Problems With Older Cars? (7 Most-Common Issues)

As the saying goes, “an oldie but a goldie” rings true for older cars that have made endless memories. Many old cars have good memories attached to them, even though they had their fair share of problems.

Older cars had a multitude of problems because the industry did not have the technology that’s available today.

In this article, we’re looking at some common issues with older cars.

Let’s get started.

1. Brake Problems

A lot of cars have issues with their brakes wearing out if the brake pads are not changed regularly. Older cars are particularly worse in this regard because their brake pads don’t last as long as modern cars.

Brakes are one of the most important components in a car because they are directly linked to the car’s safety. If your brake pads are compromised, the risk of getting into a car accident increases.

Older cars had lower acceleration and speed readings and therefore lower braking power. Modern cars are much faster in acceleration and speed and need to have stronger stopping power.

Common problems with brakes on old cars start off with a grinding or squealing sound coming from the wheels. This can be accompanied by some vibrations when the brake pad is depressed.

When there’s a squealing or grinding noise, there might just be some dirt stuck on the calipers. This is an easy fix because you can just remove the dirt and debris from the wheel and clean it as necessary.

However, the noise could also be caused by worn-out brake pads. This is quite dangerous because that sound means the pads are completely worn out.

When it comes to vibrations on the steering wheel, there might be a problem with the rotors. This could be an issue with brake pads that are not installed correctly.

Older cars are also more prone to experience complete brake failure, which leaves you exposed to accidents. Fortunately, newer cars are designed to prevent complete brake failure, and it is a rare occurrence.

A few other brake problems with cars include brake fluid leaks, which can lead to brake failure. A brake fluid system in the car is closed and should never leak.

Regular maintenance schedules are a good way to avoid braking problems. This is especially true for older cars because they need that much more attention.

2. Overheating

It’s not uncommon to find a car that’s older than 10 years with a radiator problem causing it to overheat. If the radiator is not the culprit, it could be the coolant or any number of other parts.

The cooling system in a car is important to keep the engine cool so that it does not get damaged by high temperatures. Gas engines are supposed to get hot, but not to the extent of overheating and damaging components.

Modern cars now have excellent cooling systems that can go by with just adequate coolant and regular maintenance. Older cars had simpler systems with plenty of pumps and hoses that keep fluids flowing.

Wear and tear is a big problem on the belts and hoses on older cars. The hoses are vulnerable to cracks and fraying, which leads to leaks.

The thermostat is also a good indication of overheating because it runs liquid throughout the engine. If all other cooling system components are working well, it is a good idea to check the thermostat.

Common Reasons For Overheating Engines

  • Faulty Radiator Fan
  • Broken Water Pump
  • Clogged Coolant Hose
  • Cooling System Leak
  • Bad Head Gasket
  • Failing Thermostat

A common misconception is that antifreeze will cool down an engine in older cars. Unfortunately, sometimes the antifreeze can work against the flow of temperature on the engine.

A good rule of thumb with older cars is to aim for 50% water and 50% antifreeze in older engines. Antifreeze is a good lubricant for parts like the water pump and prevents rust.

Cars older than 10 years should always follow a strict maintenance schedule. Regular maintenance can prevent a clogged-up cooling system and prevent overheating.

3. Paint Damage and Rusting

Modern cars are full of technological advances but also improved designs in other parts of manufacturing. One such improvement is corrosion resistance for the body and the exterior parts.

When the part of the car that’s made of metal comes into contact with water, it can rust. Rust is the reaction between iron and oxygen in the water and it gradually builds up over time.

The corrosion causes the iron in the paint to bubble up and results in what we see as rusted metal. Materials used in old cars were more exposed to the elements than they are in modern cars.

Modern cars now come with higher-grade steel that is galvanized before being shaped for the body of the car. The galvanizing process adds zinc to the metal, and this adds a protective layer.

Furthermore, modern cars then get an extra coat of protective polymer before the final paint job. Some models skip the zinc part and use plastic parts or even aluminum.

