Ask Josh: How Long Will a Pistol Last?

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How long do guns last?

Today’s question comes to use from the general TTAG reader base. I recently did three articles with the P365, M17, and Colt M45A1. These reviews weren’t so much out-of-the-box write ups, rather they were 15,000-25,000 round updates. The comments in these articles yielded some confusion, so let’s take a look at how long you can expect a pistol lasts.

The first thing that I need to address here is that some people thought that the guns in those reviews weren’t ‘used’ enough or didn’t have what they believed to be enough wear. I don’t know how to answer that except to say that I don’t treat my guns like sh*t and you shouldn’t either.

How long do guns last?

What counts as used “enough?” Is firing a gun 25,000 rounds enough to somehow wear off all the finish? Is it enough to wear out the rails in the slide? What about the springs?

The question here comes down to the fact that wear is relative to the gun and the wear on the slide and frame is usually unrelated to internal wear.

The finish of a modern gun is usually quite durable. I’ve had some I was less than impressed with, however I’ve never had a gun scale up wear in direct correlation with use. Guns that are carried are typically subject to humidity and sweat, and if in a leather holster, this moisture is easy to trap against the metal of the gun, causing corrosion. Many modern guns don’t have too much of an issue with this, being made of polymer and extremely durable surface coat finishes.

Guns are like anything in that they wear the most on raised edges. Just like that countertop you constantly bump at home, the high points will begin to wear. That’s normal depending on the finish.

Some of the most durable metal finishes I’ve seen out there are on GLOCK brand GLOCKs, especially the Gen 5. I’m extremely impressed with mine and it has stood up to everything I’ve thrown at it, looking brand new. The Gen 5 has a slick, almost Teflon-like coating on it that’s somewhat shiny. This is different as compared to the older generations with more matte finished slides. I always found those would wear a bit faster.

How long do guns last?

For the most part you can expect a very, very long service life from most modern pistols made from high quality materials. I expect my Colt M45A1 will outlast me even if I keep shooting it at 15,000 rounds a year. The .45 ACP is one of the lowest pressure modern rounds out there and I don’t doubt it will continue to function as-is for decades with no real part replacements.

This is where the numbers get messy for many people. There is more information in high-count 1911’s than even GLOCKs. Some pistols used in the military competition teams get hundreds of thousands of rounds put through them with no ill effect.

Most 1911’s out here just need a new recoil spring every 75,000 rounds or so, but I know many guys who change them at just 5000 or at the start of each competition season. To each their own. The actual wear there is never as much as people think.

Many high-volume competitors I know consider the lifespans of a complete gun at about 50,000 rounds, after which they begin to swap out parts, starting with springs. Barrels on handguns pretty much never wear out and a loss of accuracy is usually the result of overall wear and not wear on the barrel itself. A new recoil spring usually solves that for most people.

How long do guns last?

Frame and slide cracking is quite rare. I’ve seen bulged barrels on low-end guns more than I’ve seen cracked frames. An old friend had an early gen GLOCK 35 that he shot in matches until the frame cracked at the trigger pins. GLOCK replaced the frame for him immediately and he was back at it. As far as I know, he still has the new frame and likely has about 150,000 rounds on it.

You hear all the time. ‘Oh, this pistol had frame cracking in the military testing’ but what you aren’t told is that many of these are prototypes or early run models with specific features. There are few, if any, modern guns from reputable makers that suffer these issues. The horror stories you here are comprised of 99.99999^10% made-up forum bullsh*t.

Parts wear on your handgun is likely blown out of proportion and you shouldn’t really be worrying about wearing your handgun out at all if you’re an average gun owner, shooting something like 100 to 500 rounds a year. The majority of any wear in this case will be cosmetic and come from the holster or the bag you carry it in.

How long do guns last?

Cosmetic wear becomes functional wear when corrosion develops. If your gun isn’t looking new that’s fine. However if you can’t fire your gun because humid lint built up in the slide and frame, you are now going to have an issue.

