Can your car last 200K miles?

My very first car was a metallic green Geo Storm. The day before my three-year warranty ended, the transmission literally fell apart. I remember the mechanic at the Chevy dealer shaking his head and saying, “I can’t tell you what happened, but the transmission is in pieces.”

Fortunately, my dad stepped in and negotiated a 50 percent discount on the price of a new transmission, but I was scarred forever. I vowed to always buy the most reliable car I could afford.

I drive cars for a long time which is why I have only owned three cars in my lifetime. The last one — a Saturn SC2 — lasted 11 years and 180K miles before I kissed it good-bye.

So days ago, when Consumer Reports released its survey of  reliable cars, I paid attention. You have to subscribe to get the full story, but CNNMoney has a gallery of the top models.

Last month, Consumer Reports also gave some tips on making your car last 200,000 miles. Much of it was common sense, but it was nice to see it all summarized in one place along with a list of cars that are likely to last and the ones you should avoid.

Buy a safe, reliable model. Cars with a reliable track record are more likely to last and Consumer Reports.org issues that type of information on a regular basis for subscribers. You also want to pick a car you can stand driving for a long time. Research features and safety of the cars you are interested in and if you’re considering a used car, it may be worth spending $100 – $150  for a diagnostic inspection by an independent mechanic.

Follow the maintenance schedule. BUT make adjustments for your lifestyle — city drivers, drivers who take many short trips or anyone hauling a trailer may need to follow the extreme-use or severe-use schedules which can differ significantly from the regular maintenance schedule.

Don’t skimp on parts. We all love a good deal, but when the deal involves substandard parts it is not worth it. Make sure the parts being used in your car are approved by the manufacturer. And if your car requires premium fuel, use it.

Catch problems early. Don’t ignore strange smells, sounds or sights. Make a habit of opening the hood or find a good, honest mechanic — does anybody have one? — to do it for you. Taking care of minor repairs can help you avoid more expensive ones later.

Know when to fold ‘em. It’s time to let go when repairs cost more than the car is worth, when rust is taking over, after a flood or major accident or when the only thing you can rely on is having to do yet another repair.

A sample of cars considered great all-around cars: Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima, Infiniti G, Honda CR-V, Acura MDX and Subaru Outback.

A few to avoid: Mini Cooper S sports car, BMW X5 SUV (turbo 6 cyl.), Chrysler Town & Country minivan, Jaguar XF sports sedan and Dodge Journey SUV.

What is the greatest number of miles you’ve ever had on a car? What was the make and model and how did you make it last?

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– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

28 comments Add your comment

Jo Daddy's Golf Course

November 1st, 2012
12:54 pm

Back in the 80’s my mom had a used 1973 Toyota Corolla that when she sold it had over 350k miles. She bought it for $475, sold it 200k miles later for $175 (still running) and about 3 years later the guy she sold it to was still driving it and at the time had 425k miles…Even now I don’t think they make Toyota’s like that anymore…

Reni

November 1st, 2012
1:04 pm

I have a 2004 Chevy Impala with 244k miles and it still runs great. I keep my oil changed and it keeps me on he road…I am going to ride it till it Dies!!! LOL

kt

November 1st, 2012
1:13 pm

2003 Mitsubishi Galant here, had it since 2004 it was practically new when I bought it, close to 200k now, still ridin!

garbage

November 1st, 2012
1:40 pm

I have 2 mini coopers S models and an X5 with a combined 488K on them. The Altima my wife had in 08 was a total pile. Kept it less than year before “passing” it on the next fool.

Red Rover

November 1st, 2012
1:46 pm

I currently have a 1997 Dodge Advenger with aprox. 280,0000 miles. The speed ometer was broke for one year. Soo, I’m not certain of the actual mileage. However, It has had it’s share of problems and it’s hanging on it’s last leg. I hoping that it will last until next summer. I’ve always said that I’m going to drive this car until the engine falls out!!

hardmanb

November 1st, 2012
1:53 pm

My 2002 Lexus has 106,000 miles on it, and I have two friends(salesmen) with Lexus’s with 280,000 and 354,000 miles. My lexus is my 23rd car, including some great ones and some lemons, and I will never again drive anything else.

Big T

November 1st, 2012
1:53 pm

I have a 2003 Ford F-150 with 190K miles that looks and drives like a charm. My daughter just recently traded away a Nissan Altima with similar mileage and it has been a maintenance nightmare the last few years.

I do agree that regular, GOOD, maintenance is a must!

Nedra Rhone

November 1st, 2012
2:06 pm

Wow, you guys are good!
@Jo Daddy’s is leading the pack with mom’s ‘73 Corolla at 425K miles.
@hardmanb must be leading the pack for number of cars owned at 23!???
Here’s what another reader had to say (via email) about his 2005 Honda Accord “229,000 miles and drives great today. I change oil every 6000 miles. I do all major service by the book. Great car”

jabster

November 1st, 2012
2:09 pm

It’s OK to spend more on repairs than the car is worth (say, a tranny rebuild) as long as the rest of the car is sound and not a money pit. Many times those pricey repairs are still MUCH cheaper than a new car, even a new used car. It’s a gamble, but do the math first. $2000 one month is a lot less than $500 for 48 months.

