Facebook Twitter



Dear Tom and Ray

Perhaps you know of some research or have an opinion concerning how long to keep a car. My wife thinks it best to basically wear it out, then give it away and buy a new one. I believe it best to update in less than three years, with 50,000 or 60,000 miles on the car, and trade it for a slightly used car, 1 year old with under 20,000 miles. Generally speaking, which approach do you believe to be the most economical for the long term? - MarkTOM: Sorry to break the bad news to you, Mark, but your wife is right about the economics. If your only concern is money, there is nothing cheaper than running an old car into the ground.

RAY: And my brother should know; he runs cars into the ground all the time. When you look at the average annual repair costs, even on older cars, they always come out cheaper than car payments. So in the long run, it's always cheaper to keep an old car than to buy a new one.

TOM: Having said that, economics may not be your only consideration. Buying a newer car may be more expensive, but it gives you other benefits. You get reliability, better fuel efficiency, the new-car smell, the latest safety features . . .

RAY: And, if you drive a real heap, like my brother does, buying a newer car might even persuade your kids to be seen again with you in public.

Dear Tom and Ray - My electrical-engineer friend told me when driving my car at approximately 40 mph not to turn on the air conditioner unless I put the car in Neutral first. He said it is too hard on the air-conditioner clutch. There is nothing about this in the owner's manual. - Peggy

RAY: Well, he has a point, Peggy, although I don't really agree with his advice.

TOM: The speed of the air-conditioning compressor is directly proportional to the speed of the engine. So if the engine is turning fast and you suddenly turn on the AC, the clutch and compressor are going to be "jolted" into action, and that's not really good for them.

RAY: So by putting the car in Neutral, you lower the engine speed to idle, and thereby put less stress on the air-conditioner clutch and compressor when you engage them.

TOM: The problem is it's not really safe to put the car in Neutral while you're traveling at 40 mph . . . or any mph, for that matter. So we'd recommend two alternatives. One is to turn on the AC before you're going 40 mph, like while you're stopped at a light. Or wait until you get to the next stop light.

RAY: The other alternative is to just turn on the air conditioner anyway and don't worry about it. When you're driving on the highway and sweat starts to drip off your nose, you don't want to pull over to a rest area just to turn on the air conditioner. I'd say just turn it on and don't worry about it.

TOM: Me, too. It may bother your passenger if he or she happens to be an electrical engineer, but the extra stress you put on the clutch and compressor is very minimal, and in my opinion, not worth sweating over (pun intended).