Why Pay New Car Prices When You Can Keep Your Old Ride Rolling? Here’s 6 Expert Tips to Extend the Life of Your Vehicle
It’s quite common for modern cars to run well past 100,000, or even 200,000 miles. But what about a million?
Any number of reasons can end a car’s life before the million-mile mark, from crashes to terminal rust, to major repairs costing more than the car is worth. Still, it’s possible to get your car to a million miles and beyond.
The late Irv Gordon famously drove his 1966 Volvo P1800 past 3 million miles.
Auto journalist Matt Farah owned the well-known Million-Mile Lexus, a 1996 Lexus LS400 that he encouraged others to take on long road trips and push to the magic million.
Patricia Mayo, former writer for Car Gurus, helped her dad drive his 1980 Ford F-150 work truck past a million miles. Here’s their advice on how you can achieve the same feat.
#1: Make Repairs As Soon As They’re Needed
Multi-million miler Irv Gordon made a great suggestion in an interview: “Replace worn or broken parts immediately.” One worn part can cause others to wear out or fail more quickly as well. For example, you can often replace a worn set of brake pads all by themselves. If you wait on this repair, though, the metal backing plate of the pads can start to grind against the rotors, and you’ll need to replace those as well. Replacing parts as soon as they wear out or fail helps prevent other parts from failing prematurely and extends the life of your car.
#2: Don’t Ignore the Check Engine Light
One important indication that something is wrong with your car is the check engine light on your dashboard. To keep your vehicle operating properly, use an OBD2 scan tool to identify these problems when the light turns on, then get them fixed as soon as possible. For the quickest, easiest way to find out why your check engine light is on, get FIXD. This easy-to-use OBD2 scanner and app lets you instantly scan your car for check engine codes and other problems, then translates them into plain English on your phone.
Additionally, the FIXD Mechanic Hotline enables you to consult with professional mechanics about your car’s issues, even if they’re not related to the check engine light. Whether you make the repairs yourself or take your car to a mechanic, this knowledge will empower you to keep your car in tip-top condition for the miles ahead.
#3: Do All the Maintenance
My dad always told me that to make a car last forever, change the oil every 3,000 miles. It’s a little more involved than that these days, but everyone I talked to agrees that sticking strictly to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule is the most important aspect of making any car last.
“Do ALL the maintenance, exactly according to factory recommended schedules,” says Matt Farah.
Although Lexus didn’t actually publish a maintenance schedule extending to one million miles, you can extrapolate what you should do when by using earlier entries on the schedule. The people who designed and built your car know best how to keep it running as reliably as possible. They tell you exactly how to do it in the maintenance schedule published in your owner’s manual.
But for those of us who tend to forget about maintenance (or let’s be honest, don’t even know where our owner’s manual is right now), there’s FIXD.
Not only does FIXD show you the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule right in the app, but it also sends you alerts whenever it’s time for maintenance based on your mileage!
You can also use the app to track when to change your oil and replace your battery, tires, and windshield wipers. Best of all, the FIXD maintenance schedule doesn’t stop after 150,000 miles like some of the manufacturer’s schedules do. These tasks repeat at regular intervals, and FIXD does the mileage number crunching for you so you always know what to do and when.
#4: Use Quality Parts
“Don’t skimp on value-brand fluids and filters,” says Matt Farah. While the more affordable parts will work, they won’t work as well as the name brand parts from established companies that have a good reputation for quality. In fact, when your original parts wear out, it’s often worth upgrading to a higher quality part than the factory installed.
“When you rebuild anything, always upgrade the materials whenever possible,” says Patricia Mayo. “Get the good stuff any opportunity you can. It’s more expensive, but it will extend the life of your car.” She and her dad rebuilt his Ford’s transmission three times over its million-mile life.
It may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that’s basically driving to the moon with each rebuild. Each time, they used the highest quality, most durable parts they could find to make the transmission last as long as possible until the next rebuild.
#5: Keep It Super Simple
The main reason so many high-end luxury cars depreciate so quickly is that the vast array of luxury gadgets and gizmos wear out or break after several years (the Million-Mile Lexus being a notable exception). An easy way to avoid this is to buy a simpler car in the first place. The simpler it is, the less that can go wrong with it.
Patricia Mayo recommends avoiding all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles because of this. While the extra drive wheels certainly improve traction, these systems add a great deal of complexity to the car. There is no way a front-wheel-drive car will ever have a transfer case fail because it doesn’t have one.
She also suggests avoiding aftermarket suspension kits that lift or lower your car. Changing the suspension geometry from what the factory intended adds extra stress to axles, CV joints, and other components because they are operating outside of the height and angles the factory intended.
Finally, be careful about what aftermarket electrical components you add. Fancy stereos and HID/LED headlight upgrades are nice, but your car wasn’t designed to run them. They can put extra stress on your electrical system, and cause failures that may be difficult and/or costly to track down and fix.
#6: Drive It Like You Own It
Matt Farah’s final tip for driving a car to a million miles is, “Have the specific driving habits required for such a task.” What he means is don’t drive it like you stole it.
Hard driving, whether off-road, in stop-and-go city traffic, or on the race track, will wear out components faster than smooth, gentle driving that doesn’t tax them so much. In this case, slow and steady really does win the race.
“Sometimes using lower gears will be easier on your engine and transmission, even an automatic,” says Patricia Mayo.
I’ve been doing exactly that recently while driving my van up and down the hills of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rather than allow the transmission to constantly hunt for the right gear, sometimes I’ve shifted from D to 2, locking out the higher gears and avoiding the extra wear and tear on the transmission itself. This also provides extra engine braking on downhills, reducing wear on the brakes. The engine will rev a bit higher than normal, but it should still be nowhere near redline, so it can handle it.
Years ago, cars didn’t have a hundred-thousand digit on the odometer. They simply weren’t expected to last past 100,000 miles. Modern cars do, and for good reason. More often than not, they put that sixth digit to good use, frequently running to 200,000 or even 300,000 miles.
Between ever-increasing prices, even in used cars, and increasing scarcity, there are compelling reasons to keep driving what you already have. Any car will need additional maintenance as it gets older, but once your car is paid off you can afford these repairs much more easily. Tools like the FIXD scanner and app make it easier than ever to diagnose and maintain your car to have as long a life as possible
Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.