Problems With Older Cars: 18 Common Issues (Explained)

Investing in an older vehicle can be a smart move if you want to save money on monthly car payments and insurance.

However, certain issues fall upon older vehicles that don’t happen as much—or at all—in new cars.

These are 18 known issues to look out for with older cars:


1. The carburetor gets clogged.

If you have your eyes on an automobile from the mid-90s or before, it will likely have a carburetor. Cars primarily had carbs to provide the air-fuel mixture before fuel injectors took over in the 90s.

The problem with carburetors is that they often get dirty jets or deliver an inappropriate amount of air and fuel.

Cars would often have difficulty starting and would stall at stoplights because of this issue.

Engine flooding was also a massive problem for people who tried to get their carb-operated vehicles to start. Thus, you can look forward to doing a little bit of carb tinkering if you choose to go with a much older car.

However, you can locate a can of carburetor cleaner in some stores, and it might help you to clean the gunk out of an older car’s system. Speaking of classic cars, there are some cars that feature dickie seats you must see.

2. The gaskets get brittle and leak.

Oil leaks are common in much older vehicles because of their deteriorating gaskets. Many old vehicle owners leave their cars sitting for months or years at a time.

The gaskets inside the motor then get brittle and dry and lose their ability to effectively seal the area between components. The result is typically an unwelcome leak coming from under the vehicle.

Sometimes, getting a high mileage oil change can help to stop some of the more minor leaks, but you’ll still need to have someone change the gaskets eventually. Certain high-mileage oil brands have ingredients that swell the seals to revive their effectiveness.

You can try this product on an older vehicle and see if it works, but it may not be effective if the vehicle’s gaskets have advanced wear.

3. The suspension dips.

If you have an older vehicle with conventional metal springs, you might notice that the suspension seems to sag. It can happen to any car over time because the weight of the vehicle takes a toll on the suspension system.

You’ll need to check the springs to see if you can find the issue easily. Next, check the bearings to see if one or several of them need to be replaced. Something could also be loose in the system. Take your time examining it, or take it to a trustworthy repair shop if you can’t pinpoint the issue.

4. The ground wire fails.

Ground wires are also known to fail and go bad in older vehicles. The ground wires are the middle parts between the car’s electrical system and the battery. Thus, an older car might experience an array of problems because of a bad ground wire.

Some of the most frequent issues that stem from that problem are hard starts, dead batteries, idling issues, ignition coil failure, and lights going out unexpectedly.

Using a multimeter, you can test to see if you have a bad ground wire.

The device should show an electrical resistance of at least 12.6 ohms. Otherwise, you may have to request the services of an automotive mechanic who knows how to replace such wires.

5. The fasteners get rusted.

Another issue that shows up a lot on older vehicles is rusty fasteners.

These nuts, bolts, screws, etc., may be so rusted that replacing or repairing the parts they hold together is difficult. The issue comes from moist air and wetness getting into the metal and corroding it.

Rusted bolts on an old vehicle need to be handled with care to avoid causing the car any additional damage.

Products such as PB Blaster and similar brands were created to get rid of rust, and it’s acceptable to use them to remove rusted nuts and bolts.

However, be sure to use the product with care to avoid injury or further damage to the automotive components.

6. Rust accumulates everywhere.

Unfortunately, rust doesn’t just get on the fasteners and leave the rest of the vehicle alone. Often, old cars have an insane amount of rust on their insides and outsides. For example, you might see it on the doors, floors, hood, and other parts of the vehicle.

The issue can be visually ugly, but more importantly, it can be dangerous. 

It might be best to allow a professional to fix massive rust spots and restore the vehicle to its fantastic luster. Holes will need panel welding work done to them and cannot be fixed using a few simple tricks.

7. The exhaust system corrodes.


One area likely to get a huge hole in it is the muffler.

Mufflers can cause numerous problems when they have holes in them as well. You might start to smell toxic gases in the cabin if your muffler has a hole in it.

Another issue that might arise is an engine misfire from increased back pressure. A muffler could also cause you to get lousy fuel efficiency in a roundabout way.

Fortunately, mufflers are usually affordable. You can find one at a professional shop or check the junkyard parts that are still in good shape, and you might get a pretty decent deal on the muffler you need.

This can also be a common problem with diesel cars.

8. The engine sounds loud, like a motorcycle.

An old car’s engine can produce some very interesting sounds if someone is amiss back there.

Mufflers tend to make vehicles sound like motorcycles.

Issues with the other pipes can cause that problem too, but it’s generally an issue with the muffler.

