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I have a car.

I would like to sell this car and purchase a different used car. Let's assume I am in no rush at to make the purchase+sale (purchase of my next vehicle, and sale of my current vehicle).

The question: Is there a statistically optimal year to sell a used car? 5 years? 10? 20?

For example, I imagine there is some average age of a car where some expensive parts start to wear-out and require service / replacement. If so, it would obviously be more optimal to sell the car before this happens.

I realize this is a broad and generic question. Please tell me if this is too broad for this site.

Edit: To address the ambiguity pointed out in multiple responses: I am simply interested in a statistical average over all used vehicles. If (after taking into account all makes and models) the disparity of this statistic for each of the different makes and models is so large that the final average answer is useless, then that conclusion itself answers my question.

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    Generally the cheapest TCO is to run the car until the repair bills get higher than a car payment would be. I find this is about 15-18 years out. – zeta-band Aug 27 '18 at 22:29
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    I think the answer to anything statistically speaking will rely on too many other variables. Market demand, make/model/year, maintenance habits, loan information (if any), etc. Some cars can go for years and years and hundreds of thousands of miles before they need expensive parts replaced. Others need them as soon as the warranty expires... – BobbyScon Aug 27 '18 at 23:01
  • @bobbyscon but you can just take the statistical avg idea a bit further and get an average while ignoring all of those other variables, which as a result will be an average across all of those variables (make, model, maintenance habits, etc.) – James Wierzba Aug 27 '18 at 23:03
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    Except you really have to take make/model/year into consideration at the very least. I know people with Hondas from the 90s that have lasted longer and cost less in repairs than others with BMW's from 4 years ago. Optimal year to sell a car also depends on your personal needs. Can you get enough for selling your car to buy a better car, or are you better off driving the car you have into the ground? I understand the question and what you're after, but I don't think it's answerable under the guidelines of this site. – BobbyScon Aug 27 '18 at 23:09
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    @JamesWierzba: Using the mean across all models yields a number that is badly suboptimal for any situation with probability approaching 1. – Ben Voigt Aug 27 '18 at 23:35
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The answer depends on what vehicle you will replace it with. As an extreme example, if your new vehicle is a bicycle and it is sufficient for your commute, you might be better off selling your car immediately even if it is brand new. On the other hand, if you're selling a bicycle to buy a new sports car, the optimal time is to wait as long as possible.

Also don't forget that the cost of expected repairs impacts the price you will get when selling it. If the buyer new that all cars of your make and model break down after 100k miles, they will not offer you a high price for a car with 99k miles.

The right answer also depends on how much you value your time and risk. How much is it worth to you to be certain your car is unlikely not break-down today? If your job requires that you be dependable, the optimal time to sell the vehicle may be much sooner than for someone who is a retiree or is self-employed and works from home.

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In the comments to your question you include the following.

"but you can just take the statistical avg idea a bit further and get an average while ignoring all of those other variables, which as a result will be an average across all of those variables (make, model, maintenance habits, etc.) "

If you could take all the data that some sites/companies have that they use to publish used car guides you could calculate an average. Unfortunately the brackets around the average would be so large that it would not be usable.

In you case you could get close becasue as you said:

I have a car.

I would like to sell this car and purchase a different used car. Let's assume I am in no rush at to make the purchase+sale (purchase of my next vehicle, and sale of my current vehicle).

Is there a statistically optimal year to sell a used car? 5 years? 10? 20?

Therefore you know the make, model, year, mileage, and repair history. Which means that you can use one of those used car guides to see what it is worth now and what a year older car of that model is worth.

But it also depends on your exact car. Some cars last much longer than the average, others never come close to the average. This is all despite the pattern of use, and the ability of the mechanic. I have a relative who was a mechanic in the military. They had a car that was having multiple types of engine problems. They sold it before the warranty expired. The repairs up to that point had been covered by the warranty, but the number of days they didn't have their car and the estimated costs of parts once the warranty expired led them to sell sooner.

Something else to consider unrelated to the make/model price history profile is: "does it meet your needs". If it is too large or too small it might not meet your needs, so selling it soon is the most important factor.

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  • Unfortunately the brackets around the average would be so large that it would not be usable. -- this answers my question, thank you. I will wait a little while and then mark this as the answer (if the question doesn't get removed by then) – James Wierzba Aug 28 '18 at 21:31

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