I clean my guns more often due to carrying them than from shooting. I’m not at the range every day, but my pistols are collecting dust and sweat daily on my hip. I try to take them apart and get the lint and dust out of my carry gun at least weekly. I do a detailed cleaning every eight weeks or so. This will probably vary depending on your region or clothing choice.

How long do guns last?

Very little of the wear you’ll see on a pistol is caused by actually shooting it. Guns are meant to be shot. If you’re concerned that your gun is wearing prematurely, perhaps take it to a gunsmith and have them diagnose where the failures are happening.

Chances are any problems you’re seeing have little to do with wear and are likely associated with ammunition choice or magazines.

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42 COMMENTS

  1. “…are on GLOCK brand GLOCKs”

    What?

    As opposed to Sig brand Glocks? (A better gun BTW).

    Or HK brand Glocks? (Also a better gun).

    • Youthful slang refers to all semiautomatic handguns as Glocks, which is a generic reference. Like Kleenex has become generic. Hence, the reference to GLOCK brand GLOCKs so the uninitiated will understand.

    • the distinction he is making is actual Glocks made from the manufacture compared to the after market companies(80% lowers, custom slides, etc.) That’s my take on it.

      • Well. . . the OTHER take is that only Glock makes Glocks, whereas everyone else makes copies of Glocks. For example:

        Smith & Glock
        SIGlock
        Heckler & Glock
        Glockrus
        Rock (or RuGlock)
        Springlock
        SCClock

        And so on. Some manufacturers add gimmicks to their ‘Glocks’ to make them more shootier than real Glocks, such as grip safeties, or interesting take-down levers, or pieces of felt in the trigger mechanism, or external on/off switches, maybe a bit of added ribbing to enhance shooting pleasure for you and your partner, but deep down they’re all just Glockopies.

        Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery (IF you cough up the patent royalties, of course).

        • Actually Glock copied Heckler & Koch.
          H&K made the VP 90 in 1970.
          The Glock 17 came out 12 years later in 1982.
          Heckler & Koch didn’t care, they made guns.
          All sorts of guns including a polymer pistol.
          Gaston Glock made curtain rods.
          One day he decided that he knew how to make a gun.
          The tolerances were so loose they ate just about any ammo.
          Occasionally they blow up.
          One way or another they go boom.

        • Rob S, the the VP70 has almost nothing in common with a Glock other than the frame material. It was a poor design that no one copied. More of a pistol sized sub gun (in all the bad ways). Closest common thing on the market today would be a HiPoint as they are both blowback. 🙂

  2. I still shoot a JP Sauer, Sohn & Sohn Model 1913 made about 1919 just fine. It has wear from the holster it had been in, some dings from probably being dropped, and has a portion of the bakelite grips that broke off. It fires and functions, and I doubt any of the springs have ever been changed since before WWII. I found some old stock new in the box springs for it a few years ago, and haven’t changed them since the current springs are still good to go.

    If you take care of something that was manufactured with quality, it will likely out last you.

  3. There are guns out there that are as old as the country and some even further back than that. Some from the civil war and some from the revolutionary war. At the same time, there are Glocks out there that are only a few years old and have been chewed up by a dog to the point of being completely unusable. It’s like anything else in life. If you take care of it then it will last. If you treat it like dirt, it wont. Even though some have gone kaboom, the overwhelming majority don’t. Those that do are pretty much caused by user error or bad ammo. Long guns with wood stocks don’t like house fires or flooding. But that’s what gun smiths and MidwayUSA/Brownells are for. Aside from outright destruction and basic neglect, the odds are very good that your guns will outlive you.

    You can overheat your barrel and end up causing it to lose accuracy. But like anything else…you should know what these machines are capable of and what they are not.

    Guns last as long as they last.

  4. Ssshhhhhhh! Don’t tell Democrats about this. They think magazines are single-use items. Let’s let them think that firearms are similarly perishable!