Taking great care of your vehicle like washing it regularly can help keep rusting away. It is especially true for cars that reside in coastal areas because salt exacerbates corrosion.

Older cars also did not have effective arch liners that direct water from spraying toward the car parts on rainy days. These can be retrofitted to improve weather protection if you have an older car.

Rain is a big problem for corrosion and should be kept in check if driving under rainy conditions. A good idea would be to rinse the car and dry it with a chamois if it is wet from the rain.

Spraying grease or oil such as WD40 would be a good way to reach hidden areas in the car’s body. It lubricates the joints and hinges and adds a layer of protection against rust and corrosion.

Owners of older model cars also swear by waxing the car regularly. The secret is to get the wax into hard-to-reach areas.

4. Noisy Exhaust System

It wouldn’t be fair to assume that all old cars have noisy exhausts that bellow black fumes. With that said, loud exhaust systems are common in old cars.

Noises such as rattling, hissing, and clunking are common in a broken exhaust system. These are usually a result of loose components in the car.

The more a car travels, the more it is damaged by the road and this leads to leaks and components becoming loose.

A noisy exhaust can be a symptom of other problems with the car. These are also accompanied by poor acceleration and a decrease in fuel economy.

Components In an Exhaust System:

  • Exhaust pipe
  • Exhaust valves and piston
  • Exhaust manifold
  • Catalytic converter
  • Muffler
  • Tailpipe

One of the most expensive components in an exhaust system is the catalytic converter. You can expect to spend about $1,000 and $2,500 for a replacement catalytic converter.

Depending on your car’s make and model, the cost should be much lower for an older car. Other smaller components, such as mufflers and tailpipes, can cost around $250, excluding labor.

Technically speaking, you can still drive with a broken or noisy exhaust system. It does not pose a direct safety concern, but should be inspected as soon as possible.

Modern cars will give a warning light on the dash if there’s something wrong with the exhaust system. Older cars are more difficult in that exhaust problems have to be diagnosed manually.

With that said, if there’s ever smoke or a weird noise coming from the exhaust, it should be inspected immediately.

A quick visit to the mechanic can help to identify and hopefully solve exhaust-related problems.

5. Electrical Glitches

Electrical wiring is as important for old cars as it is for new cars. Electrical wiring needs to be unobstructed in order to deliver power throughout the car.

Electrical problems occur in both modern and old cars but are made worse by corrosion on older cars. Corrosion of the wiring is a big problem for electrical systems in old cars.

It is often a bit of a problem when trying to diagnose issues with the electrical system, mainly because there are several parts and systems that may be affected.

Systems that can be compromised because of electrical glitches include the starting system, charging system, lighting system, and other components.

Symptoms of a problem will let you know which system has been compromised and where to look first. For example, if light bulbs are dim, it would mean there is a glitch in the lighting system.

The battery is a good starting point when trying to diagnose electrical issues in old cars. Car batteries have a certain life span and will last about five to seven years.

If you’ve driven an old car before, you’ll notice the car cranking slowly and not starting immediately. This is a good sign of a dying battery because the battery dies gradually.

A good idea is to also check the battery terminals for any signs of corrosion. Filth and some dusty particles may accumulate on the battery terminals and compromise the contacts.

Older cars were also dependent on fuses and a lot of connections and contacts. If the fuse blows out after being changed, it indicates a bigger problem.

The ECU (electrical control unit) is one of the most expensive components to replace if it has a problem. All repairs to the ECU should be left to a professional, but fixes are temporary in most cases.

If you’re faced with electrical issues with an older car, it is best to visit a certified mechanic or your dealership. Electrical glitches often crop up again if not fixed correctly.

6. Fluid Leakage

It is not uncommon for an older car to experience leaking issues where the engine leaks fluids or oil. There are many fluids that can leak from a car.

The best way to determine what fluid or oil is leaking is to examine the bottom of the car after being parked for a while. You’ll be able to see the color of the fluid and determine what component needs attention.

