Warning Signs You Need a New Car

Young woman calling a car assistance service with her smartphone, her car has broken down


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Young woman calling a car assistance service with her smartphone, her car has broken down

Red Flags

With the exception of a tiny handful of classics restored by deep-pocketed owners, all cars die eventually. The trick is knowing when it's time to get out of one that's on its way to car heaven and into one that will last for many miles to come. There is no hard-and-fast rule that says exactly when a vehicle has had enough, but there are plenty of warning signs to let you know that your time with your current car might be coming to a close.


Related: Reliable Cars You Can Drive Into the Ground

Car Side impact crash.

Unfixable Issues

It might be time to abandon your ride when you run into what Arnas Vasiliauskas, chief innovation and product officer of CarVertical, calls "unfixable issues." These rare repairs are hard and expensive to perform correctly, at least on a permanent basis, and tend to require expansive work beyond the immediate repair. "Sunroof leaks, car frame damage, and door damage are some of the issues that most mechanics won't even touch," Vasiliauskas says.

Related: Lies Your Mechanic Has Told You

Old diesel engine dilapidated must repair

Poorly-Placed Rust

Andy Gregory is the community and PR manager for Heritage Parts Centre, which supplies parts for classic Porsche and VWs. A lifelong car enthusiast, he also writes and edits the organization's online magazine. He warns of the terminal nature of oxidation when it creeps into a vehicle's most vulnerable systems. "Serious rust corrosion around engine or suspension mounting points are dangerous to ignore and often uneconomical to repair," he says.

Open hood on diesel engine modern car in detail

Grumbling Engine

Cars can make noises that indicate all kinds of issues, many of which can be corrected with simple repairs. When it comes to new noises coming from the engine, however, it's important to listen a little more closely. "For many, the engine is the heart of the car, and if that starts making bad noises, it might be time to give up on it," Gregory says. "Knocking noises on start-up could indicate worn bottom end bearings, often caused by a poor oil change routine."


Related: Cheapest Oil Change: Jiffy Lube vs. Valvoline vs. Walmart and More

Sealing gasket in hand. The mechanic disassemble block engine vehicle. Engine on a repair stand with piston and connecting rod of automotive technology. Interior of a car repair shop

Oil and Water Leakage

Gregory goes on to describe one of the automotive world's true doomsday repairs, and one that spells the end for most vehicles. "The head gasket joins the top and bottom part of your engine together and keeps the engine oil and antifreeze apart," Gregory says. "If this gasket breaks and they mix, you will start to see a creamy mayonnaise — the oil and water coming together — at the top of the engine when you remove the oil filler cap. This is a time-consuming job to fix, as it involves taking a lot of the engine apart and can often result in cars being scrapped."

Drive It Once


A car is often on its last legs when failure to start becomes a recurring symptom, according to Jerry Wilson, formerly of Complete Auto Guide."You may turn the key and hear nothing, or the engine may sputter," Wilson says. "Even worse, the engine may make a loud knocking or clattering sound or not turn over at all. This can be a small fix, but could be the beginning of the end."

Related: Things to Do to Maintain Your Car When You're Not Driving It

Aerial view new cars for sale stock lot row, New Cars dealer inventory import export business logistic global.

Pricey Repairs

It's almost never a good idea to plunk down more money for repairs than your car is worth, but sometimes, big repairs aren't worth it even if it's close. "For example, if you have to replace a transmission at a cost of $3,000 on a car that is valued at $4,000, it may not be in your best interest to shell all of that money out for a new transmission when that money might be better spent toward a newer replacement vehicle," says Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com.

Related: Most Expensive Car Repairs and How to Avoid Them

Safety side curtain airbag sign in new modern car

Obsolete Features

Some features are too important not to upgrade once every new vehicle generation or so. When your car's most important systems have passed their point of usefulness, it's time to move on—but only for the most consequential features. "We're not talking about leather seats and cruise control," Reina says. If your old car is lacking newer safety features like side airbag curtains, stability control, or a blind-spot warning system, your personal safety may be at risk. If you've had a lifestyle change, such as a new child, this should also spur you to think about upgrading to a newer car that does a better job of protection in case of an accident."


Related: Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car

Mid adult black man analyzing his car after breakdown on the street.

Breakdown Fear

This one is a bit more subjective but can serve as a fairly reliable indicator that a vehicle has neared its end: a bad gut feeling. "If you have constant anxiety that you will break down before making it to your destination, you may want to evaluate getting a more reliable car," Reina says. "Remember, your car is supposed to make your life and everyday tasks easier. If you can't make it to the grocery store without the check-engine light coming on or wondering why there is a smell of oil under your hood, it may be time to get rid of it."

Female hand holds car air freshener. Small glass bottle with car perfume hanging in the car.
Anton Smirnov/istockphoto
shots of under the car


A pool of unidentified liquid can often be remedied with a relatively quick repair, but when leaks become the rule and not the exception, your car might be at the end of its run. "When you see a puddle under your car every time you return to it, there could be a leak somewhere in the mechanics," McKenzie says. "A leak can be difficult to diagnose and when one component is leaking, others may start soon."


Related: The Spring Car Care Checklist That Could Save You Hundreds  

Male hand holding manual gearbox in car, test drive of new automobile, closeup

Transmission Failure

It's common knowledge that transmission repair can be costly, complicated, and often simply not worth fixing. In this case, conventional wisdom is correct. "When your car starts to jerk when the transmission shifts gears, you know you're at the beginning of the end," McKenzie says. "Transmissions don't last forever and unfortunately repairing one often costs more than the value of the car."


Related: Car Expenses That Are Really Worth the Money

Detail with the fuel gauges showing and empty tank on dashboard of car

Gas Mileage Decline

McKenzie makes a fitting analogy that compares a decline in automotive fuel processing to human illness. "When your gas mileage declines or you begin to fail emissions tests that you once passed, you know something's wrong," he says. "Degrading fuel economy and heightened emissions are like the high fever of the automotive world."


Related: Ways to Get Better Gas Mileage