Many people have considered buying older vehicles but are unsure about the safety and running cost of older cars.
Some say cars older than 20+ years are a no-go, while others say the age does not matter as long as you maintain them.
As someone who has used older cars for much of my younger life, I know they’re as safe as most new cars. You do need to know certain things about them, and this guide helps cover that.
Is it Safe to Drive a 20-Year-Old Car?
It’s safe to drive a 20-year-old car as long as it’s maintained properly. You need to inspect your car before you drive and make sure it has all essential fluids, tires in good condition, working lights.
A 20-year-old car is just as safe to drive as any new car on the market today. Safety largely depends on the car’s history from new and with its previous owners.
If the car has a high safety rating from new and has been maintained properly it will still be safe no matter the age.
Does the Car Age Really Matter?
The age of a car doesn’t really matter, but it still depends on the vehicle in question. The running condition of a car is far more important than its age.
An aging Toyota or Honda would still be reliable and have most of its safety systems intact. These cars would also be cheaper to run. But if poorly maintained would cost you a lot to run.
An aging Mercedes-Benz may tend to have its advanced systems fail as they age. Repairing these parts which will eventually fail cost a pretty penny compared to the price of the car. But if maintained properly by the first owner, most things would have been fixed under warranty.
If each owner loves and maintains the car regularly before you own it, then it should be a good car.
My dad had 2 older 90s Mercedes 300E from the ’90s which he loved, and they were very reliable. He currently drives a 2002 Mercedes ML320, and it has been reliable with no issues.
What are the Biggest Dangers of Driving a 20-Year-Old Car?
Deferred maintenance, failing systems, rust, and recalls are some of the biggest factors that make an old car dangerous. The only real danger is in the case of an accident, as newer cars are significantly safer.
When an aging car has not had its regular service, you end up with an eventual failure of parts. Lack of regular oil change could lead to a blown engine.
Recalls are official orders from manufacturers asking consumers to return their cars for a fix due to a factory error. When older cars don’t get their recalls fixed, it could have dire consequences. Recalls like nonfunctioning airbags are life-threatening.
We’ve all seen videos of Lamborghinis and Ferraris bursting into flames, these are issues related to the fuel tanks.
Issues like rust are usually related to cars in salty states. Rust eats away at a car’s body parts and makes them structurally compromised.
As for accidents, newer cars have clever systems which prevent accidents. The crash structure has also improved in the newer cars. But as someone who’s used to driving older cars, you’ll be just fine.
Also read: Can a Car Last 500k Miles? (+6 Cars that Do)
How to Make Sure Your 20-Year-Old Car is Safe to Drive?
Regularly checking on working components is the best way to make sure your car is safe. That being said, you always need to check fluids, tires, and lights.
The most basic check is making sure you have enough fluids in your car. Water in the radiator, oil in the engine, hydraulics for the brakes, and fuel in your tank. All these checks done regularly will make sure your car runs smoothly.
Your tires are very important. Worn tires can be dangerous on any car, whether new or old. Checking and replacing your tires will greatly improve your car’s safety as it can turn and stop better.
Making sure all lights work too is essential. If your brake lights don’t work at all, no one will know when you’re slowing down, and they can hit you. Especially at night when it’s dark. If your brake lights don’t work no one can see you.
The same thing goes for all lights. Turn signals, reverse lights, and headlights need to function in order to keep you and other road users safe.
Adding some modern technology like an aftermarket backup camera can improve your car’s safety. If your car doesn’t have one, you can install a backup camera with a digital interior screen for a few hundred dollars. I’ve personally added this to older cars, and they work great.
Also, regular maintenance when due will make sure your car will always perform as intended.
What is the Maximum Distance You Should Drive with an Old Car?
There is no maximum distance required to drive an old car. This is largely dependent on you and what you’re comfortable with.
Even with new cars, people drive depending on their daily commute and financial agreements. An old car does have a maximum mileage limit, as manufacturers never imposed any on them.
As long as the car is maintained and runs fine, it can go any distance. Well-maintained cars over 300,000 miles will go anywhere, but a poorly maintained car with under 100,000 miles will be a headache.
In 2014, Matt Farah of the smoking tire purchased a Lexus LS400 with 897,000 for $1,500. He had the goal of hitting a million miles, which he did, you can read about it here.
The highest mileage car in the world is a 1966 Volvo P1800s. It is more than 50 years old with 3.3 million miles.
What is Likely to Break down When You’re Driving a 20- Year Old Car?
Car parts will break no matter what, but what’s likely to break depends on your car. Items such as a timing belt or timing chain, water pump, coolant flush, and thermostat are prone to failure on older cars the most.
It all depends on the car. For example, older Audis are prone to transmission failures, and Subarus could have head gasket failure from the engine.
Every car is built with different parts and could have different things go wrong with them. Most economy cars its cheap mechanical parts that were not built to last beyond a certain period. Rubber parts could disintegrate and need replacement.
For older luxury cars, most of their advanced systems start to fail. A common example is air suspension that starts to fail as it ages, making the car sag. This issue is common with Range Rovers that are just 10 years old with sagging suspension.
Components breaking on your car only mean they’re no longer fit for use on the car. A Pre-Purchase Inspection by a mechanic will help with this, as they will also tell you what you would expect to go wrong first with your car.
Wear and tear are normal when you use your car and this will cause things to break eventually. The internet is a great resource to find out the common issues with your car as others have had it also.
Is Police More Likely to Inspect My 20-Year Old Car?
The police will inspect your car only if they have probable cause to do so. They might check your vehicle if it emits too much smoke or is too loud. As long as your car meets road standards, they have no need to inspect your car.
Road worthiness is a general requirement for every car. Even a new car can be inspected if it is suspected of not meeting road requirements.
An example is the city of Maine banning pre-1995 Mitsubishi Delicas. This ban is in effect because these cars are considered off-road vehicles, even though it complies with all road regulations. This is unique to Maine residents, as the Delicas are legal in the US.
The major issue you may face today is emissions. With the world going greener and with electric cars on the rise, cars a required to be environmentally friendly.
A cop may inspect your car if he/she thinks your car is not environmentally friendly. An example is old diesel trucks with release black smoke when they floor the accelerator.
Not meeting any of these requirements may lead to a fine or even result in your car getting impounded. Fines can easily be in the 100’s of dollars for a fix-it ticket and go way up from there. The recent clean air act can fine violators up to $45,268 per non-compliant vehicle.
What Old Cars are Worth the Money?
The best car to buy is a well-maintained car, no matter the make, model, or age. The usual winners in this category are from Toyota and Honda, followed closely by their Japanese counterparts.
But luxury cars like the Mercedes E Class, BMW 3 Series are quite good.
For sports car enthusiasts, cars like the Porsche Cayman and Chevrolet Corvette are great options.
A car is most likely going to be the second most expensive purchase in your life after your house. For an old car, you want to make the best buying decision. These older cars are not investments in any way, but many don’t depreciate anymore and could later sell for what you paid for it.
No matter the car you end up going to, always have a Pre- Inspection Purchase if you can afford it. Be it the ever-reliable Toyota or luxury money pits of the Germans, a PPI will greatly aid your buying decision.
In conclusion, older cars are safe to drive as long as they’re well maintained and adhere to road requirements.