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What to Do When Your Car Isn’t Worth Fixing (and How to Know)

It’s a really bad spot to be in. You just had some level of damage occur to your car that’s pretty extensive. You might be panicking and not know what to do. Take a deep breath and let me help.

Compare the repair costs to the price of the vehicle. If the repair costs outweigh the price, then your car isn’t worth fixing. Once that determination has been made, you can sell your junker vehicle to a private buyer, dealership, online car buyer, junkyard, or part out the car on your own. At least you’ll get some money for your car in this situation.

In this guide, I’ll help you determine if your car is worth fixing. From there, you’ll find out what to do in your situation. This guide should help you get some money in your pocket so you can have a car that actually works.

What Does it Mean to Not Be Worth Fixing?

If a car “isn’t worth fixing”, it simply means that repairing the vehicle isn’t the best option. It happens when your car, typically an older one, has a part break or gets into an accident.

You’ll take it to a repair shop, and they’ll give you a quote to fix it. They might even be the ones that say that the car might not be worth fixing, but it’s ultimately your decision.

If your car is running fine and there are no big issues, then this isn’t a concept you have to worry about yet. You might encounter it in the future, or you might not.

How to Know Your Car Isn’t Worth Fixing

Maybe you’re not sure if your car is worth fixing or not. That’s not a problem at all. In this section, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions to find out if your car is worth fixing.

#1: Get a Repair Quote

None of the math that you do will matter if you don’t have a repair quote. You might want to get 2 or 3 quotes from different shops just to make sure the number is accurate.

The quote should cover all costs associated with repairing your car and fixing whatever damage broke it in the first place. Make sure the shop is giving you the full quote so you can make the best decision.

#2: Get the Numbers

Now you’ll need to do some math on the current car you have. If you’re not a math lover, don’t worry. Here’s what you do.

  • If you fully own the car: Find its Blue Book value using KBB’s “My Car’s Value” calculator.
  • If you’re making payments: Find out what your monthly bill is, how much of the car you own, what the car is worth, and how much you owe. It’s a lot of numbers that you’ll need to gather, but it’s the only way to do it.

#3: Do Some Math

So now you’ll have to compare the numbers from steps 1 and 2. The following section will talk about exactly what you’re looking for. The short answer? If the number from step 1 is larger than the number from step 2, it’s probably not worth fixing it.

#4: Do Some Soul Searching

However, there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. It all depends on who you are and what you’re looking for.

There are still people that will repair a car despite the math saying not to. That’s because deep down they had some reasons.

If you get rid of this car, what will you do in the meantime? If you fix it anyway, are you worried about future reliability? Is it possible to live without a car? Is the car rare and therefore worth fixing?

There are a lot of questions that you need to ask yourself. Ultimately, your specific situation could influence whether or not you fix the car.

#5: Can You Downgrade Instead of Fixing?

Some people wrongly think that there are only two options in a case like this. The first is to fix their car and drive it forever, and the second is to buy the best car on the market.

If the math is telling you “no”, consider downgrading. Instead of a brand-new Lexus, maybe you look at older versions or their less luxurious options.

Downgrading your car choice could save you tens of thousands of dollars.

#6: Consider Doing Some Repairs Yourself

So, what if you really want to fix your car but the math is looking really ugly? Personally, I see how much of the repair I can do on my own.

In the past, I’ve even found OEM replacement parts for cars that had expensive repair demands. The best part is that I didn’t waste money on the parts. I used junkyards to get OEM parts for a lot cheaper.

If you know your way around a car (or around my blog or YouTube), a lot of repairs can be done on your own for a lot cheaper. The fact that a mechanic can charge so much for an oil change is just the tip of the iceberg.

You might find that a $1,000 repair can be done on your own for $100 and a weekend of your time.

Times When Cars Might Not Be Worth Fixing

To find out whether or not your car is worth fixing, you’ll have to run some numbers. At the end of the day, the answer boils down to math. Here are a few checks that might tell you that your car isn’t worth fixing.

The Repairs Cost More Than the Car

In instances with older cars or more extensive damages, you might find that the repair cost is higher than the KBB price of your car. In this case, it should be a no-brainer that you ditch your car and get a replacement.

In other words, you’re spending so much money that you could buy a used version of your current car that’s actually working instead of fixing your broken car.

The Repairs Cost More Than the Price of a Used Car

Maybe your repair costs aren’t quite that high, but they’re still high. There are cases where the repair quote is higher than the cost of a reasonably used car on the market.

For example, a 2010 Honda Civic is going for about $8,000 today. If you didn’t know, Civics last a really long time.

So, if your repair costs are $10,000 on your current car, would it make sense to pick up one of these Civics instead? I think so.

Repairs Don’t Boost the Price of Your Car

Your car will have two costs:

  • The as-is price. What will the car sell for in its current state?
  • The fully functional price. If the car operated perfectly, what would it be worth?

If you have to sink in $3,000 in repairs to boost the car’s price by only $1,000, you’re technically losing 2 grand. Instead, you can take the car’s as-is price plus the $3,000 you would otherwise spend in repairs to get a used car.

In another example, the repairs might cost $3,000 but will boost your car’s value by $5,000 since it’s going from a broken car to a fully functional one. In this case, you’ll want to do the repairs.

