The answer to the title question appears to be, “When your spouse says so.”
I am the kind of person who drives my cars into the ground. My little Toyota standard bed pickup went 265,000 miles before I retired it. I was prepared to keep it going, but I would have had to rebuild/replace the engine because it could not pass California’s smog emissions test. It was also getting into the habit of stalling while cruising at speed on the freeway. I don’t know if it was the fuel pump or the carburetor that caused the problem. It was very intermittent, but was becoming more frequent.
I priced a rebuilt engine at $1,500 with old engine trade-in. I would have to do all the work myself or pay someone approximately $1000 to remove and replace the engine. I was strongly considering this, but my wife was against it. We had a new baby on the way, and she wanted all our vehicles to be able to accommodate a baby carrier in the back seat.
I had hit a deer with the old pickup, so the front right fender was a bit crumpled. And I had worn though much of the seat upholstery to where a lot of the springs were showing. I figured a replacement bench seat would only be a hundred or so dollars from a wrecker.
The old pickup also did not have air conditioning. I lived with that for 15 years, but my wife found it difficult and said it would not work for a baby.
I think my wife had a plan, though, and got me looking at new quad-cab 4-wheel-drive pickups. I did not want a full-sized truck, as they get terrible mileage and are just too huge for city/suburb living. The only compact pickup in 2000 with quad-cab and a truck bed large enough to hold two motorcycles was the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab. So off to the showroom to look at one. I swear I was only going to look.
We confirmed that the back seat was large enough for a baby seat (it was bigger than our Corolla’s back seat) and went for a test drive. We drove around a bit, I said it was nice, but too expensive. I don’t remember what they wanted for the truck, but it was nowhere close to what we were prepared to spend.
The next thing I know, we were doing the dealer dance. They kept saying, “What will it take to sell you the truck?” I kept saying, “Meet my price.” After a few rounds, my wife and I decided to leave. We were out the door. Then the manager met my price. So back we went. Before I knew it, we were the proud owners of a new Dakota Quad Cab.
It has been a good truck, and I am hoping it is only “middle aged” after its first 13 years. I have had to replace several electrical sensors: two engine speed sensors, one power steering pressure sensor, and one throttle position sensor. I have also had to replace the brake pads and have the rotors turned. I got new tires all around at 80,000 miles. No major issues, and the A/C works like a champ. I have only used the 4-WD once in the Sierras. I was often able to take my old 2-WD truck places that other people said I would never make, but the old truck would never have made it on this one road in the Sierra’s. Even though I rarely use the 4-WD, it’s nice to know I have it and can drive over some really gnarly stuff.
I learned from that episode that when my wife says she is not comfortable driving a car, it may be time to get a replacement. That is what happened with the old 1996 Corolla. I was under the impression in 2012 that we would keep the Corolla going for a few more years. Its A/C did stop working that Spring. We got it repaired for $1,500. We had the brakes replaced a few years before the trouble with the A/C. The brake replacement was another story. We went with a shop that was owned by the father of one of our kid’s classmates. Being friends of the school, we were given a discount. After the brakes were replaced, I heard a funny noise from the right rear wheel. I removed the wheel and hub and found that the brake pads were metal-on-metal, and no one had done any work on it. Nice deal. The shop owner was very apologetic and took care of the problem, but that was the last time we went there.
Anyway, my wife said the old Corolla was getting unreliable and she was not comfortable driving it. I didn’t pay much attention to that because she did not tell me any specific problems. She eventually got upset and told me I wasn’t listening to her, which I suppose was true. Again, I thought/hoped the car could go for another year or two, but I was not the person driving it every day. Within a few days we had set aside enough money for her to purchase a new Toyota Prius.
I discovered long ago that there are times when it is best to say, “That will be fine, Dear.”