Saturday, April 4, 2015

How Long Should a New Car Last These Days?

Thirty years ago, the idea of a vehicle lasting more than about ten years or 100,000 miles was almost unheard of. Manufacturers did their best to market those cars that could go that distance, but there was a lot working against them. The advent of electronic equipment that complicated vehicle repairs was a significant move, and no one can deny the problems associated with rust-out of body panels that simply weren’t protected enough to prevent rusting even in dry climates. This was the fallout from manufacturers attempting to cut their costs as deeply as possible in order to keep up with EPA standards and the newer, smaller, and lighter Japanese vehicles being imported.

Vehicle engines have come a long way since the mid-1980s, when fuel injection started making its way into the mainstream. At about the same time, mechanical components began to disappear and computers began being used to manage vehicle engine systems. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, to be honest. Newer evolutions of this technology have allowed cars to become essentially rolling computers that are extremely comfortable, safe, and reliable, but at the same time, when they do break, they usually break in very expensive ways, sometimes making it more cost effective to replace the vehicle than repair it. 

Proper maintenance of your vehicle is, and has always been, critical to making your vehicle last as long as possible. Even back in the 70s and 80s, it was common knowledge that if you care for your vehicle, you’ll get more use out of it. Usually, this means a three-prong approach. It means taking care of the body to ensure it doesn’t rust out, caring for the engine according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and keeping the mechanical/electrical components such as the brakes and electronics in good working order so as to avoid having to deal with expensive repairs. 

Sad to say, for most consumers, it’s the repair aspect of car ownership that scares them off from keeping their cars for their actual usable life. No one wants to have to replace a transmission, deal with a cracked block, or have to pay some technician hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to track down an electrical problem that may have no more effect than to make the dash lights flip on now and then. From there, problems are cumulative. First goes that dash light, then it stays on, but you condition yourself to not pay attention to it. Next, the air/fuel ratio is off, so the car doesn’t run quite right, and after 100,000 miles or 150,000 miles, consumers are so tired of the car, that they’re willing to go ahead and just give up the ghost and buy a new one, just to be rid of the car that’s turning out to be a problem.

You’d be surprised by how many vehicles are on the road today that can really chalk up some serious mileage. Ford’s F-150 is a notoriously hard to kill truck, with some examples racking up half a million miles or more. Of course, there are examples of plenty of trucks being long-lived. Toyota’s Tacoma, for example, should easily last average drivers 20 years or more barring accidents and keeping up with maintenance.

The king of high mileage, though, is the venerable, if a little boring, Volvo brand of cars. There have been so many high mileage cars through the years, that the Volvo owner’s club has a special contingent specifically for high mileage cars still ticking after 150,000 miles. 

Sure, cars these days can be tough to deal with, but at the same time, if you keep up with minor maintenance, avoid the peril of getting tired of your car in a relatively short period of time, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to get at least 300,000 miles of useful life out of them. With a little care, just about any vehicle these days should be more than capable of this milestone, if not surpassing it completely.


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