You Don’t Want to Spend Tons of Money Repairing

Sometimes, people just don’t want to spend the money. Repair quotes can total thousands of dollars. If you’d rather just get rid of your car and use that money on a new car, I’m not going to stop you.

Repair Costs Outweigh a Year of Car Payments

If you’re still making payments, this is where your monthly bill comes into play. Multiply your monthly bill by 12 and you’ll get your yearly car payments.

If the repair costs are higher than this full year of car payments, then you might reconsider the repairs.

The Car Was in an Accident

If your car was in an accident, there’s a chance that the car will be totaled. This is when the amount of damage outweighs the price of the car. In this case, the shop will probably suggest that you don’t fix it. Still, there’s nothing legally stopping you from fixing a totaled car.

The only problem is the reliability of the car. After a car goes through a crash, it’s hard to tell the lifelong damage that’s done. Components can come loose over time, hidden damage to the frame can become apparent, and things might not feel right.

If there’s huge damage to your car, it’s probably not worth fixing it.

Your Annual Repair Cost Exceeds Your Budget

This is the category that I personally fall into. I set an annual budget for repairing and upkeeping my car. It’s a certain percentage value of my car’s value during that given year.

For example, if my car’s value this year is $10,000, I might set the repair budget up to around 5 grand.

If my repairs along the whole year add up to that 5 grand, then I’ll call it quits and scrap the car.

However, there’s a small caveat. Don’t expand this idea and think that your car’s lifelong repair costs should mean anything. In other words, if I spend $10,000 over 3 years to repair my car that is now worth $10,000, that isn’t grounds to get rid of the car.

These are your operational costs. They’re bound to happen. It just means that your car costs around $3,300 every year to operate.

It’s only a problem for me if repairs keep piling up within the same year.

You’re Seriously Questioning Your Car’s Reliability

The second that a car’s reliability starts ruining your ability to get to work, hang out with friends, and take road trips, you might consider getting rid of it.

After all, cars are here to add a level of convenience to our life. If that wasn’t the case, we’d all have bicycles or walk miles to work every day.

If this is the ninth time you broke down this year and you get the cold sweats every time you turn your key in the morning, maybe it’s time for a new, reliable vehicle. Can you put a price on reliability?

What to Do When Your Car Isn’t Worth Fixing

If you crunched the numbers and determined that your car isn’t worth fixing, I want to say that I am sorry you’re in this position. Still, there are ways to make a little money on the deal so you’re not completely screwed.

Let me tell you some ways that I personally know about when it comes to getting rid of a car that isn’t worth fixing.

Selling to a Private Individual

My personal favorite choice on this list is to sell your car to a private individual. This is someone online or a friend you have.

Please be upfront about the sale. Let them know that the deal is as-is, there is significant damage, and you can even include the repair quote you got from the mechanic.

The Lemon Law legally obligates you to tell the buyer all the defects and damages in the car.

Why would a private buyer ever give you real money for this car? They want to do the repairs themselves. If they have a connection to get cheap car parts, they might have no problem doing the work themselves.

This might mean that they go digging through junkyards to find replacement parts and do all the work themselves.

Alternatively, the buyer might just be looking for a project car. Maybe they like the body and stance of your car and want to drop in new parts anyway. It’s cheaper for them to buy a junker car than buy a used car that still works.

Selling to a Dealership

A dealership might also make you an offer on your car. It’s going to be an insulting price if you compare it to a private buyer, but it’s still something.

Actually, it makes for a pretty convenient exchange if you’re planning on getting a new or used car from a dealership. They can offer you a trade-in for your vehicle which reduces the final cost of the car you’ll be driving home.

Selling to an Online Car Buyer

Something of an intermediate between a private buyer and a dealership is an online car buyer. This is a place like Carvana that offers online car sales.

The only way to sell cars online is to buy them online, as well.

The cool thing is that you can get a buy-out or trade-in quote within minutes that they’ll honor. They do all the dirty work for you: they’ll pick up the car and mail you a check.

If you’re trading in, then they’ll ship your new car to you.

Selling to a Junkyard or Scrapyard

If none of the other guys I just mentioned want to buy your car, you’re stuck selling it to a junkyard or scrapyard.

These places make their money by buying junker cars and selling them off for parts, materials, and metals.

They buy cars that don’t work. They’ll even buy rusted-out lemons that haven’t worked for years.

Be warned though, you might not always get a check. If the car is especially useless in their book, they won’t give you any money but they’ll tow your car for free. This is a few hundred bucks saved on your end.

In addition, the dead car is one less thing on your plate.

In other cases, the junkyard will give you cold, hard, cash as well as a free tow. Expect less than $500 bucks for your car since it has significant damages to it.

Try to Part Out the Car Yourself

The final thing you can try is actually parting out the car yourself. Again, this is what the junkyard does to make money on their deals.

The process involves very carefully removing the functional components of your car and selling them online. It works best if your parts are original or OEM replacements

This takes a lot more time and knowledge, but you’ll make more than a junkyard will pay you for the car. Just be careful when you’re removing parts, so you don’t damage them and make them worthless.

Conclusion

I’m sorry that you’re in the situation you’re in, but I hope that my guide helped you a little bit. By now, you should know what to do when your car isn’t worth fixing and how to know whether it is or not. If you want more car guides, you can find them on my blog. In addition, I have a list of car products that I personally use and love.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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