair instead of a car payment can often make sense. Engine life is incredible today, he said.

But spending $3,000 on a $3,000 car doesn’t make much sense to Carlson-Lee.

“I think at that price, we’re probably gonna junk it,” he said.

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