Worn engine parts can produce the same sounds and wreak havoc on a driver trying to get to a destination quietly. Having all the holes closed via welding or product replacement is the way to resolve this problem effectively.

9. The head gasket leaks.

Head gaskets typically wear because of an overheating issue inside the car.

However, they can become worn and ineffective over time, just like many other gaskets do.

When that happens, the gaskets will shrink and allow coolant, oil, and other liquids to enter where they shouldn’t. This process often occurs in older vehicles and can be remedied using the best strategy for the leak’s location.

This is among the most common car problems.

10. The vent window latch breaks.

Some older cars were designed with vent windows. These special triangular side windows often sat directly in front of the full-sized windows on each side. Manufacturers designed them to allow airflow into the car when the air conditioning system was not working.

However, they have latches that break and disallow any air from making it into the vehicle.

You will need to replace the latch because you will be quite uncomfortable inside your car if you don’t. 

The part will most likely be available through a junkyard or auto salvage yard if you are unable to locate it at your local auto parts shop.

11. The shocks and struts get weak.

Parts of the suspension system wear down after having a several-thousand-pound vehicle on them.

Shock and struts are some of the most vastly affected suspension parts when this happens.

A problem with your shocks or struts will be very noticeable, and some common symptoms include uneven tire wear, bumpy rides, swaying, braking issues, and strange noises. The price for having shocked and struts replaced can vary from as little as $50 to almost $1,000.

The difference will depend on where you get your parts and who you decide to see to have the work done.

12. Windshield wipers don’t work.

Windshield wipers tend to go out on older vehicles, and not just because of the wipers themselves. 

Sometimes, the windshield wiper motor goes out and needs to be replaced.

The part can be an average of about $50, and the labor will depend on which vehicle the part is for.

Read our article here for more about diagnosing and fixing issues with windshield wipers.

13. The brakes get rusty.

Brake pads and rotors can get rusty on older vehicles, especially when the owner doesn’t drive the car much. Surface rust can easily be eliminated with a little bit of driving.

Deeper rust might dislodge with sanding.

14. The car shakes while idling.

Shaking and vibrating can happen from an array of problems on older vehicles. One common problem is fouled spark plugs. Fouled spark plugs usually result from a missed tuneup and cause more noticeable problems in cars with fewer cylinders.

An older car might also shake because of an extremely dirty air filter, clogged fuel filter, or faulty fuel pump.

All such issues can occur when a vehicle sits stationary with bad gas and doesn’t get driven enough.

15. The transmission slips or doesn’t catch at all.

The transmission system in an older vehicle can go awry and cause slipping. This can happen because of low transmission fluid, worn gears, and other issues. Transmission problems are usually expensive.

Thus, you’ll need to evaluate how much you want to spend on this issue.

Always check the fluid first because the issue could be something minor, like the fallout from a missed maintenance appointment. Otherwise, you may have a huge fix on your hands.

16. The alternator fails.

Alternators are more likely to fail on older vehicles than new ones, and they are typically designed to last about seven and 10 years. Some vehicle owners get lucky and see their alternators last for many years, and other vehicle owners must replace their alternators sooner.

One of the main signs of a faulty alternator is a battery that doesn’t seem to charge.

You may also notice that the battery light comes on in your car or you hear whining sounds from the area where your accessory belt sits. Alternators can be purchased new, refurbished, or used from a salvage yard.

17. The clutch burns out.

A slipping or failing clutch is a problem you might see on an older car. It happens from years of use, as most car parts are designed to wear. You can tell that your clutch is going out if you notice that your pedal seems a bit spongy.

You may also hear grinding sounds or feel the gears slipping as you attempt to go into gear.

Clutches are much cheaper to repair than automatic transmissions. Thus, you can go through a replacement with minimal financial pain.

18. The starter motor fails.

Failing starter motors is another issue that happens a lot with older vehicles. The first sign of a failing starter motor is problematic starting. Your car may also get audio warnings, such as buzzing, whirring, grinding, clicking, or a different sound.

Starter motor repairs can have medium-level difficulty or high difficulty, depending on the engine build.

You’ll want to have someone repair it soon so that you can restore the vehicle to 100 percent functionality.

The above-mentioned issues are a few of the most common problems that arise with older vehicles. Many more problems can occur because of aging or sitting in storage for long periods.

Thus, you’ll need to give your older car a little more attention and TLC than you would give other vehicles. The positive news is that you can keep it running for a long time by giving it the care it needs.


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