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How Far Can You Go In Your Used Car?

As part of their roadside assistance package, AAA provides free towing, anywhere from one hundred to two hundred miles. The distance that you can be towed for free depends on your membership level. If you’re a AAA member traveling in a used car on a tight budget, then that’s the answer to how far you should be willing to go in your used car: As far as AAA is willing to tow you back home.

The risk in traveling in a used car is that you never really know what’s going to break next. You might make it all the way from New York to Florida traffic school and back again without needing anything more than some new spark plugs, or your fuel pump might go out, stranding you in Georgia with a car that you have to scrap for sixty bucks before taking a Greyhound back home because you can’t get the car back to your garage.

If your car breaks down within towing distance from your home, all it takes is a friend with a trailer hitch to get you back home safely, and then you have the option of saving up for whatever repairs are needed. If you suffer a major breakdown five hundred miles from your driveway, towing it back home might wind up costing you more than buying a whole other car.

What you need to consider here is to what extent you trust your car, and what you can afford to do if something goes wrong. If you’re scraping pennies together for gas money and your car breaks down two states away from home, you might not even be able to get yourself back home safely. On the other hand, if you’ve saved up a nice little “Oh no!” fund for the trip, if you can afford any basic repair, and, worst case scenario, a ticket home via plane, train or automobile, then taking that 1996 Thunderbird cross country might be a really fun adventure.

What you want is peace of mind. It’s not going to be much fun taking a road trip if you have a panic attack every single time you hear a funny noise coming from your car. Whether you wind up needing to dip into your repair funds or not, simply having some money on hand can put your mind at ease and allow you to more fully enjoy the trip.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much you’re going to need in order to stay safe on the road. If your car cost you $500 and you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it, junking it and buying a $200 plane ticket home might not seem so bad. On the other hand, if you’ve put a lot of time and money into your car, you’re not going to be so eager to dump it at Otto’s Scrapyard for the price of dinner for two at the local Olive Garden. With a couple grand in your emergency fund, you should be able to cover any repair worth covering. If it costs more than that, then your car is probably going to wind up costing you more money than it’s worth.

It’s all about what risks you can afford to take. Teenagers love taking long trips in old junkers because a serious breakdown is an inconvenience. An adult with a job and kids could be looking at homelessness if their car breaks down and they’re forced to abandon it in the middle of nowhere. Only take your car as far as you can afford to take it.