There are plenty of good reasons to keep a car a long time. Maybe it’s all you can afford, or you just plain love what you’ve got. I drive an 11-year-old Acura TL with a little over 200,000 miles on it. The major components have been fine, but once I hit that milestone, the bits you’d never even think about breaking that seem to be falling apart.
My car is hardly a crapcan. We’re talking about a 2005 Acura TL six speed manual, and I love it dearly. It is extremely smooth, quiet, efficient, and one of the cleanest looking four-doors of its era. The seats are comfortable, the transmission’s satisfying as a perfectly crisped strip of bacon.
oThe simple reason I still have it: I don’t think I could do better for the money I’d get selling it.
Ordering stick shift on a 2005 TL included a factory sway bar and Brembo brakes, and the original owner of my car was kind enough to spec the navigation system and “A-Spec” body kit which makes it the among most desirable of mid-2000's dad-mobiles. It’s an extremely underrated car.
I bought this TL with about 160,000 miles on it in 2012 and passed 200,000 not too long ago. Since I’ve owned it, all preventative maintenance has been performed precisely on schedule. That’s not too boastful now, is it?
Aside from fluid, filter changes and tire rotations the repairs I’ve had to make have been minimal. At one point some little gasket at the power steering pump aged out (a common problem on these cars), the struts that hold up the hood no longer hold pressure (I use a piece of an IKEA desk to hold up the hood now), the throttle position sensor died, a pulley got squealy, and now there are some bushings that could probably stand to be swapped out. The timing belt and water pump were changed before I set out for California last Fall. I’ve made exactly three “modifications;” yellow fog light bulbs, an iPhone charger and BF Goodrich Sport Comp-2 performance tires.
My point being, the car has been remarkably reliable for anything approaching the distance to the moon on its odometer. And since the car itself isn’t exceptional per se, I take its resilience as a point of pride.
Then the weird stuff started breaking.
The Gas Cap
While driving normally, the car made a loud beep and spit “TIGHTEN FUEL CAP” onto the dashboard display. At first I was just excited that my car even had a warning for such a thing. “We sure are living in the future,” I thought as I pulled over, popped the fuel door and cranked down the gas cap.
The light went away, but came back the following day. And after 36 hours it was haunting me with regularity.
I scoured the forums. “Search: gas cap light.” “Search: gas cap broken.” “Search: y u no work gas cap.”
Most responses were something like; “Did you try tightening it?”
I called a local independent Honda mechanic. “Did you try tightening it?”
Yes, of course, but when I told him how old the car was he knew the issue right away. “Get a new gas cap.”
Apparently the gasket on my cap had crusted up to the point of failure and the car’s computer, which expects a certain pressure in the fuel tank, didn’t like that. It didn’t look obviously spent to my naked eye, but sure enough swapping in a new OEM cap resolved the problem. And that’s how I learned that a gas cap can go bad.
The Oil Filler Cap
During a routine oil change I noticed the oil filler cap, that big knob you unscrew to put fresh oil in, was an irregular shape. Like somebody had taken a bite out of the threads.
Had some previous shop dropped it? Was there a piece of plastic floating around in my engine?
No way to know. The car sounded healthy enough, and yet my filler cap definitely had a chip knocked out of it like the gap between someone’s teeth. I ordered a new one, installed it, and to this day I still wake up in a cold sweat every night wondering how the hell a bite-shaped chunk came out of my filler cap threads.
The Oil Drain Plug
During another home-garage oil change I noticed my drain plug had been replaced with one you opened by hand, like a wing nut. Which I’d never seen or heard of before. Knowing the last change was performed by a shop I immediately suspected those jamokes of stripping the plug and replacing it with this mysterious contraption.
Unfortunately said shop was 1,500 miles away, and since the work had been performed weeks ago I didn’t think I’d have much luck seeking restitution. However the next time I got an oil change at another shop, a tech told me it actually wasn’t uncommon for drain plug threads to wear over time.
The new shop agreed with my assessment that the current drain plug was substandard, and leaking a little, so they rethreaded the oil pan with a slightly larger one. They seemed to think the new plug will be viable for “plenty more oil changes.” We’ll see. Luckily a new oil pan isn’t that expensive or hard to swap when it comes to that.
I still don’t really think threads should “wear out” if they’re used carefully and correctly, but if you’re not going to take care of every oil change yourself you can’t control how your vehicle is treated when it’s under the knife. So here I am with a re-threaded oil pan.
