Road trips are so much fun and allow you to take a break from the daily grind. But driving an old car on the road looks a bit intimidating. What if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and leaves you helpless? Can old cars drive long distances, by the way?
Most old cars can drive long distances if they’re in good shape. Ensure you have a breakdown cover and a car emergency kit with you in case of issues during your road trip. Check your tires and the engine cooling system thoroughly, as these are common reasons for requiring roadside assistance.
Keep reading the remainder of this article to learn more about old cars and how you can prepare them for a long trip on the road. We’ll look at the challenges of going on a trip in an old car and help you make your car ready for such journeys.
Table of Contents
- Risk Factors
- Why Do Old Cars Break Down on the Road?
- How to Prepare an Old Car for Long Distances
- Car Emergency Kit
There’s no reason to panic if your car is old. A car’s age isn’t always a reliable indicator of its conditions. If your car has been regularly serviced according to its user manual, it should stay in good shape for the trip you desire. However, you’ve got to consider some risk factors.
While mileage shows the distance your car has traveled, a car’s life isn’t measured by its mileage. However, mileage is important because it also shows when your car needs to be serviced.
Some parts of cars should be replaced after they hit a certain mileage, such as brake pads and discs, tires, or water pumps. So, according to what’s mentioned in your car user manual regarding the mileage, you should regularly service it.
Besides, if a car has been traveling a significant distance, the probability of its breakdown rises too. So, if your car’s mileage has gone over 100,000 miles, you should get prepared appropriately before going on a long-distance trip.
On the other hand, low mileage isn’t always good. Cars are meant to be driven; that’s what they’re made for. If a car doesn’t run regularly, the parts that haven’t been used may get stiff or brittle. As a result, they’ll be more prone to breaking. Besides, such a car may not have received the proper maintenance despite its low mileage.
Your car’s age is another factor to consider. While it’s not always a reliable indicator of a car’s condition, it plays a significant role in it. If your car is 10 years or older, it’s twice as likely to break down than in a newer car.
The average age of a car on the road is estimated to be around 11.6 years. So, old cars are more likely to have been driven for high mileage and naturally have faced more wear and tear during the years. But don’t worry, as we said before, you can’t judge a car simply by its age.
The most important factor regarding a car’s age is how well it’s been cared for. If you have taken good care of your car during the years and regularly serviced it, the actual age may not matter much. In other words, a well-maintained car that looks sound can probably travel long, whether it’s new or old.
However, if you’ve driven it a lot, skipped its service schedule, and have put off doing the required repairs, you must expect to run into problems on the road. Besides, it can put your safety on the line.
Here is an interesting video that can help you understand what a high-mileage car looks like and how much it would cost to get it prepared:
Why Do Old Cars Break Down on the Road?
Old cars may break down on the road for many reasons. But the most common causes of breakdown in old cars are tire damage, engine and cooling system issues, and battery/electrical failures. Let’s go through them in more detail.
Tire damages usually refer to punctures, impacts, cuts, bulges, cracks, and irregular wear.
Contact with pointy or sharp objects such as broken glass, nails, or screws can lead to punctures or cuts. Impact breaks appear as a sidewall bulge when tires hit obstacles like a curb at high speed or wrong angle.
Cracks appear slowly due to the tire’s exposure to UV or some chemicals, breaking down its rubber. Irregular wear has several types, such as heel and toe, one-sided, or center wear. This damage happens due to overinflation, underinflation, improper alignment, or a worn-out suspension.
Engine and Cooling System Issues
The most common issues here are radiator hoses leakage, water pump failure, leaky Radiator, and thermostat failure.
The water pump flows water into a series of hoses to ensure the engine remains cool. If the water pump fails, water won’t flow anymore, and your engine overheats.
The hoses mentioned above get more likely to leak as they age. If this happens, water loses its pressure to cycle and drains out eventually, leading to engine overheating.
After water absorbs the engine’s heat, the radiator has to cool water down again using airflow. Any leaks in the radiator lead to its failure, and guess what? Your engine overheats again.
A thermostat regulates the amount of coolant allowed to flow in the radiator according to its temperature. If it fails, it would also lead to the engine’s overheating.
The most prevalent reasons for a battery/electrical failure are aging, internal resistance, electrical leakage, and improper storage.
