10 Tips to Keep Your Old Car Running Forever

Do you know the average age of a car? A recent study conducted by S&P Global Mobility revealed a surprising discovery. Of the 283 million passenger cars and light trucks registered in the U.S., the average age of each one was 12.2 years. This number is an all-time high, and the average age has steadily increased for the past decade. By 2028, the firm predicts that 74% of all vehicles on the road will be older than six years. If these projections are accurate, more old cars will likely be on the road than ever.

With so many antique cars on the road — the official designation for cars 25 years or older in most states — preventative maintenance is as crucial as ever. For people who don’t have the luxury of a bumper-to-bumper warranty, it’s essential to keep on top of the basics so that they don’t add up to something bigger and costlier.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as a car that runs forever without a bit of help. So, for even the most reliable old vehicles on the road today, we came up with ten things you can do to keep your car running like a top for as long as possible.

1. It’s All About Good Timing

Most modern cars have a timing belt or chain, which makes all the moving parts of your engine run smoothly. But when these go wrong, it can kill your engine in a matter of seconds. While chains are more robust and must be changed far less frequently, belts should be replaced every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on your car. If you’re going to a mechanic, this won’t be a cheap job, but once you get it over with, it will be years before you have to worry about another one.

2. Play It Cool

Your engine makes thousands of explosions a day to keep you moving down the road. Understandably, things get pretty hot in there, which is why your car has a cooling system. And while it doesn’t need to be swapped out as often, antifreeze is just as essential as oil. Make sure you’re topped off with coolant, and if any leaks are coming from your radiator or hoses, immediately take care of them. A car with no coolant is not long for this world.

3. Find Bulletproof Suspension Upgrades

This tip isn’t universal, but it’s a common enough issue that it’s worth mentioning here. Say you’ve got an older sporty car and are ready to make the jump and modify it to get that nice, low, mean look. There are plenty of easy ways to do this — cheap aftermarket kits on eBay, cutting your car’s springs down and reinstalling them, and others — but there are only a few ways to do it right. Unfortunately, they’re rarely the cheapest options. 

A team of engineers worked for years to design your car to drive and handle the way it does, so don’t be surprised if your car drives a lot differently after questionable suspension mods. Stick with performance parts from the manufacturer or upgrades from trusted aftermarket companies with a relationship with the automaker. After all, if you’re into modifications, you want your car to look as good as it drives.

4. Blood Transfusions Save Lives

If you can’t remember the last time you changed your oil, do it today.

The key to a healthy car is keeping up with regularly scheduled maintenance, and the easiest and most important of these routines is a regular oil change. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended type, then take it to a trusted mechanic. Quick lube places do the job, but a lot can go wrong too. Or, if you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, oil changes are a great way to enter the world of DIY auto repairs.

5. Less is More When it Comes to Longevity

There are a whole lot of products out there that promise to make your engine faster, stronger, and more powerful as it ages. Sound too good to be true? That’s because, by and large, it is. Stick to the stuff that works, like high-quality oils and fluids, genuine parts, and common-sense preventative maintenance, and avoid the snake oil altogether.

6. Bi-Annual Inspections are Your Friend

Some states don’t require annual safety inspections. And while the potential for getting slapped with a bill for repairs once a year is tough for anyone to stomach, we think it’s essential to get your older car looked at by a fresh set of eyes at least once a year. The last thing you want is an unexpected problem to pop up at the worst possible time, so do yourself and other drivers on the road a favor and make sure your ride is safe.

7. Get Ready: It’s Going to Burn Oil

Old engines burn oil — they just do. What’s important is to keep an eye on it. Watch for any leaks (lower-engine leaks could mean old gaskets, upper-engine could mean head gasket troubles), and make sure to keep it topped off with high-quality oil. This is one of those things that may seem like a big deal, but can be managed safely and responsibly.

8. Invest in the Best Wheels, Tires, and Brakes

We’ve all been there before: You ran over something on the highway and shredded a tire. Now you need new ones, and don’t feel like spending hundreds of dollars on the best. But going cheap on things like that could cost you more further down the line. 

Tires are one of the most important parts of a car. They’re the only things connecting you to the road and are supposed to be able to keep you safe, even in the worst driving conditions. Cheap tires can wear faster or unevenly, throwing your car’s suspension out of whack and causing wear and tear on vital components. This rule also applies to replaceable things like wheels and brakes. If you love your car, pay a little more and get the best. It could even save you money over the long haul.

9. Drive It Like You Own It

Say you have an older, high-mileage car. Chances are it will have its quirks, but believe it or not, the difference between an aging runner and a basketcase usually comes down to how often it’s driven. A warm car is a happy car, and while essential fluids like oil, antifreeze, and brake fluid keep vital metal parts lubricated, they also keep things like hoses and gaskets from drying out. Park an old car for a while, and you’ll probably start seeing leaks. When you can’t even tell what’s leaking from where anymore, it may already be too late. So do your car a favor and drive it regularly.

10. When All Else Fails, Conduct a Heart Transplant

Here’s some interesting food for thought: Extensive repairs on an aging engine or transmission can cost you thousands in parts and labor at your local garage and take your car off the road for days, if not weeks, especially if your repair shop is booked solid. So, as scary as it may sound, sometimes an entire engine or transmission replacement is the way to go. Ask your garage for help in sourcing a healthy powerplant, and they could have your car running with a brand-new heart in a matter of days. If you love your old car and can’t bear to let it go, this may be the easiest way to give it a new lease on life.