Without going into too much detail, I had a bit of car trouble last year and had to make some quick financial decisions which led me to driving my current vehicle (99 Mercury Cougar with about 100,000 miles on it, and I now know through research is notorious for repair issues). Said vehicle has about $3000 left on an auto loan being paid out over a 36 month period starting in June of last year. I have made more than the monthly payment whenever possible but the next bit should put into perspective why this has been difficult.
Since then, I have switched jobs and am making a bit more money, but my savings account was nearly wiped out by purchasing this car. It has caused me no end of problems. The major repairs done on the car so far are including, but not limited to: a new crankshaft positioning sensor, new battery, new alternator, and driver's side lower control arm.
I'd estimate the repair costs of the car have now outweighed its value (Again, about $3000 in top condition, so I would break even on the loan if I were very lucky trading it in), and the repairs keep coming in: I saw smoke coming from the passenger's side of the engine block when driving home Friday afternoon from work, so it will be back in the shop this coming Friday. The car also needs new tires, new brakes, and possibly new rims but this is normal wear and tear.
Now, this is a 13-year-old car that has been unreliable in getting me to work, which has also lost me money because I have had to call out without pay about a half dozen times to put the car in the repair shop. This looks bad for me professionally as well as financially. I desperately want to trade it in, but the amount on the loan and the fact that this car has consistently wiped out any amount of money I have put away makes this super difficult.
There is also the issue of my father being a co-signer for the title/loan and he recently moved to North Carolina for business (the car is registered in Pennsylvania). My stepmother, who is not on the title/loan, has a habit of controlling situations and has told me I am not going to be able to afford a more expensive car and to keep it, despite incurring monthly repair costs and barely staying afloat in my other finances (we're talking monthly "surprises" of anywhere from $300-800 to fix a new repair), so I feel like my family is forcing this car on me on top of all this.
Ignoring the issue with my parents, my thought is that trading this car in, even without a down payment, would be better in the long run than keeping my current car. However, there is a chance by owing $3000 on it that I may go underwater on the new loan and will not be able to put a down payment on another car.
Upon looking at used car sales in my area, it seems financially sound to purchase a brand new car rather than a used car because the price difference is pretty much negligible (i.e. a 2010 Chevy Aveo will go for $11,000-13,000 with 30,000-50,000 miles and no warranty but a brand new 2012 Chevy Sonic is just shy of $14,000 for a base model and a 5y/100,000 mile warranty). The problem is, once we get into that "new car" range, it becomes slightly out of my price range ($300 monthly payment plus insurance on a brand new car).
I should mention that I am living with a roommate currently and am independent/pay all my bills (cell, insurance, rent/utilities, and so on). If I only had to incur the cost of wear and tear on the car with the occasional "surprise" I would have an extra $300-400 a month I could put away, so I am living as comfortably as can be expected right now. I also have good credit and I can provide financial details if someone needs to know, I'm not shy about discussing how much I make.
I have been "saving" every chance I get but every time I think I am ahead a new repair for this car crops up. Welcome to adult life, I suppose. I feel like I have been thinking this situation over and over again without a solid grasp on how to go forward, and I need another opinion. Thanks to anyone who can provide a fresh perspective for me.
Edit- So, to summarize:
Major repairs done on the car since June: Crankshaft positioning sensor, battery, alternator, lower control arm. I also fixed the driver's side window myself because the relay was jammed and it wouldn't pass inspection.
Major work still needed on the car: Fix oil (?) leak on side of engine block, replace tires/rims/brakes, investigate why the car feels like it is slipping. Not sure if it is related to the oil leak or if it is something more serious.