How do you know your car’s time has come, before your car’s time has come?

The answer to that question is crucial for anyone who tries to save money by driving an old vehicle.  And it becomes even more important when labour rates are approaching $100/hour.

Conventional wisdom says you get the most bang for your buck when you buy a car that’s four years old, then sell before it’s eight. Let the guy before you pay for depreciation, the one after you pay for repairs.

I would add that you shouldn’t get too hung up on price when buying or selling. Overall condition and quality come first. Because it only takes one expensive breakdown to turn a great bargain into a bad deal.

Example of what not to do #1:

My eight-year-old Honda Civic was long paid off, trouble free and, according to classified ads for comparable machines, worth about $4,000. I considered selling, but instead decided to try for one more year of payment-free driving.

For six months everything was fine. Then it started. That old saying about bad luck coming in threes? Believe it. In this case brakes, ball joints and timing belt. One after another over a three-month period. Roughly $3,000 worth of repairs when it was all said and done. Which was about all my Honda (now nine years old) was worth.

And of course it turns out $3,000 was also roughly equal to a year’s payments on a brand new Civic.  

See? Timing really is everything.

Example of what not to do #2:

Ryan Snoddon had a 1996 Ford Taurus that ran like a top. Really, it was his mother-in-law’s car. But as the alpha male in the family he’s in charge of maintenance and repairs.

Remember what I said about timing? Ryan made the same mistake I did. (Although his old Taurus was on the road much longer than my Civic, so his long-term operating costs were much lower than mine.) But still, he was too fond of the car and let his emotions get in the way. I hear meteorologists are like that. His worst mistakes? Buying new winter tires and a half-tank of gas.

Newco Metal and Auto Recycling handles about 14,000 cases of bad timing every year. Check out the video to see what happens to Ryan’s Taurus when it goes for one last drive.