Repairs and Maintenance: New Car vs Older Cars

One of life’s pleasures is owning a car. We take great pride in keeping it clean inside and out and selecting just the right air freshener.

And for many car owners, there is tremendous satisfaction in doing car repairs and maintenance themselves. The ability to truly roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty while taking things apart under the hood is a pleasure and a privilege. This gives the car owner the satisfaction of knowing they are truly independent.

But there are many differences between cars manufactured today versus those from many years ago. There are more than just cosmetic differences to cars manufactured today. It is these differences in today’s cars that can have DIY enthusiasts questioning if it is still feasible to tinker in the garage.

Let’s delve into some of the difference between newer cars and older cars and how these differences might affect how you take care of your car at home.

Differences between the new and the old

Let’s start with the most obvious difference between newer cars and older cars. Computers.

Starting back in the 1970s and through the 1980s, car manufacturers started to use electronics in car engines to help pinpoint problems. This was due to increased standards and regulations for emissions. These early diagnostic tools were used to regulate fuel and adjust emissions to help combat pollution in the air.

If a sensor was not functioning properly it was fairly easy to know where the problem was coming from. This made it pretty easy to know what part exactly needed to be fixed.

At this time, most manufacturers used their own system of sensors and diagnostic criteria. It was not uniform from one company to the next.

However, by the mid-1990s there was a uniform set of diagnostic criteria used by all car manufacturers. This was achieved b the development of a standard plug and a uniform set of diagnostic criteria. Now all cars could be checked the same way no matter where you went.

These days all cars have computers under the hood. The computer can tell you what is wrong with your car by simply plugging it into a computer.  

The issue some DIY repair enthusiasts have is twofold. The first part is that most people do not have a plug and diagnostic computer at home as a repair shop would. It is possible to purchase a diagnostic tool for home use though. These tools can be a simple 50.00 plug that works with your smartphone and can range up to 200.00.

The second concern DIYers have is that using a diagnostic tool can take the fun out of solving the problem by yourself. The diagnostic tools will tell you exactly what is malfunctioning and where it is in the car.

Now, another issue with newer cars and their onboard computer systems is the computer itself! The computer system inside a newer car has 70 or more microprocessors all running on 5 volts of power. If one of these systems is misfiring, it is next to impossible to find out which one it is.

This reason is one of the biggest concerns with trying to repair a car that has been in an accident or buying a used car that you do not know the history of.

Additionally, these diagnostic computers are only helpful if you know what the diagnostic code actually means. Without this info, you will know there is a problem, but you won’t know where or what the problem is. This makes DIY repair very difficult.


Another difference between the older model cars and newer cars is plastic. Most newer model cars use plastic. There is plastic on the outside -bumpers, light covers, etc- and plastic on the inside.

The plastic on the inside is a factor for DIY enthusiasts because it covers all the parts. In order to get to any of the working parts, plastic covers need to be removed. You need to take care when opening and removing these plastic covers because you do not want to damage them since you will need to put them back on.

With an older model car, you simply pop the hood and there you have it. It is very easy to see all the parts of the car clearly with an older car. And you do not have to worry about breaking any plastic parts.

What can you do with both newer models and older models?

There are still plenty of repairs and routine maintenance you can do at home with both a newer model car and an older one.  

1. Let’s start with an oil change.

Although there are different types of motor oil available, all cars need oil changes. Check which kind is recommended for your particular car. Some newer models use a synthetic blend that allows the car to go 3-6 months before needing an oil change.

No matter the age of your car, an oil change remains the same. Changing the oil is often the first thing a new DIYer will learn. So, it does not matter if your car is 1 month old or 50 years old, you can change the oil at home.

2. Don’t forget the battery

Another DIY repair project for the home enthusiast is replacing the car battery. This is something that should be replaced every 5-7 years. It is simple to pop the hood and see what type of battery you have and then purchase a new one. Take the old one out, drop in the new one and connect it and you are all set. Just be sure to dispose of the old battery properly according to your town’s regulations.

3. What about filters?

Yes, you can change filters in cars no matter how old the car may be. Cars have various filters for many different reasons. A quick trip to the automotive store and you will be able to replace these filters at home by yourself. Clean filters help the car to run efficiently and smoothly. This is an easy DIY project for any type of car.

4. Turn up the volume

While sound systems are not exactly critical to the efficient running of your car, they do add enjoyment to driving. Any car no matter how new or old can have a great sound system. Installing a sound system is something for the DIY enthusiast to tackle at home.

The beauty of adding a sound system is that you are only limited by your imagination. You can custom design a system for your car and spend hours happily installing it by yourself.


Obviously, cars have changed over the years. There are differences in technology involving sensors, computers, and microprocessors. There are differences between older and newer models in how issues are diagnosed. And there are differences in how many parts are under the hood and what they need to work.

Ultimately though, there are still many parts to car maintenance that owners can enjoy doing themselves. Cars will always need oil changed, tire air pressure checked and filters changed. They will need fluids checked and topped off. And for added enjoyment, while driving, any car repair and maintenance DIY enthusiast can design and install their own sound system.

There is always plenty to do in the garage. Start repairing your car today with a service manual.

About Chad Ina

Chad Ina

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