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What Goes Wrong With Cars, and When

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Owning and driving a car involves two things most motorists would rather avoid: spending money on maintenance and spending money on repairs.

If you do not maintain your car (meaning regular oil changes, filter replacements and keeping an eye on critical fluid levels), you will be faced with major repairs much sooner than you should. Most people realize a car is an investment, and to get the most out of your investment you have to take care of it.

But here's a dirty little secret you many not know. Even if you are meticulous about maintenance, follow all the recommended fluid and filter replacements, and baby your car as if it were an only child, eventually certain parts will wear out and you will have to spend $$$ on repairs.

Like death and taxes, you can't avoid auto repairs – unless you lease new vehicles or trade your old car before it reaches the point where things start to wear out and cost you money to fix.

The following is a list of 11 items that typically fail as a result of mileage and time.





What Goes Wrong (and When)

Battery

car battery. .

After 4 or 5 years (regardless of mileage) most batteries are getting weak and need to be replaced. If you are lucky, your battery might go 5 or 6 years, but average battery life is still only about four years. In hot climates like Arizona and New Mexico, three years is about all the heat most batteries can take. Absorbant Glass Mat (AGM) gel-cell type batteries typically last up to a year or two longer than conventional wet cell lead-acid batteries, so you might consider buying one of these when you replace the battery. Replacement cost for a new battery: $60 to $140 depending on the type and brand purchased. For more information about battery diagnosis, Click Here.

Water Pump

water pump

The water pump circulates coolant between the engine and radiator to keep the engine from overheating. By the time an original equipment water pump reaches 70,000 miles or more, the incidence of failure due to coolant leaks goes up sharply. If the pump has over 100,000 miles on it, you’re driving on borrowed time. The first sign of trouble is coolant seeping out of the vent hole or around the pump shaft. The loss of coolant will eventually cause the engine to overheat. Adding cooling system sealer to the radiator won't help because these products can’t seal a leaky water pump. If the water pump is leaking, it needs to be replaced. Cost: $50 to $150 for a new or remanufactured water pump, plus installation (1 to 3 hours depending on the application). For more information on diagnosing and replacing a water pump Click Here.

Fuel Pump

fuel pump. .

The original equipment fuel pumps on domestically-built vehicles (GM, Ford & Chrysler) tend to fail at any point from about 60,000 miles on (Note: fuel pumps in Asian makes typically last the life of the car!). One minute your driving along just fine, and the next you’re stranded because the fuel pump died. Fuel pumps often give no warning that they are about to fail. Some may buzz or cause hard starting, hesitation or stalling problems. But more typically, they just quit working. The fault may be something other than the pump (such as a bad electrical connection, faulty power relay or plugged fuel filter or line), so accurate fuel pump diagnosis is essential to avoid replacing a pump unnecessarily if the engine is not getting any fuel. Late model cars use electric fuel pumps that are usually located inside the fuel tank. That makes the pump difficult and expensive to replace. Figure $150 to $300 for a new fuel pump, and another $300 to $400 for labor to replace it.

Gaskets

head gasket

The engine has a number of gaskets that can fail as time and mileage add up. Many General Motors V6 engines develop coolant leaks in the intake manifold gasket at around 60,000 to 70,000 miles. The loss of coolant causes the engine to overheat. The intake manifold gaskets for the GM V6 engines typically cost less than $60, but replacing them is a major job because you have to tear apart the top of the engine. Most dealers charge $600 to $800 for this repair!

Rubber gaskets and seals tend to harden and shrink as they age. After 10 or 12 years, they usually start to leak no matter what you do. The only way to stop the leaks are to replace the old gaskets or seals.

Even worse is a head gasket failure. Many head gaskets will last the life of the engine. But after 60,000 to 70,000 miles, some head gaskets start to leak coolant or comrpession. This will cause the engine to overheat. Pressure testing the cooling system can verify the problem. Sometimes the leaking coolant will foul a spark plug. It can also dilute the oil in the crankcase. A leaky head gasket can sometimes be fixed by adding a cooling system sealer such as BARS LEAK or a similar product to the radiator. But you never know how long the sealer will hold. So the only real fix is to replace the head gasket, which can cost upwards of $1000 or more for parts and labor.

Timing Belt

timing belt

Overhead cam engines that have rubber timing belts require the belt to be replaced after so many miles. On older engines, the interval is typically every 60,000 miles. On newer engines, the replacement interval is typically 100,000 miles. If the belt is never changed (which is often the case), it may suddenly break and fail. If the engine is an interference engine with tight clearances between the valves and pistons, this can bend intake valves. Most OHC timing belts sell for $50 or less, but installation labor can be expensive depending on the application and how difficult it is to change the belt. Figure $400 to $800 to replace a timing belt for normal maintenance, and several thousands dollars for repairs if the belt is not replaced, and it breaks and damages the valves.

