Would it be financially beneficial to trade in a car and buy a used one every 3-6 years instead of keeping one and performing maintenance tasks on it.

My thought on it is that I would be able to skip bothering with maintenance and also be able to drive different cars.

I am assuming that the cars will be paid for in cash.

  • 1
    what maintenance are you willing to skip? Are you deciding that if the AC goes, it is time to get a new car? Or do you want to avoid tires, brakes, and oil? Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 21:04
  • I'm thinking more the tires, brakes, and oil.
    – oceanus
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 21:25
  • If you drive a car without changing the oil for 3 years (let alone 6), you risk damaging the engine. It will also almost certainly reduce the trade-in value of the car.
    – BrenBarn
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 21:29
  • Right, oil isn't really the thing I care to skip since it's not very expensive and is needed often.
    – oceanus
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 21:31
  • So you mean you are willing to maintain the tires, brakes, and oil? Your answer to mhoran_psprep's question makes it sound like the opposite.
    – BrenBarn
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 21:33

3 Answers 3


The main problem I see with doing this is that every time you buy a used car, you take a risk that there is something wrong with it that will cause major problems. The more often you buy a new (i.e., new-to-you but used) car, the more often you expose yourself to this risk. On the other hand, if you have a car for a while, you know what problems it has and doesn't have and are in a better position to make decisions about what to repair and what not to repair.

In other words, risk is a "transaction cost" that you incur every time you change cars. There are other more concrete transaction costs too: you'll probably have to pay registration fees and sales taxes, and your insurance rates may go up if you have collision/comprehensive coverage.

Because of that, my philosophy is that it doesn't make sense to get rid of a car that you know works well and exchange it for a car whose quality is unknown. Most car maintenance (as opposed to repairs) is not that expensive in the scheme of things. If you get one lemon and have to spend thousands repairing it (or get rid of it and immediately buy another), that can wipe out whatever you may have saved in maintenance costs over several years, once the other transaction costs mentioned above are factored in.

Another thing to consider is that skipping maintenance will lower the trade-in value of your car. Car dealers aren't looking to be generous with trade-in value even in the best of circumstances, and if you drive onto the lot with bald tires and squeaky brakes, they'll be even less generous. So some of your "savings" from not doing maintenance will be illusory, since you'll actually pay for them in the form of a lower trade-in value.

If you google around you can find various sites with advice on how to decide whether to repair or replace your car (here, here, and here, for instance). Most suggest that it usually makes sense to keep an old car until it really starts falling apart, as that will be cheaper than getting a new one.

As an aside, I'm currently testing these theories. I had a 1998 Toyota Camry that I got from a family member, so I had trustworthy assurance that it was in good condition. It had about 170k miles and ran well for about 7 years. In the last year various problems have started to crop up and I had to spend some money to fix them. If that were all, I would gladly have just kept the car. But some of the problems were difficult to diagnose and suggested general wearing-out, and the car now has 230k miles, so the likelihood of problems is only going to go up. So in the past few weeks I decided it was time to make the move, and bought a newer used car with lower odometer mileage. But I'm giving the old Camry to another family member. So as time goes by I'll be watching to see how it holds up for him and whether I made the right choice in jumping ship when I did! :-)


It is almost always best, financially, to buy a used car and keep it until the cost of repair exceeds the cost of buying another car in equivalent condition. Modern cars should be good for at least a lightsecond (over 186,000 miles).; many last much longer.

If in doubt, treat it as if you were buying it from yourself: pay a mechanic about $100 to evaluate it "as if it were a car his daughter was considering buying" and tell you what he'd let her pay for it and why. That will give you an educated estimate of how much longer you should expect to keep it.


I recommend learning how to check brake pad wear, tire wear, and tire pressure yourself. (Just Google it -- these are all super easy). Also a good idea to learn how to check the oil level, although not as important as long as you change the oil regularly.

Change the oil every 3-5k miles and make sure your tires are properly inflated every month (buy a pressure gauge and check the pressure the first time you buy gas every month, that way you remember)

Other than the above, I see no problem with your plan. I suspect the majority of the population does that anyway due to apathy or ignorance.

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