By Michael Chotiner
Getting a new car or truck every two or three years used to be emblematic of prosperity — a status symbol of personal and business success.
Status aside, in the 20th century it might have made sense to get a new vehicle every few years when you calculated car payments versus the cost of reliability risks and repair expenses. That was then, this is now.
For one thing, new vehicles are relatively more expensive in today’s dollars, but for another, they’re also much more reliable and longer lasting. And then there’s the hangover from the Great Recession — a lot of business folk are still catching up from the down years, and nobody’s forgetting the lesson that the economy doesn’t always cooperate as they consider taking on new debt. According to an IHS Automotive survey, the typical car on the road today is 11.5 years old.
The good news, many experts report, is that it’s not unreasonable to expect to drive a vehicle manufactured within the last 30 years up to 200,000 miles or more. The keys to achieving this milestone are:
- Choosing a reliable vehicle
- Keeping up with routine maintenance
- Preemptively repairing/replacing parts that wear out on a schedule that can be predicted
The Longest-Running Cars and Trucks
The website iSeeCars.com collected data on the mileage of more than 30 million used cars and trucks listed for sale on its pages during the last year. It studied vehicles for the model years between 1981 and 2010 and ranked various makes and models for longevity of service based on the percentage of the total number for each car on sale with 200,000 miles or more. See their top five cars and trucks below:
|VEHICLES THAT ARE GIVING THE MOST MILES|
|TOP 5 CARS||TOP 5 TRUCKS|
|1. Honda Accord||1. Ford F-250 Super-Duty Pickup|
|2. Subaru Legacy||2. Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Pickup|
|3. Toyota Avalon||3. Chevrolet Suburban SUV|
|4. Honda Odyssey||4. Toyota 4Runner SUV|
|5. Nissan Maxima||5. Ford Expedition SUV|
Maintenance Practices that Keep Vehicles on the Road
Irv Gordon, who bought his 1966 Volvo P-1800 new and has kept it on the road for more than 3 million miles, shares this secret: “Just follow the owner’s manual…Have its scheduled maintenance completed… Do what the manual calls for, not what the dealer calls for.”
Checking and changing fluids according to the manufacturer’s recommendations is perhaps the most effective way to enable a vehicle to reach its mileage potential:
- Use the weight the manufacturer specifies and follow the recommended schedule for oil and filter changes. Most experts recommend synthetics over conventional oils. Although synthetic motor oil is more expensive, it keeps engines cooler and doesn’t break down as quickly as conventional oil. Also, when checking your vehicle’s oil level between changes, smell the dipstick. If the oil on it smells burnt, it could be a symptom that the engine is running hotter than it should. Tell your mechanic about it and get him/her to check out the possible causes.
- Transmission fluid. The proper interval for changing transmission fluid is a matter of some debate. Your dad may tell you that you need to have it done every 15,000 or 30,000 miles. Most manufacturers recommend changing it only every 100,000 to 150,000 miles. Most brands of transmission fluid are bright red—although it comes in other colors — but if your vehicle’s transmission fluid looks brown or darker than the original color, it might be time for a change (or it might not, so consult a trusted mechanic). When you’re checking the transmission fluid level, smell a sample for a burnt odor. It could mean not only that the fluid needs changing but that something else in the transmission needs attention.
- Engine Coolant. Manufacturers’ recommendations vary depending on make and model — from changing coolant every 60,000 to 150,000 miles. The real way to tell if coolant needs changing is to have it tested and look for signs of rust, which can harm the radiator and water pump. Too-frequent coolant changes are a waste of money.
- Brake Fluid. Manufacturers’ recommendations are all over the map on scheduling brake fluid changes. Mercedes-Benz says every 20,000 miles. Volkswagen says 30,000. Chevrolet says 10 years or 150,000 miles. If your vehicle’s maker has a recommendation, follow it.
Apart from maintaining the fluids and repairing or replacing typical wear items in the table below, you can keep your vehicle on the road and maintain its value by attending to these details:
- Wash your vehicle on a regular basis — both the visible body surfaces and the underside to remove dirt and corrosive substances. At least once in a while, wash it yourself by hand and inspect the finish for damage that may lead to rust. Touch up the paint when needed, and wax the body once or twice a year.
- Listen for unusual sounds — knocking, squeaking, pinging, rattling, etc. Consult a trusted mechanic if you can’t figure out what’s causing the noise, and address required repairs.
|TYPICAL MAINTENANCE SCHEDULE FOR WEAR PARTS|
|Part||Typical Repair or Replace Timing||What Happens If You Neglect|
|Best Case||Worst Case|
|Air filter||50,000 mi.||30,000 mi.||Engine can’t suck in enough air for combustion; loses power; may foul combustion chambers with contaminants|
|Alternator||Never||5 years||Battery won’t charge; no power for electricity-dependent functions|
|Automatic transmission||Never||70,000 mi.||Aggressive driving, frequent towing and/or dirty, degraded transmission fluid leaks to premature failure; costs thousands to replace|
|Battery||5 years||3 years||Doesn’t hold charge; vehicle won’t start|
|Belt, serpentine||Never but don’t
count on it
|6 years/75,000 mi.||Alternator, power steering pump, water pump, air conditioning compressor, air pump won’t work|
|Belt, timing||Never but don’t
|8 years/100,000 mi.||Engine is severely damaged|
|Brake calipers, wheel cylinder, master cylinder||100,000 mi.||2nd brake job||Brakes stick; fail altogether|
|Brake pads||5 years/50,000 mi.||3 years/30,000 mi.||Metal-to-metal contact damages rotors; additional cost for machining|
|Clutch||100,000 mi.||Sooner||Frequent towing and “riding the clutch” can lead to premature failure|
|Fuel pump||Never||5 years||Gets plugged up by rust, dirt in fuel tank; engine won’t run|
|Headlight, tail light bulbs||7 years||5 years||Can’t see in dark; others can’t see you;
|Muffler||100,000 mi. or more||Sooner||Loud, unpleasant noise; exhaust leaks into vehicle; continual exposure to road salts and moisture can lead to premature failure|
|Shocks and struts||Never||50,000||Handling is degraded|
|Spark plugs||8 years/100,000 mi||Sooner if fouled||Engine runs rough; misfires|
|Tires||7 years||5 years||Composite material degrades; worn tires are dangerous|
Michael Chotiner has years of experience running his own business and relying on his vehicle to keep his business running smoothly. Michael advocates staying on top of the maintenance schedule for your vehicle’s oil changes and other routine practices that are often overlooked. Home Depot’s oil maintenance products can be researched online.