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Keep that clunker It can be cheaper to keep driving a high-mileage vehicle. But when it ?breaks down, weigh the repair costs against the payment on a replacement.

With 251,000 miles on it, you'd think Tabitha Deon's Oldsmobile would be running on borrowed time. But it continues to get her to work and transport her two children to activities.

"It's my only car and I use it for everything," she said. Deon even drove her family to the Adirondacks in the car ?earlier this month.

"It runs smoothly and is very reliable," she said. "I have a lot of confidence in it. I'm going for 350,000 miles. That's my goal."

Automotive experts have long preached that preventive maintenance will prolong the life of vehicles and curb pricey repairs, and Deon's 1998 Cutlass GL is living ?proof. Last year, she spent just $200 for routine servicing.

"I change the oil regularly and keep up with maintenance," the Niagara Falls resident said. "When there is a problem or something needs to be replaced, it's taken care of right away, so there isn't a chain reaction. I plan to drive my car until it breaks down, and I don't see it breaking down anytime soon because I take care of it."

If your odometer is beyond 100,000 and you've been dutiful about maintenance, don't be so quick to dump your ride. Avoiding monthly new car loan payments can be a smart way to save money. But there comes a time when repairs, and the inconvenience they bring, outweigh the love for an old friend.

How do you know when that time comes?

Do the math, said Steve Mayes, owner of Steve's Automotive in Niagara Falls. If repairs set you back $1,500, that could still equal just three monthly car payments and could be worth doing. But when repair costs go higher, and the long-term prognosis for the car is not good, you might want to start looking.

High-mileage vehicles can be done in by rust and rotting frames, Mayes said. Our winters and the road salt used here also can do a number on a car's body ?and speed up wear and tear. Replacing a rotted undercarriage costs between $700 and $1,000, so Mayes recommends an undercoating to combat rust.

"If you're not taking care of your car, your car is not going to take care of you," he said. "But if you've maintained it properly, you'll most likely have it for a while and be able to depend on it."

Deon is a secretary at Steve's ?Automotive, and her father is a mechanic there. She bought her Cutlass four years ago when she began working at the repair shop, and her automobile knowledge has deepened. That has helped her keep her car in good condition.

"I can't afford to buy a new car," she said. "And with the gas prices and the economy, it's tough for a lot of people."

While Deon's high mileage is exceptional, her story of keeping a car going is increasingly common.

In recent years, the number of higher-mileage vehicles on the road has risen due to the down economy and the fact vehicles are built to last a decade or more.

"The average car is being kept 1.2 years longer," said Michael Zyglis, director of AAA Car Care Plus at AAA Western and Central New York. "There are more used cars staying out there now."

In 2009, 82 percent of vehicle owners said they'd keep their cars longer than originally planned because of the economy, according to a Driver Side survey.

"When a car is over 150,000, 175,000 miles, a lot of times people think it's the beginning of the end," Mayes said, "but it doesn't have to be. If you've taken care of your car and used good quality oil, cars nowadays can go beyond 200,000 miles."

When Lin Feng got her 2002 Honda Accord in 2001, the plan was to pass it onto the next generation.

"My original intent was to keep it for 20 years; it's a Honda," the Williamsville resident said. But last year when it reached 100,000 miles, the advice to trade it in trickled in from friends, giving Feng some doubt about her car's reliability.

"But I had been good about maintenance and hadn't had problems with the car," she said. "I think it would be irresponsible to buy a new car when I don't really need one." Her odometer's now at 111,000, and Feng is still saving money by sticking with her car.

But while more people are holding on to their cars out of a financial pinch, studies show they are also more lax on maintenance for the same reason. Last year, the Car Care Council found 84 percent of the country's vehicles – the highest in five years – were in need of service or parts.

If your high-mileage vehicle is plagued with mechanical problems, experts say weigh the cost of repairs against the value of the vehicle.

"I don't like to see people throw good money after bad," said Zyglis, of the AAA. The two area AAA repair facilities offer a 30-point inspection with routine service to give motorists a comprehensive outlook of the condition of their vehicles and given the total bill of needed work.

"They get the overall snapshot and then they can determine if the repairs are worth it," Zyglis said, adding that Paula Conti once proudly drove a car to 204,000 miles and only pitched it when the engine started smoking in traffic. But she recently parted with her 1999 Accord after just five years and 168,000 miles. The subframe of the car had rusted, and to replace it and address other problems needed to pass inspection, it would have cost $4,000.

"I hate having a car payment," the Buffalo resident said. But there was also rusting on the roof and her frequent road trips were becoming worrisome, so last month she financed a 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan.

"I'll keep it hopefully for a good 10 years or so," she said, "and like my other cars, drive it into the ground."