“The Bluetooth Vampire”
All of a sudden, my battery kept dying. Was I leaving something on? Was the alternator weak? Had the battery simply had it? It was a decade old, after all, and probably due for a replacement.
No normal symptoms of any of those issues was coming up, though. I replaced the battery anyway and the dang thing kept expiring. But with plenty of power while the car was running, I figured there must be some vampire-like malfunction secretly sucking electricity while the car was parked.
After hours on forums I had a hypothesis; the Bluetooth module that connects the car to a cell phone. I disconnected it, and hey!, the issue went away. I replaced the Bluetooth unit because I actually like making phone calls through my car, and more than that, I hate having buttons that don’t work.
Of course based on what I paid for that part and the amount of phone calls I’ve made with it, I think the smart money would have just left it disconnected and used my smartphone on speaker like a normal person.
The Engine Mounts
While the car was at a tire and service center getting fitted for fresh rubber, the techs gave me a list of things they noticed and recommended I keep an eye on. One was the drain plug issue, the other was “weak engine mounts.”
“The engine mounts are basically bushings that hold the motor in place,” the tech said. “Except they’re filled with hydraulic fluid. When they fail, you can feel it as difficulty shifting since the transmission and engine might not be lined up exactly as they’re supposed to be. Have you noticed anything like that?”
I told him I hadn’t. “Yours aren’t broken, we just felt a little more play in them than is optimal. Keep an eye on it, bring it back any time and we can check up on it again.”
Naturally I watched some videos on swapping engine mounts on YouTube. It looks like a bigger pain in the ass than my land lord is going to let me deal with in the basement of my apartment building, so I’ll have to hope they hold out a little longer as-is.
Coolant Expansion Tank Cap
“Ah crap, dude, is your radiator cracked,” a friend asked as we were casually taking in the grandeur of my TL’s plastic engine cover.
No, thank goodness, it wasn’t, but the little plastic cap that sits on top of the coolant expansion tank had developed a hairline fracture, causing a few tails of dried coolant to appear in the engine bay. Too many heat cycles, I guess?
The part is $1.48. I really should order that.
Air Intake Hose
I’m not talking about the air filter here, I know those need to be swapped after a handful of oil changes. The actual rubbery hose connecting the box with the filter to the throttle body and intake manifold went bad.
While gently detailing my engine bay, I was rather startled to inadvertently put my finger through the normally-supple rubber hose that runs a quarter of the way across my under-hood area.
Hard to imagine it was damaged by too-vigorous a cleaning, or if it was, it was on its way out anyway. But I was freaking out– Los Angeles air entering the car’s engine without first going through a filter was a terrifying prospect. (Yet here I am, sucking it down all day every day.) How long had this bypass existed? How much soot and filth had my poor engine inhaled?
I called every auto parts store within a five mile radius, which is a lot of shops, and finally found an O’Reilly’s with the hose in stock.
Wrapping tape around the tear in my car’s respiratory system, I gently drove to the store and tried to swap hoses in the parking lot. I only had to loose two fingerprints before realizing the engine bay was way too hot to make that happen, but I got the part replaced later that night.
The Damn Cup Holder Cover
The weirdest, and most recent, failure on my 200,000 mile TL was the destruction of the cup holder cover.
My car has two cupholders directly behind the shifter. Like many cars, there’s an elegant garage-door-roller-style cover you can pull over them to give the interior a tidier look. The other day I went to recycle an empty Starbucks cup, slid the cover back over the vacant cupholders... and only the handle came out, leaving the actual cover in the bowels of the center console.
I was crestfallen. The cabin looks so much better with the cupholders covered! But it would be hard to justify the expense and time of finding this replacement piece and installing it.
I really don’t want this part to be broken. But since the vehicle’s safety and performance aren’t affected, I’ll probably go ahead and try to move on. Can you picture me grimacing? [Do it.]
In a few months time I’ll either forget it ever could close or I’ll have been driven insane enough by it that I’ll sack up and sort it out.
I’m proud of how long the car has soldiered on under my care and I have a tremendous emotional attachment to the machine. But the inescapable reality is that each component has a life span. For every little rubber hose that breaks... there’s another little rubber hose that could break.
Nevertheless, my plan is still to keep the car running as long as I possibly can. Forever even, if I can afford to. I’ll just be taking an extra close look at all the bits I can during regular detailing. And stay on top of every service the factory manual calls for.
If you want your car to make it to 200,000 and beyond, you should too.