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Driving An Old Car Long Distance

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Driving an older car long distances can be a daunting thought. However, don’t let your worries put you off from taking an old car on a road trip; there are too many amazing memories waiting to be made!

It’s important to consider the condition of your vehicle, the length of your route, and how to prepare an old car for a long trip. We will discuss all of these things in this article.

This article will explain exactly how to know if your car can make a long trip. A vehicle’s ability to drive long-distance isn’t directly determined by its age or mileage, but rather by how well the car has been looked after.  A car that has been regularly serviced according to its user manual should remain in good condition for the trip of your dreams.

We’ve all been there; that moment you catch the road trip bug and start getting excited and then realize… can old Bessie get me cross country and back?  Is it safe to take my old car out for a road trip? All the answers are within this post!

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Is Your Car Too Old For A Road Trip?

Most cars are not too old for road trips so long as they are mechanically sound at the time of departure and have been recently serviced. You should check the tires, essential fluids, and motor oil before you leave and monitor the dashboard gauges while driving. If your car has a history of mechanical issues then consider booking it in for servicing first.

You are twice as likely to break down in a vehicle that is 10 years or older than in newer vehicles. Once your car has driven over 100,000 miles you should prepare adequately before long-distance trips.

Most common causes of breakdowns in old cars:

  1. Tire Damage
  2. Engine Cooling system issues
  3. Battery/electrical failures

Make sure you have adequate breakdown cover for your car. Consider adding a decent Car Emergency Kit With An Air Compressor and Jump Leads to your luggage. This will provide you with jump leads in case of battery issues as well as many other safety items. The cheaper roadside emergency kits often don’t include the tire air pumps which can be crucial!

First Secure – 90 Piece Car Emergency Roadside & First Aid Kit Inside – Long-Lasting Quality – Essential Emergency Tool Kit – Survival & Safety Solution – Peace of Mind on the Road
  • Quality Materials: Our Car Emergency Kit is packed…
  • 90-Piece Premium Roadside Assistance Set: Our kit…
  • Additional Kit: We’ve included only the best tools…

If you are concerned about having a battery failure in an isolated location then this Portable Car Battery Jump Starter will allow you to try to restart your vehicle without the help of another road user.

NOCO Boost Plus GB40 1000A UltraSafe Car Battery Jump Starter, 12V Battery Pack, Battery Booster, Jump Box, Portable Charger and Jumper Cables for 6.0L Gasoline and 3.0L Diesel Engines, Gray
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  • UltraSafe – Safe and easy-to-use car jumper…
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Things To Consider

Once a car has driven a significant mileage, the probability of a breakdown increases significantly. The cost of fixing and recovering your car in the event of a breakdown tends to be higher if you are farther away and this is the main thing to consider before taking an old car on a road trip.

You should check the terms of your breakdown cover and review the cost of recovery at different distances from your home. Compare this to your planned road trip route. Make sure you are comfortable with the potential costs involved and then follow the rest of the advice in this article to make a breakdown as unlikely as possible!

If your car has a sketchy past and frequently needs work or repairs, it is not a safe idea to rely on it for a road trip. You could consider renting a car instead if you are planning to drive very far from your home.

Can Old Cars Drive Long Distances?

An old car can drive long distances easily if it has been properly maintained. Make sure you have breakdown cover and a car emergency kit with you in case of issues during your road trip. Thoroughly check your tires and the engine cooling system as these are common reasons to require roadside assistance. View the owner’s manual for the optimum servicing schedule and component replacement advice.

Mileage on cars is used to indicate when the car should be serviced or have parts replaced.  If your vehicle has a reliable history of being serviced at the correct intervals, then it should be fit to drive long distances! 

If you bought your car second-hand, it is worth having a vehicle check run on the car to get a better understanding of its history.  The AA offers a comprehensive vehicle check if you have any serious concerns about your car.    

Is It Safe To Take An Old Car On A Road Trip?

It is safe to take an old car on a road trip if you have a full roadside emergency kit to make yourself clearly visible in the event of a breakdown. Make sure you are well prepared with breakdown cover and thoroughly check your vehicle before departure. Stand well clear of the road in a safe location if you encounter issues.

The Main danger of taking an older car on a road trip is the risk of other traffic in the event of a breakdown. The risk of an accident is always present during any trip however breaking down on the highway has the added risk of fast-moving traffic. Remember to put your hazard lights on, wear a reflective jacket and stay well away from moving traffic.

