Most Frequent Cause of Ending a Car's Life?


After numerous posts on head gasket failures, cooling system problems and timing belt replacements, a major cause emerging for prematurely ending a car’s life is the automatic transmission packing it in.

Almost always it is the lack of frequent fluid and filter changes that ends its life, and often the economic life of the car or truck.

Should manufacturers have more rigid and frequent maintenance procedures specified?


the great big nut behind the stearing wheel.


For a while there, I think that it was the cash for clunkers program.


I tend to subscribe to Click-and-Clack’s theory of clunkerdom (before “clunker” got it’s new connotation). What happens is your car gets old, you get tired of looking at it and you don’t want to put any money into it so you just start letting little repairs go, and next thing you know you’ve got a car that’s worth $1500 that needs $2000 worth of little minor wear-and-tear stuff like shocks and cv-boots, not to mention annoying things like sagging headliners or ripped seats. Then some relatively minor car-disabling repair comes along like an alternator or fuel pump and you really just can’t bring yourself to spend the $500 bucks or so to get it going again. Hello junkyard?

Luckilly, with modern cars even if the maintenance is a little spotty, major drivetrain component failures (and serious collisions) are still pretty rare, so I suspect the clunker effect is the final fate of most cars these days.


More rigid and frequent maintenance procedures should be applied to any number of areas; it’s not just the transmission giving up the ghost.

Maintenance is an issue that car manufacturers and car dealers do not want to discuss at all unless it’s a marketing blurb about just how little maintenance is needed.

How many car dealers tell a customer that the new car they’re buying has a timing belt driven, interference engine for example? Can you imagine closing a deal and telling the customer that, “Oh yeah, you’re going to be spending xxx or xxxx bucks in so many miles or years to replace this or your engine is likely to go south”.


IMHO the problem is not with the frequencies recommended by the manufacturers, the problem is with the complacency with which these recommendations are viewed. people simply cannot be bothered. They assume the car will run forever. Even warning lights cannot motivate them to get maintenace.

The more recent 10,000 mile oil change recommendations from maufacturers are not helping.

Also not helping is the economy. Not only are people putting off mileage, but shops now seem IMHO to be driving owners away by trying to squeeze every possible dollar out of them every time they go in for a new lightbulb. People have anxiety attacks just from the thought of going to a garage for routine maintenance. And, frankly, there’s too much poor work going on out there. That doesn’t help either.


Part of the high cost of getting work done on any car built after about 1995 is the massive new complications built into them by the engineers. The milage gains you would expect from all this exotic new design just isnt there most of the time, but trying to reach something as simple as a spark plug can take hours of labor removing and replacing parts that are built to be in the way. Give me simple and I’ll fix it myself every time.


The simple addition of a drain plug on the transmission pan would make this job SOOO much easier…

But there is a conflict of interest…YOU want your car to last forever…But the MANUFACTURER feels 10 or 12 years is long enough…That’s how THEY stay in business.


Agree; it’s easier to get answers on how to remove champagne stains out of the upholstery than maintenance-related questions. Having said that most salesman have "loaners’ which they drive for 9 months or so, without doinf much in the way of maintenance. These go on sale as “demonstrators” at reduced price but with a lot of short trip wear on them.

It’s like buying a “floor model” TV that’s been on 10 hours a day for 4 months.


One of the biggest problems is the owners themselves. Most don’t know what an owners manual is or how to use it. I’ve seen a lot of oil changes done at 10K and longer and a lot of customers feel they no longer need to change transmission fluid at all much less the filter. They wait until something goes wrong and they they want it repaired cheaply. A lot of owners take really good care of their vehicles and the others… not at all.


The trend is towards zero maintenance cars, not the other way around. Consumers will abandon high cost to maintain cars. You saw how the housing market collapsed when costs got out of control. The same thing will happen to the car market…There are over 280 different MODELS of motor vehicles sold in the United States. That list is going to shrink dramatically as consumers flock to the proven winners…


Rust would be my candidate. First off it is expensive to repair rust damage and return the body to good cosmetic condition. Second, once rust starts it is insidious. Pretty soon you are patching leakage into the interior; then floor panels start rusting though; and then rust bubbles start lifting the paint. JMHO.


Yes, systematic neglect, or every time a choice has to be made between several cases of beer, that beach party, rock concert tickets or those designer jeans, and maintenance, maintenence always loses.

Years ago i had a neighbor who was going to save money by building his own patio with fancy stones. It took him all summer , while he “forgot” to check and maintain his car, and needed a transmission overhaul in September. So much for saving money!


Actually, the manufacturers generally will build the car to last long enough for the vast majority of owners. They realize that they need to make their customers happy. Unfortunately for those of us who actually care about saving money, that generally is not as long as we would like. For most car companies, that means that they aim for around 95% of their vehicles having no serious problems in the first 10 years, 150,000 miles, believe it or not. Some do a better job at reaching that than others. That sort of a target generally leaves 90+% of their customers satisfied. Those of us who want more life are a bit of an outlier, and adding that often comes at considerable cost. They could make a body last much longer with different metals, but if it costs $1000 more per car and only makes 1 in 50 owners happier, it isn’t worth it to the manufacturer.

The drain plug removal on many cars actually is there to increase happiness of most owners, believe it or not. Yes, it ticks you and me off, but they found too many transmissions were failing after quickie lube places and owners mistakenly drained the transmission when they wanted to change the oil, thus leading to quick accidental destruction of expensive components. Owners blamed the manufacturer, not the person who made the maintenance mistake. Removal of the drain plug eliminated that problem altogether AND made the cars cheaper.

That ticks us off, but it makes the vast majority of owners happier because they aren’t running into those accidental failures.


Some of us can put in drain plugs where the mfg. did not dare to go. sometimes there are ways around phased obsolescence.


I think the long OCI’s(7k-10k) will be death of many of current vehicles as they age. Not that the elongated interval itself is terrible in most cases with a computer.

The majority of owners will never pull the dipstick to check/top the oil that will be consumed. My wife has never lifted the hood in the last 9 years I have known her. When she had her 96 Civic I would top the oil with 2quarts typically when I remembered.


I think the engineering practices of making it difficult to service autos, is a concession to building transmissions that would outlive the rest of the car if the were otherwise. Car makers ARE NOT interested in prolonging the life of their products beyond a perceived number of miles that the public deems necessary. Auto trans, by their expensive and complex nature are the perfect component to end a car’s life. The more complicated the component, the more jobs we support.