By David Thome Special to ADAMM Published Jan 15, 2021 at 6:31 PM

This content is presented in partnership with ADAMM.

Old cars ain’t what they used to be. Continual breakthroughs in reliability, safety and rust-proofing have made them sound choices for teenage and college-age drivers, backup family haulers, quick trips to the grocery store or even trusty companions for short commutes to work. says that “new cars in does not mean old cars out. A large part of the reason that there are more older cars is that households are keeping their existing cars even as they purchase newer cars.”

When the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ announced last year that the average age of all registered vehicles in the U.S. was approaching 12 years, the website crunched some numbers and found that simply calculating the age of all vehicles doesn’t reveal what’s going on. While owners drive new cars about 14,000 miles in a typical year, the site says, 20-year-old cars log about half that.

The advantages of keeping an older vehicle, as listed by Jacob and Vanessa, a.k.a. “The Cash Cow Couple,” include knowing that you have a reliable ride, freedom from loan payments, not having to worry about parking lot dings, lower insurance premiums and a reduced likelihood of theft.

Another advantage is that if you’re in the market for an older vehicle, they’re very reasonably priced. ADAMM-member new-car dealers usually have a few primo older vehicles on the lot to appeal to ultra-budget shoppers.

Local car care pros say that anyone who owns a vehicle that’s still on the road after 20 years has no doubt been doing at least one big thing right: keeping up on routine maintenance. Continuing upkeep is the key to further extending a vehicle’s lifespan. 

Here is what the experts say:

“Regular oil changes are number one,” says Seth Tearney, service adviser for Russ Darrow Toyota in West Bend. “Number two is all other fluids: brake, transmission and coolant. The levels can go down over time, and they can get dirty and break down.”

If you take care of those issues, have the brakes serviced, replace the tires as they wear and make sure the spark plugs and PCV valves and hoses are in top shape, you’ve got a good chance of holding onto a car for a long time – though how many miles you drive and how you drive them also matter. 

Once a vehicle reaches its golden years, Miz Perez, service adviser for Sommers Buick GMC in Mequon, puts checking for leaks on the top of the checklist.

“That’s huge,” he says. “Hoses can spring leaks and gaskets get brittle. You want to catch those things and take care of them early.”

Some other issues you want to keep track of include making sure the tires are properly inflated. Too much or too little pressure can reduce safety and lead to uneven wear.

Tearney says that while today’s older vehicles don’t burn as much oil as the old cars of 30 years ago, it’s still important to maintain the proper level to protect the engine.

“Sometimes we have older vehicles come in and they’re pretty far down,” he says. “We also have people who come in routinely to have the oil topped off.”

That, he says, dealers may do for free. However, the oil still needs to be changed at the intervals stated in the owner’s manual.

Experts say the timing belt or chain is an important component that probably should be replaced after 100,000 or 150,000 miles because if it breaks, it can ruin the engine. Perez says there’s really no way to tell if a timing chain is ready to fail, so mileage is a good rule of thumb.

He notes that replacing the timing chain and other components, such as the water pump, require going deep into an engine’s workings, so having both replaced in one appointment can reduce the cost.

Keeping headlamps and other lights working should also be a primary concern for safety reasons, and for avoiding traffic tickets. Headlamp lenses can become fogged over time, and while they may need to be replaced, lens-cleaning sprays and creams are available online, at car care stores and through the parts department at most dealerships.

Other concerns include attending to dents, dings and scratches before they rust and keeping upholstery and other interior surfaces clean and supple.

So how long should you keep a vehicle? writer Doug Demuro suggests setting some priorities. Lots of gadgets and comfort, connectivity and convenience features have become common in the past few years, but some safety enhancements go back pretty far. Dual airbags, for example, became required in 1998, instantly making vehicles a lot safer than they had been ever before.

Also, anti-lock brakes, rollover prevention, side airbags, body, door and roof reinforcements and crumple zones came into widespread use in the 1990s and early 2000s. And cars made after 2007 might seem like spring chickens compared to ones that have reached the two-decade mark, but every car made since then has federally mandated stability control.