  5. I’m holding a revolver (yes I know this was about autos) in my hand that was built in 1887. It’s showing its age, but it is still very accurate and locks up tightly. I have no clue what the round count might be as I inherited from my Stepdad who inherited from his grandmother.

  6. I can’t affordably replace my ammo if I go shooting. So my gats will last forever…unless prices drop precipitously. Or if we have a “real” insurrection/revolution!

  7. You said, “Some of the most durable metal finishes I’ve seen out there are on GLOCK brand GLOCKs.” Aha, that means I was right all along! You see, a self-proclaimed “gun expert” on Quora swore to me that Glock slides are made of plastic, not steel. I’d always thought they were steel (despite Bruce Willis’s bullshit line on “Die Hard 2” about a mythical “plastic Glock that can pass through any metal detector unnoticed”), but having never owned a Glock myself, I deferred to the (presumed) greater experience of the self-proclaimed gun expert on Quora who swore that Glock slides were plastic and that everything in Glocks is plastic except the barrel. Now it turns out I was right, and that Glock slides are made of steel. If only I could remember the name of the idiot on Quora who told me they were plastic.

    • “You see, a self-proclaimed “gun expert” on Quora swore to me that Glock slides are made of plastic, not steel.”

      I believe that is true on the new .22lr trainer Glock has…

    • Ahem! The mistaken belief that Glock slides are made out of plastic stems from a simple misunderstanding. The only Glock model that does not have a steel slide is the Seven, a porcelain gun made in Germany. It doesn’t show up on your airport X-ray machines here, and it costs more than what you make in a month. As the Seven is highly praised in the tight-knit circle inhabited solely by operators who only operate operationally, its reputation has slopped over onto regular, cooking-grade Glocks, taking with it the belief that ALL of the slides are porcelain. Or plastic. Or that stuff they make DVD jewel cases out of, which is a transparent alien metal of some sort, but definitely not of this earth.

  8. “I expect my Colt M45A1 will outlast me even if I keep shooting it at 15,000 rounds a year.”

    An over 5,000-dollar per year ammo budget for ONE GUN.

    *sobbing pitifully* 🙁

  9. My guns last 6 months maximum . At that point I tell my wife I need a new one. As worn out guns have no value I just keep them. So far I’ve got a good collection going.

  10. Mine would have lasted damn near forever if not for that unfortunate incident when I was moving my gun safe to the other side of Lake Superior and the canoe capsized right over the deepest spot in the lake.

  11. I fully expect my stainless Ruger, S&W, and Taurus revolvers to last long enough for my great-grandchildren to use.

    My semi autos not so much, but my wife likes them, so I pretend I like them too…. 🙂
    I know a LOT of people that own guns, but no one that has a Glock. Weird, isn’t it?

    possum said:
    “Ketchagumie never gives up it’s dead I’ve heard.”

    I get a lump in my throat and goose bumps every time I hear this song…
    Gordon Lightfoot hit it just right.

    “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
    Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’
    The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
    When the skies of November turn gloomy”

    Dammmm, now I gotta get some of my Wild Turkey… 🙁

    • Having stood on its shore in the UP from time to time, I get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I think of Gitche Gumee. Alas, it is a long way to there from metro Detroit.

  12. My oldest firearm is a shotgun my father bought in the early fifties. A double barrel 12 gauge that kicks like a Missouri mule. I have guns from the mid and late 60’s I received from my father and guns from the mid 70’s and later I purchased. All of which still shoot fine. The life of a firearm is directly attributed to how well the owner took care of it. Just like any tool.

  13. As for barrels I have a Colt 1911 that has a Wilson Combat barrel.
    My groups started to open up a bit at 75 feet.
    I called Wilson Combat and asked how long does their .45 WC barrel last?
    They said between 300,000 to 500,000 rounds.
    A gunsmith went over the gun and tightened the frame to slide fit.
    My groups are better then ever.
    I used to shoot about 1000 rounds a month through that gun.
    Now I’ll throw 100 downrange, .45 isn’t cheap – .78 a round.