Try to remember the car’s performance before the leak.
Before a leak occurs, you can usually tell when the car’s performance changed. This could be a harder steering wheel, higher temperatures, or smoky exhaust fumes.

Different Types of Car Leakage

Here are examples of different car leaks:

  • Brake Fluid Leak
  • Oil Leak
  • Power Steering Fluid Leak
  • Transmission Fluid Leak
  • Antifreeze Leak
  • Water Leak

All these types of fluids will produce different colors and texture. Not all of them indicate an emergency, but will need to be attended to.

A water leak, for example, may need a simple fill-up and might mess around with the windscreen washer. Brake fluid is more dangerous because your braking system might be compromised.

Most older cars experience one or the other of these leaks in their lifetime. As the car gets older, these fluid leakages may worsen if not treated early on.

Leaks that involve serious components of the car must be checked and fixed as soon as possible. One such leak is the steering wheel fluid, which can endanger passengers if not attended to.

A leak might point to multiple issues concerning a number of components. For example, an oil leak might indicate a worn-out oil filter, a broken seal, a broken sealer cap, or a bad valve gasket connection.

This is why it is strictly recommended to visit a mechanic or dealership if you notice leaks of any kind. The sooner you notice the problem, the sooner you can deal it with.

With that said, leaking fluid in an old car should not come as a surprise. Modern cars are now designed to reduce leaks and have quality materials housing the fluids.

Another issue with older cars is that the car shouldn’t be left undriven for long periods of time. Seals, pumps, and gaskets may dry up if left unused and can develop minor leaks.

Nowadays, it wouldn’t be a problem to leave your car for a few weeks without running as long the battery is disconnected. Disconnecting the battery ensures it will not use up power and deplete over time.

Related: Problems With Chinese Cars? (7 Most-Common Issues)

7. Engine Power Issues

A lot of common problems regarding older cars will mostly involve the car’s power. Normal wear and tear together with age will deteriorate the engine’s power.

There are a lot more moving parts in an engine and this makes it hard to diagnose power issues. It is best to check when the engine loses power to track down the failing part.

Quite a lot of issues regarding engine power have to do with the fuel filter. The main purpose of the fuel filter is to filter the fuel before it reaches the engine.

A faulty fuel filter will give way to other problems in the car, including the engine losing power altogether. The fuel filter can also get clogged up with debris and particles, resulting in a loss of power.

The fuel system is a delicate part of the engine and should be kept clean at all times. Parts that have to be cleaned are the exhaust, air filter, fuel injectors, and spark plugs.

Fortunately, older cars don’t have a lot of sensors. A limited number of sensors in the engine means the problem becomes easier to track down.

With that said, fuel system issues are a huge problem for old cars that do not get regular maintenance. So regular servicing and fluid level checks are a must for an older car.

An older car might not be under warranty anymore, meaning a visit to the dealership is not always possible. In this case, an experienced mechanic who deals with your specific model should be able to diagnose and fix engine and power issues.

General Pros and Cons for Older Cars

Here are some pros and cons of older cars:


  • Easy to fix
  • Low fuel costs
  • Much roomier interiors
  • Gain value over time


  • Brake Problems
  • Paint damage and rusting
  • Noisy Exhaust system
  • Electrical glitches
  • Fluid leakage
  • Engine Power Issues

What Do the Reviews Say?

Older cars are easy to work on, there are no computers, no complicated wiring, and there is plenty of room for comfort.

Most cars lose value immediately after they are driven off of the dealer lot, but older cars gain in value over time, due to rarity, performance, or special attributes.

Related: Problems With Older Cars: 18 Common Issues (Explained)

What’s the Resale Value of Older Cars?

Model Mileage (miles) Price ($)
2007 Toyota Avalon 126,540 10,996
2009 Toyota Corolla 142,863 7,965
2006 Ford Fusion 154,870 7,150
2006 Suzuki Forenza 93,434 4,183

Related: 4 Problems With Low-Mileage Diesel Cars (Explained)

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