Your trusty old jalopy or classic car may have tons of character, but how safe is it to drive? Statistically, as cars age, they become more dangerous. For more modern cars, innovations in automotive technology — from airbags to accident avoidance technology — have continued to make vehicles safer for motorists. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drivers of cars more than 18 years old have a 71% greater chance of dying in a car crash than drivers whose cars are 3 years old or newer. That’s a pretty scary statistic.

So drivers of aging cars take heed: here are 5 serious warning signs that your old car’s no longer safe to drive.

Worn or damaged tires

Bald or worn out tires can prove deadly, especially when driving on wet roads where hydroplaning is a very real risk. When a tire’s treads are so worn down that they’re no longer able to effectively direct water away from the tire, the tire loses its ability to grip the road.

Other tire issues (low air pressure, uneven wear, cracks, punctures, or bulges) may indicate something else serious is afoot, like bad wheel alignment or even a suspension problem. In any of these cases, tires should be evaluated by a licensed professional and repaired or replaced immediately.

The car has an open recall notice 

The National Safety Council reports that 1 in 4 vehicles on the road today have an open or un-repaired recall. If you’re not sure if your car’s been issued a recall notice, you should check its status online as soon as possible. And if your car has an item under recall, schedule a repair immediately.

Worn or damaged brakes 

A car’s braking system wears down over time and eventually parts of it must be repaired or replaced. Newer cars typically have sensors that alert drivers to a worn braking mechanism. But in older cars, you may have to watch and listen for the telltale signs (or rely on a qualified auto mechanic to do the job for you). Beware of:

  • A pulsating brake pedal during light/normal braking
  • A steering wheel that pulls to one side during braking
  • Longer stopping distances
  • Squealing, grinding, or scraping noises during braking
  • An activated brake warning light

Major frame rust

Rust is not just an eyesore: get enough of it, and it can greatly impact a car’s overall structural integrity. Visible corrosion on the body panels, especially in seam areas (like along the fenders or around the bottom of a door), can indicate serious issues. Thinning metal can snap off or crack under impact, compromising your safety (and the safety of other motorists). Rusted brake and gas lines should also be of great concern and addressed immediately.

Unsafe and/or outdated interior elements

We take much of a car’s standard interior for granted in modern automobiles (seat belts! head rests!). But many of these very basic features simply don’t exist in much older cars. Think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car with dangerous interior elements (like a protruding steering wheel hub). And try to avoid cars that lack essential safety features like head restraints (they became mandatory only after 1969) or standardized, 3-point seatbelt harnesses.

But no matter what you drive, remember: if you’re worried about the health of your car before, let’s say, a long road trip or a big move, take it to a trusted mechanic for an inspection. You’ll feel way more confident knowing if your wheels can handle the journey.

Find out more about insuring an older vehicle.

Safe and smart | Car safety

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about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.