Here’s Why Auto Parts Live Long or Die Young
Leaving aside so-called “regular maintenance” items such as fuel, oil and air filters, spark plugs and lubricants (which are designed for a limited life), the larger parts which tend to wear relatively often over the life of a vehicle are the battery, tires, shock absorbers, exhaust pipes and rubber rings and ball joints (and any other poorly lubricated metal-to-metal seals ). Here’s a summary of how long different parts of your car last, with occasional clues as to what increases or decreases the frequency of breakdowns.
Considering the variables, if your battery fails in less than a year, it is either substandard quality, poor capacity, misused, or not properly maintained. At the other extreme, if it lasts more than five years, all elements of quality, use and maintenance must be good. A battery life of two to three years is “normal”.
Tire wear depends not only on user handling (pressure, loading, riding style) and road conditions, but also on tread pattern, wheel size and tire hardness. rubber compound used in manufacturing. Thicker treads wear out (much) faster (especially on high-speed tarmac), large-wheel tires spin less often per mile, and harder compounds last longer but provide less grip. Balance and alignment are important.
On a mid-size family car with standard street tread, if the tires wear from new to nearly bald in less than 20,000 miles, it means the use has been severe and/or a part of the system is not compliant. If they last more than 80,000 kilometers, then the use has been particularly mild. A life of about 50,000 kilometers is normal.
Standard-caliber, properly-adjusted shock absorbers do not inherently “wear out”, and if used gently on smooth roads, they can last the life of the vehicle, with perhaps a change to long-term rubber rings that can perish for many years. However, in Uganda’s mix of road conditions, they may require more frequent replacement, as sustained and sometimes extreme punishment on unsmooth roads causes them to overheat, partially fail and fade, or completely fail and, or physically break if a dent compresses or stretches. beyond their limits of movement. There can be no “normal” lifespan estimate. If your shock absorbers need to be replaced regularly, either their rating is wrong, or the springs are too weak, or the use is severe or abusive.
These fall under the effect of corrosion and their lifespan will depend on the quality of the steel used in the manufacture and on the prevailing climatic conditions. In areas where the atmosphere is humid and often salty, corrosion can be rapid. An exhaust pipe can rot in as little as a year.
Corrosion is also greater on vehicles that regularly drive on muddy roads (mud traps moisture next to metal and promotes faster rusting). Exhaust from vehicles used primarily on tarmac, in dry mountainous areas, and parked where the underflat dries quickly and remains well ventilated can last a decade or more, or even much longer. The integrity of the exhaust mounts is also a factor.
The life of bushings, mounts, ball joints, and other steering and suspension components is determined primarily by the road surface, in tandem with the service disciplines of interference/tight fit and proper lubrication . With a smooth ride on good roads, all of these parts can last almost indefinitely. On rough roads or with neglect of service, the rate of wear can be very rapid, especially if the rubber steering and ball joint seals are torn (check regularly), allowing water and dirt to get in and lubricant to get out.
Overloading is also a primary cause of premature wear and failure of bushings and carriers. There is no “normal” lifespan in this case.
A vehicle’s electric motors, windscreen wipers, fan, window regulators, must last the life of the vehicle. Severe abuse, decrepit wiring, or physical damage are the causes of failure. Dirt and rust on the mechanical elements operated by the electric motors (resulting in excessive resistance to free movement) can overload and damage the motors, especially in door panel cavities. Occasional cleaning and lubrication of mechanical elements is the preventative remedy.
Some accessories such as rubber seals may deteriorate over time. Wiper blades will need to be replaced frequently if they spend a lot of time in the sun and aren’t cleaned daily.
Good quality upholstery and trim can remain in reasonable condition for the life of a vehicle, although some wear to seats and carpets is unavoidable. Damage accelerators are above all dirt, direct sunlight and, of course, physical abuse. Dirt is not only unsightly, it is also abrasive. Regular vacuuming or gentle brushing of seats and carpets, occasional sponging with carpet shampoo, and cleaning plastic parts with a special formulation will keep the interior looking better and lasting longer. Washable seat covers may be a personal choice, but always use rubber mats on the floor and park in the shade whenever possible.
Modern car paint can stay beautiful for decades if regularly and properly cleaned and occasionally waxed. Dirt, sun and abuse (not weather) are the damaging factors. Conventional paintwork can be restored and protected with polish, and if staining is particularly severe, using a T-cut paste (fine rubbing compound) before waxing. Improved paint chemistry and application techniques make repainting to a good standard a viable and fairly durable option if the paint is badly decrepit.
Drivetrain parts: gearbox, clutch (friction and pressure plates), driveshaft seals and differentials will only wear very lightly if maintained and operated correctly, and can last the entire life of a vehicle. Clutches are the most likely to fail, and usually from abuse. Premature transmission and differential failure indicate poor lubrication, extremely difficult driving conditions, or improper use. Although differential oils do not “wear out” for many years, they can become contaminated by water ingress. They should be checked (but not necessarily replaced) for level and condition at every service. When the greasing is the lubricant, a complete new application at every service is important.
Cooling system: If faults in the cooling system are left unattended, deterioration and failure can be rapid (resulting in engine damage). Hoses, radiator caps and thermostats may need replacing after many years. Fan belts now last a long time if properly adjusted. Using dirty coolant can clog the radiator channels and damage the water pump. The life of the entire system, and especially the radiator core, is longer if anti-rust coolant additives/formulations are used, and the radiator is flushed out if the coolant ever becomes visibly dirty.
Cleanliness and regular maintenance checks are, as with most components, key extensions of a long and reliable life.
Modern engines: Maintained and driven properly, an engine should travel at least 100,000 kilometers in good working order, and easily double that distance before the inevitable wear and tear begins to seriously degrade it. At this point, they can often be viably overhauled (bearings, piston rings, and cylinder liners are usually the first to need replacing, and valves can be clogged with carbon deposits). A properly overhauled engine should have about half the life of a new engine. Rough driving, overheating, and failure to meet stipulated maintenance intervals (using good skills and oils) are engine killers. Substandard or contaminated fuels (especially in diesel engines) can cause accelerated wear or catastrophic failure.