Automatic Transmission

automatic transmission

This is one repair vehicle owners fear most, and rightly so. Nobody repairs transmissions anymore. They replace them with remanufactured transmissions. A transmission job can easily run $2000 or more for parts and labor. The failure rate for automatic transmissions starts to go up around 60,000 to 70,000 miles, and becomes very likely once the odometer flips past the 100K mark. The transmission should last as long as the engine, but few do. I have owned four minivans (Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and two Ford Windstars), and the automatic transmissions on all have failed between 60,000 and 80,000 miles! All the minivans were driven normally (no towing) and all had the transmission fluid changes at the recommended service intervals. For more information about automatic transmission failure and repair, Click Here.

Clutch

clutch

Manual transmissions will usually last the life of the vehicle, but the clutch usually does not. The life of the clutch depends a LOT on the driver. A person who rides the clutch or drives aggressively will burn up the clutch must faster than someone who does not. Many clutches need to be replaced by the time they have 70,000 to 100,000 miles on them. A driver who is hard on a clutch may kill his in 30,000 miles or less. Replacing a clutch requires a lot of labor because the transmission or transaxle must be removed to get at the clutch. Figure $800 to $1500 for a clutch job. For more information about clutch diagnosis, Click Here.

Brake Pads

brake pads. .

Brake pads are a wear item that eventually wear out and have to be replaced. The rate at which they wear depends on how often the brakes are applied, how hard the brakes are applied, and the weight and velocity of the vehicle. Somebody who rides the brakes, drives aggressively, spends a lot of time in stop-and-go city traffic, etc., will wear out their front brake pads much more quickly than a driver who stops gradually, or does a lot of open highway driving. A large, heavy fullsize SUV can eat up a set of front brake pads in 30,000 miles, while a smaller lighter economy car might go 60,000 to 70,000 miles before the front pads are worn down and need to be replaced. If only the pads need to be replaced, and you can change the pads yourself, a new set of pads might only set you back $30 to $70. But if the rotors are worn and have to be replaced, or you have a repair shop do the brakes, figure $300 to $600 or more depending on the parts that are replaced. For more information about brake jobs, Click Here.

Tires

tires

Tires are a wear item that eventually wear out and have to be replaced. Most original equipment tires will go 60,000 to 80,000 miles. Cheaper quality replacement tires may only last 50,000 miles while higher priced tires may go upwards of 80,000 miles. Wheel misalignment and/or worn steering or suspension components can accelerate tire wear significantly. Replacement tires typically run $60 to $120 each, or up to $300 or more each for high performance tires or run-flats, plus $12 to $15 per tire for installation, balancing and new valve stems.
WARNING! Tires age internally regardless of mileage, and may become dangerously weak. Tires that are more than 10 years old should be replaced regardless of how much tread is left on the tires. For more information about tire expiration dates, Click Here.

Muffler

muffler

The exhaust system is exposed to water and corrosive acids, mainly from the inside out. Stainless steel pipes and mufflers will often last up to 10 years or more. But plain steel pipes and mufflers can rust through in as few as four or five years. A leaky exhaust system not only makes a lot of racket, but it can also leak dangerous carbon monoxide fumes. Repair costs will vary depending on what needs to be replaced. Seldom can you get buy with a new muffler alone. The pipes often need to be replaced, too. Figure $150 to $450 for a muffler job. For more information about troubleshooting exhaust problems, Click Here.

Anything Rubber

radiator hose

Synthetic rubbers and elastomers are used for coolant hoses, vacuum hoses, fuel hoses, emissions hoses, brake hoses, seals, weatherstripping around doors and windows, the hood and trunk. Rubber typically hardens, shrinks and cracks with age. After 10 to 12 years of service, many original equipment hoses, seals and weatherstripping can start to leak. Keeping a vehicle in a garage will reduce the exposure to ultraviolet light and ozone which ages rubber, and may expend the life a few more years. But eventually, many rubber parts on well cared for garaged vehicles will deteriorate and fail.

Engine parts made out of plastic can also become brittle and crack with age. This includes plastic intake manifolds, valve covers and oil pans. Other plastics that deteriorate with age include plastic fuel tanks, and plastic facias, bumper covers, body and interior trim, and dash covers, and plastics used in upholstery.


Related articles and links:

Common Car problems (by symptom)
Most Often Replaced Car Parts
Maintenance Tips
Maintenance Chart
Maintenance Recommendations
How To Buy a Good Used Car (and NOT a Lemon!)
Used Car Inspection Checklist
Used Car Dealer Tricks (How NOT to get cheated on the next used car you buy!)
Used Car Information Resources
New Car Warranty Information



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