[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for comprehensiveness since it’s original posting in October 2015.]
I get multiple calls weekly asking how long a car will last. While it is always just a guess, I base my answers on listener feedback and personal experience.
Not all that long ago, people targeted 100,000 miles as their goal to drive their car because that is about the mileage you could expect before having a major failure. However, cars have gotten much better, technology has improved, and people are doing more maintenance these days. This is the reason the average age of cars on the road in the United States has reached an all-time high.
Simply put, cars are just better these days. Can you get 200,000 miles out of your car with no major issues? Some will, some won’t, but your behavior and maintenance practices can have a major effect on this.
Get familiar with the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.
Normally, these are included in the owner’s manual in the glove box. Automakers base these recommendations on a lot of testing and should be heeded. Often service departments recommend more frequent maintenance than the factory does, but that is how they make money. It is hard to over-maintain a vehicle, but you don’t want to waste money either. If you stick with the manufacturer’s recommendations, you cannot go wrong.
The importance of lubricants.
The single most important thing you can do is change your oil and filter on a regular basis based on your mileage. Again, automakers test to find out not only when oil should be changed, but also which weight of oil is best for your engine. Some people still think the heavier the oil the better, but those days are gone. As we get more horsepower out of smaller engines, the tolerances inside the engine are much tighter and heavy oil will not flow through. Follow what your carmaker says.
Other fluids are important, too.
Your vehicle’s coolant level is critical in both summer and winter. In summer, coolant keeps your car from overheating; in the winter it keeps the engine block from freezing. Brake fluid is critical to ensure your braking system is working properly. Your power steering fluid is important and should be watched also. Finally, transmission fluid is extremely important too. This is a fluid that should be changed, usually every 30,000 miles or so but refer to your car’s maintenance guide and be diligent with changes.
Timing belt or chain?
Do you know which your car has? If not, find out today. Call a dealer service department or google the information. If you have a timing belt, it is going to have to be changed and your maintenance guide will tell you when. Generally, most need to be changed at 90,000 miles or so, but it varies by manufacturer. Be aware, if you fail to change the belt and it breaks while you are driving, you are probably looking at having to get a new engine, and no warranty will cover this. If your vehicle has a timing chain, no action is required.
Be in tune with your car.
By this, I mean pay attention to changes in your car’s behavior. A drop in performance or fuel economy is a sign to get it looked at.
- Listen for unusual noises that were not there before, that is a red flag.
- Pay attention to your nose, smells are a sure-fire sign something is going wrong.
- Finally, watch your parking spot for any signs of leaks. Leaks turn into a lack of fluids quickly, and that can cause you major problems.
By paying attention to your car closely, you can often jump on a problem early and avoid more costly repairs.
So, can I make it to 200,000 miles?
There are many variables, so some people will and some people will not. Following my tips above will give you the best chance, but people in severe weather areas have a lessor chance. Someone who drives highway miles has a much better chance than someone who drives in stop and go traffic every day. Finally, some cars are just better than others when it comes to long-term reliability.
In closing, doing maintenance on a car is not fun, and it will cost you money to do it properly. However, major repairs or having to replace your car is way more expensive. Also, if you are a parent of a young driver, take the time to teach him or her the importance of good maintenance practices, it will save them a ton of money in the future.
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