What Can Go Wrong with an Older Car?

Today’s vehicles are built better than ever, redefining what it means to be a high-mileage car. An odometer that reads 100,000 miles is no longer the maximum life expectancy for a vehicle; in fact, with a little maintenance, you can push your vehicle to 200,000 or even 300,000 miles. Knowing what problems commonly arise in older cars is key to keeping your vehicle running.

Here are some of the most crucial car components and when you can expect to replace them.

Automatic transmission

Almost all passenger vehicles have an automatic transmission today. While it’s a major convenience, solving transmission problems can be one of the more expensive aspects of owning an older car.

Repairing a transmission is rare; instead, most transmissions are simply replaced. This job can easily cost thousands of dollars. Transmission failure is more likely to occur once a vehicle eclipses the 100,000-mile mark; however, some transmissions can fail in the 60,000 to 70,000 mile range.


You can expect your battery to grow weak after four or five years, regardless of the miles you’ve put on your vehicle. Some batteries will last into a sixth year. If you live in a warm-weather climate, you can expect to replace your battery every three years on account of the heat.

Gel-cell batteries typically last longer than lead-acid batteries, so consider them for your older car.

Brake pads

Brake pads wear out the more you drive and apply the brakes. The way you drive is also a factor. Aggressive drivers who brake hard and spend most of their driving miles in stop-and-go traffic will wear out their brake pads more quickly than drivers who mostly cruise on the highway.

The size of the vehicle also plays a role. Large, heavy SUVs may wear through a set of brake pads after 30,000 miles, while smaller, lighter vehicles may travel 60,000 or 70,000 miles before wearing down the front pads.

Fuel pump

A fuel pump provides little warning before it fails. So it’s best to know that fuel pumps have the potential to fail after your older car surpasses 60,000 miles.

Poor electrical connections and clogged fuel lines could also stop the pump from working. So make sure your mechanic reviews all possible scenarios before replacing the pump. A more inexpensive repair option may exist.


Worn tires are perhaps the most visible proof that you own an older car. Your vehicle’s original tires will likely last you 60,000 to 80,000 miles before they need to be replaced. You can check your tires’ wear by inserting a penny in the tread. If you can see any part of President Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.

Inexpensive tires will last you about 50,000 miles, while more high-quality tires should last 80,000 miles.

It’s also a good idea to have your tires rotated during your maintenance inspections to ensure equal wear on all four tires.

Water pump

When the water pump wears, it will start to leak coolant. That can expose your engine to the risk of overheating. Water pump failure is possible around 70,000 miles. You should definitely consider replacing your water pump once your vehicle eclipses 100,000 miles.

The best way to keep your vehicle in proper working order is to follow a strict maintenance plan that includes changing your oil, rotating your tires and asking your mechanic to inspect the vehicle. Identifying any concerns before they become problems will keep you and your older car on the road.

In the final post, you’ll learn some trusted tips from super high-mileage car owners.

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