You've got a good car. You don't have to do much besides put gas in it. Then one day you break down. It usually can't be at a worse time. And it can cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars!
You can do so much to avoid it, too. You don't have to run bald and beautiful tires. You don't have to let a leaky water pump slide too long. You don't have to wait until a belt breaks. When you break down, you can't shake your fist at the sky. Fix small problems now, so they won't become big problems later.
A modern car should last well in excess of 100,000 miles, with mileages of more than 250,000 being common. This is mileage without major drivetrain repairs. There are a number of components which do not last as long, however. Knowing what these components are and when they are likely to fail, and then fixing them before they leave you stranded, can save you big bucks.
There are four vital engine parts that wear out way before the engine does:
Your water pump can fail in two ways: the bearings can fail and eventually either freeze up or throw the belt off. Or its seals can fail and leak engine coolant.
The alternator, which keeps the battery charged and powers the electric equipment on the car can fail in a number of ways.
Your starter one day will start to drag, click, or refuse to work.
Your fuel pump can fail with little warning, too.
All the above parts will fail before 150,000 to 200,000 miles. Their bearings, brushes, rubber parts, and more just don't last that long. By the time you hit 200,000 miles you will have replaced all four of them.
Other parts to be aware of:
Many cars have a timing belt. If it breaks it can destroy your engine in certain cars. Timing belts should be replaced every 60,000 miles. They may break any time after 60,000 miles or 7 years. They rarely much more than 100,000 miles.
Bad CV joints on front wheel drive cars won't destroy your engine, but they're expensive to replace. CV joints have rubber boots which keep the grease in them and keep dirt out. These boots are supposed to be replaced and new grease put in the CV joint every 50,000 miles. If you do this, the axles should last 150,000+ miles with 50,000 mile services. In addition, it's important to check the 4 rubber boots regularly, especially before a long trip. They'll destroy themselves fairly rapidly, they will start making a clicking noise on turns, and then you have to replace the axles.
Most of the time when you see a car on the side of the road it's because of something made of rubber. Rubber (like your tires and belts) wears out with time and mileage. Something made of rubber that is over 10 years old is likely to be bad no matter how much it's used.
Radiator hoses as well as the often ignored heater and bypass hoses can fail after 50,000 miles. This can overheat your engine, causing serious damage: especially in this day of aluminum engine parts.
Your engine also has a thermostat that can stick shut and overheat it. If you ever blow a hose or get the engine hot, the thermostat can be damaged. It works for awhile then sticks shut, overheating the engine again. It's not a bad idea to replace the thermostat whenever you replace the water pump or when you change all the hoses.
Transmission cooler lines, especially flexible rubber ones, can leak , as well as many other vital seals and gaskets. It's a good idea to look for leaks and discover their source. Also notice any loss of fluids when you check your fluids - this should be done monthly or at least every few thousand miles.
When your oil pressure light goes on, shut the engine off. Your engine can run with that light on about as long as you can live without a heartbeat. An exception is if you are slamming on brakes hard or cornering fast. In that case, stay off the gas. If the light goes off quickly, continue on, take it easy, and add oil as soon as possible.
If your temperature light comes on, it's important, too. Turning on the heater can provide additional cooling. (Your heater is just a small radiator under the dash.) Stop to let your car cool off and check out the problem. This can save you a lot of money down the road.
Listen to your vehicle, too. Any new squeals, taps, knocks, or rattles can be a warning sign.