How well you know and have cared for your old car is a great way to tell if it is safe to take on a long road trip. If you have taken care of your old car and it works reliably, it is safe to take long distances.  A car that needs constant repairs or frequently fails to start shouldn’t be trusted to take you far from home.

If you want to purchase a used car for the purposes of a road trip, do your homework!  Run a vehicle check and have an independent mechanic that you trust look the car over before committing.

Most Important Points To Remember

  • Thoroughly check your tires as they are a common cause of breakdowns in older vehicles
  • Check the terms and conditions of your breakdown cover before a long trip
  • Make sure you have a car emergency kit that includes jump leads in case of battery failure.
  • Monitor the temperature gauge on the dashboard and check essential fluids/motor oil before leaving.
  • Make sure your car has had a recent service and the engine cooling system has been reviewed.

How To Prepare An Old Car For A Long Trip

road trip checklist

You’ve got the perfect road trip planned, so now it’s time to prepare that old car for your long-distance trip!

Schedule a tune-up

Have a trusted mechanic give the car a tune-up and a good once-over.

Top up all fluids

Check the fluid levels on your windshield wash, power steering, brake, transmission, and engine. The owner’s manual will tell you how to find the indicators.

Have brakes checked

Check brake pads and discs for wear and tear, and replace them if necessary.

Check coolant levels

This should be covered when you are topping up your fluids, but it is especially important in an older car. It is worth bringing extra coolant with you if it is going to be a long road trip in warmer climates.

Check tires

Check the tread on your tires by taking a penny and slotting it between the ridges, Lincoln’s handsome face towards you and upside down. If you can see the top of his head/hair, it may be time to replace your tires. Be sure to check all 4 tires in multiple places.

Check oil

You are checking to see if the oil is at the right level AND the right appearance. The oil should appear slightly transparent and smooth and be at the level indicated by your dipstick. Check your owner’s manual for specifics.

Check the car over yourself

Inspect the car yourself! Make sure the horn works, check the seatbelts, make sure the headlights are clean with fresh bulbs, and make sure your locks work. Anything you don’t want to be caught out by, check!

Roadside Emergency Kit

It is a good idea to have a Roadside emergency kit in the car, regardless of the car’s age. We recommend the Roadside Assistance Emergency Kit because it comes with tools, jumper cables, and a roadside emergency marker (as well as so much more) in a convenient carry bag.

Breakdown Cover

By law, you must drive with basic insurance coverage. We recommend topping up with some breakdown cover before hitting the road in your old car. You never want to be stranded far from home.

Embrace the journey

Road trips come with all kinds of surprising situations, some more stressful than others. Whether your car is old or brand new, you never know what is going to happen. So prepare as best you can and just enjoy whatever the road brings you!

How To Know If Your Old Car Can Handle A Road Trip

The truth is, it’s impossible to know when your old car will encounter mechanical issues. The older the car is the more likely it is to break down during a long-distance drive. The cost-saving benefits of driving an older car are balanced against its increased risk of breakdown. Personally, I think that if you have a breakdown cover policy and a car emergency kit, it’s worth the risk.

In order to ensure your safety though you should only take your old car on a road trip if you are comfortable responding correctly in the event of a breakdown. Always call for help and make sure you stand in a very safe location. If you think a breakdown would be a very stressful experience for you then perhaps it’s not worth the risk.

If you confidently rely on your old car on a daily basis, it can probably handle a road trip. If you have kept on top of oil changes and regular maintenance it isn’t likely to suddenly develop unexpected problems.  However, if every time you get in your car there is a new issue, you may want to have it looked at before trusting it on a road trip.   

Old cars will have their quirks, but if they run and start reliably, you shouldn’t have to worry about taking them out for a road trip.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you make a qualifying purchase, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert.

Lisa Hurd Profile Image

Lisa Hurd


Lisa Hurd is a born and raised Californian currently living with her husband, daughter, and labrador in the UK. She enjoys road trips with her family and has fond memories of cross-country adventures with her 3 sisters while growing up. She loves to write about a variety of camping-related and road trip topics. In her spare time, she’s an avid reader of books. She misses the sun… send vitamin D and quality Mexican food ASAP!