Over time and as a car’s battery ages, its internal resistance increases, and when it passes a certain point, it stops working. Batteries have their own internal resistance, too. Lead batteries have low, and alkaline ones have high internal resistance.
Electrical leakage refers to losing energy when the battery isn’t in use. It’s also known as self-discharge and can happen due to aging, operating temperature, charge/discharge cycle, or manufacturing practices.
Batteries need maintenance, especially when they’re not in use. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to learn how to take care of your car’s battery.
How to Prepare an Old Car for Long Distances
If you’ve decided to go on a long-distance trip in your old car, you should get well-prepared for the potential challenges ahead. Here’s what you need to know.
There are several fluids in a car that are necessary for its optimal function. You need to top off all of these fluids, including engine oil, the windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid.
Engine oil is almost the most vital fluid to check before a long trip. It lubricates the engine’s parts to function correctly, and usually, you should change your car’s oil every 3,000 miles.
If you have the knowledge and skill, you can top them off by yourself. Otherwise, let your mechanic take care of them.
You should also check out the level of water inside the radiator to prevent the engine from overheating. Brake fluid also has to be topped off. Lowered brake fluid may indicate that you need brake pads, too.
Coolant (antifreeze) is critical, especially if your destination has a cold climate or you’re traveling in a cold season. It prevents your engine from freezing and also keeps it cool in summer.
Coolant also plays an important role in preventing corrosion and foam or deposits formation. However, coolant can lose its efficiency over time, and you need to test it for acidity and freezing or boiling protection.
Check out the reservoir, too, and make sure you’ve got enough coolant in it.
Old cars usually have old tires, too, especially if they’ve been used often and not given the proper care. On average, a decent tire lasts about three to five years, depending on the driving condition and maintenance.
Worn-out tires can be hazardous; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, you’re three times more likely to get involved in a crash if your tire is in bad condition.
If your tires are dry, rotted, worn, or have low tread, it’s time to replace them – including your spare tire, too. A super easy trick to check your tires’ treads is to use a quarter coin upside down in their gap. If you see George Washington’s scalp, the reads are very low and need to be replaced. (do it on all tires)
Check out this helpful video to learn better when you need to change your tires:
Your car won’t work without a battery. So, you should make it a priority on your checklist. A battery may work well but conk all of a sudden in the middle of the road; because you didn’t notice that it wasn’t getting charged.
Inspect your battery’s terminals and clean up any corrosion. It prevents your battery from getting or sending enough electricity. You can do it with a mixture of water and baking soda using a toothbrush.
Then you can ask a mechanic to check your battery’s current percentage and make sure of its health.
Belts are also critical and should be checked out to make sure they’re in good condition. You can do it yourself and change them according to the recommended mileage. Or take a look at your belts and see if there are any cracks or missing parts on them.
Lights and indicators
It’s crucial to check your lights before heading on a long trip driving an old car. Make sure your headlights, high beams, right/left turn signals, brake lights, reverse lights, license lights, and parking lights all work properly. Otherwise, you should replace those that are out with new ones. You can do it yourself or get help from a mechanic.
Brakes are vital for driving in general, let alone a long trip. You’ve got to check out the brake pads and make sure they’re not worn out. It may look a bit grimy, but you can do it yourself. Take your car’s wheels off and take a look at the pads inside the caliper.
You can google the proper thickness of brake pads and gauge yours. Another indicator that your pads are worn out is the squealing sound you hear while braking. However, you can go to an auto shop and let them check it for you.
Car Emergency Kit
Despite all of the preventive measures mentioned above, something could still go wrong, and you’ve got to be prepared for it. Having a decent car emergency kit in your trunk can help you tackle the issues. You should tailor it to your car’s type and condition, as well as where you’re heading to.
Here’s a list of the necessary items you should include in your kit:
- First aid kit.
- Jumper cables.
- Car fluids.
- Spare tools (like wiper blades).
- Snow chains.
- Repair tools (Screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench).
Going on a long-distance road trip in an old car may seem like a nightmare, but it can turn into a pleasant dream if you get prepared for its challenges. Check your car’s condition carefully and replace the parts that are no longer functioning. You should also get help from a mechanic to service your car for such a trip.
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