  14. How long a pistol lasts often depends on who made it and if it has quality parts in it. Here are just some of the pistols that failed early in their life span.

    I have seen pictures of off brand .380 plasticky pistols crack their frames after a very low round count but to be fair older designed pistols were often real turds as well. The Smith & Wesson M39 was a real piece of cheaply made shit. In 1972 George Nonte of Shooting Times magazine put 5,500 rounds through an M39 and it lost part of both rear frame rails (made of junk aluminum and a very low grade junk aluminum) and it broke is junk cast safety.

    The prestigious and expensive Walther P88 (2 of them) broke their aluminum frame rails at only 7,000 rounds. U.S. Army Test Trials

    The original aluminum frame Ruger p85 9mm pistols (2 of them) in the U.S. Army test trials had so many problems Ruger himself gave up trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with them and had to contact out to two engineers to redesign the pistol

    I had a modern Radom Mag 98 9mm pistol that cracked its frame shooting relatively cream puff loads. Again a junk aluminum frame.

    The Colt Commander pistol in .45 acp was author failure of a pistol as it consistently cracked its aluminum frame.

    The Kel Tec .32 auto pistol had a long sorry history of problems.

    Early Glock m19 pistols broke trigger springs and Glock competition long slide guns broke off the end of the barrel where the barrel was ported. Glock had extractor failures and had passive firing pin failures. Glock lied between their teeth and called their recalls “upgrades” as if the average Glock owner was too stupid to know the difference (unfortunately Glock was correct the Glock customer owners were indeed that stupid)

    Early Sig 320/m18 pistols went off if dropped.

    Early Kimber 1911 pistols using a junk MIM cast slide stop often broke them

    Colts use of MIM cast parts in their 1911 pistol turned out to be a real disaster and so many pistols were sent back to Colt that they then started mixing junk MIM cast parts with forged parts.

    The current trend is to use as many junk MIM cast parts as possible which are well known to have very high failure rates. I have spoken to some local pistols smiths that make a living out of replacing junk MIM cast parts with quality forged parts.

    I had a German Luger crack its breach block.

    I had an M1 Carbine crack its gas housing

    I hand an SA M1A wear out its sight detents on the junk cast iron receiver.

    I had several original Colt Pythons wear out their hands at very low round counts.

    Colt already had a recall on its new fake recreation of the Colt Python (its a real turd complete with junk MIM cast parts and they charge a lot of money for this piece of shit)

    I had an extractor break on a pre-64 Winchester M70 one of the most overrated rifles ever made.

    I have personally seen Remington M700 Bolt handles fall off if bumped hard as well as their extractors break off.

    I had a Smith & Wesson M29 peen back its internal ejector rod due to its recoil with ammo using 240 grain bullets.

    I could go on with this but the point being made is that guns are not as indestructible as most people think.

    • all those gunsmiths and their fabricating, just like you continue to do so. jwm doxxed your jeffro ass years ago, buckeye bucko.

      • Do you suppose he gets paid by the letter, or just likes to hear in his head what his fingers are yapping on about?

    • “I could go on with this”.

      No, shorten it a bit, we have short attention spans.
      MIM has been used with mixed results for about a century.
      The “Walker” trigger was fine until Remington went to MIM parts.
      Source: Mike Walker.
      Short but to the point.

  15. I’ve read that the RIA M200/M206 revolvers have a rep for using parts that aren’t all that durable. None heat-treated steel and some non-steel MIM parts that wear under heavy use. Saw a vid of a guy who put 3500 rounds through an M200 in a year’s time – admittedly a very high round count for anybody besides Jerry Miculek- and found that the ejector star (I hope that’s the right term) had worn the the point that the cylinder would no longer index properly.

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