And most modern cars that “require” premium gas will run fine on regular, although you might only get 300 horses instead of 350. Try a tankful and see.

#1 thing to do: change the oil. I do it every 5000 miles, on the 5’s and 10’s, because that makes it easy to keep track of. It also splits the difference between the regular service and severe service schedules.

Nedra Rhone

November 1st, 2012
2:14 pm

@jabster great tips! thanks. Any thoughts on finding a good mechanic or dealership vs. independent mechanic when getting your car serviced?

Michigander

November 1st, 2012
2:22 pm

How I loved my Saturn SC2. I bought it used and drove it for a decade. It was plum metallic, survived the Michigan winters, two major collisions and 187,000 miles. I finally gave it up for another Saturn that I’ve been driving for nearly 10 years. I don’t know what I’m going to buy when I have to replace my VUE. These were (are) great cars.

Jo Daddy's Golf Course

November 1st, 2012
2:32 pm

So it gets better…Her next car was a 1989 Cutlass Supreme 2-door. Bought it as a “Program Car” for 11 grand, paid it off in 6 months, and just sold it last year to her across the street neighbor. When she sold it it had over 220k miles, and the only thing wrong was a missing passenger side view mirror. Paid off an almost new car in 6 months and drove it for 22 years with almost no major maintenance. The car looks better now that the neighbor has put some sweet plastic wheel covers on it. Still running like a champ. Maybe ol’ girl should give up her secret, but alas she does not have a computer (go figure). Her “new” car is a 2005 Lexus with 70k miles that she picked up for $5k in 2011. How many miles will she go on that one? Will the car outlast her? The world wonders…

Yeah – that Corolla probably went through 8 waterpumps during mom’s ownership. In the 1986 snowstorm (same day as the Challenger disaster), my Dad was driving and it got bumped in the front. We had to tie the hood down with a coat hanger. Fast forward a year and I am on learner’s permit driving with mom in the front seat, best bud with a boombox in the backseat, listening to “Take it Easy” by the Eagles (no working radio). Going about 65 mph and BLAM! – up flies the hood. Pulled over, got out, tied it back down and went on down to PCB. Great times in that car.

GoaskBK

November 1st, 2012
2:46 pm

2006 GMC Yukon Denali with 151K miles. Looks like it did when it came off the showroom floor. BUT – I’m actively shopping for a new one now, and must make a decision before next week (birthday) so I can miss the ad valorem cycle. It needs the heat fixed ($700), preventive maintenance to the radiator and differentials ($500), front brakes ($200) and a radiator service ($150). The front windshield is so pock marked from ATL roads that it will have to be replaced soon as well, which is another $300. Add it all up and is it really worth spending close to $2K on a vehicle of this age and mileage? It’s a tough question…

Jo Daddy's Golf Course

November 1st, 2012
2:58 pm

@GoaskBK – a new Denali is over $50k…yikes! $2k is a couple of payments at that price tag. Of the items you mention they seem to be less repair oriented and more deferred maintenance (I consider brakes, radiator service as maintenance). If the engine and tranny are in good working order, it might be worth a $2k gamble. I had to make a similar decision on my 2005 Ford Ranger. I only paid $450 for it (with 200k miles), and dang if the transmission and clutch didn’t crap out on me after a year. Cost me $1,500 bucks to get repaired. I think I made the right decision – I couldn’t find any similar trucks for the money. Good luck.

Gapeachy

November 1st, 2012
2:59 pm

92 Chevy Tahoe, 350k+ miles, best truck ever!

Tom

November 1st, 2012
3:52 pm

I have a 15 year old Toyota Rav 4 that’s totally reliable. It has 163k on it and only things I have done in addition to routine oil changes, batteries etc is to put in a new clutch and new shocks. The car drives well, and I am in no hurry to sell it since I cannot get an SUV that size again in the US. Fortunately, I have a very good mechanic who only does what needs to be done, and is a master mechanic.Plan to keep my car for another 10 years.

Jst_Askn

November 1st, 2012
3:58 pm

I have a 1999 Nissan Sentra w/ 135K miles. Still runs great! I love my Nissan more than my 2011 BMW 328i (and drive it more).

Jst_Askn

November 1st, 2012
4:11 pm

Tom, care to share your mechanic’s info?

[...] From Atlanta Blogs News Source: http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-bargain-hunter/2012/11/01/can-your-car-... ____________________________________________________ [...]

Brian

November 1st, 2012
4:44 pm

@Jabster – You are correct that most cars that “require” premium will run fine on regular with just a loss of horsepower, however it is likely that you will also see a slight decrease in gas mileage, thus counteracting any cost savings. Running regular you also risk detonation and could cause severe damage to internals. Not worth the risk in my opinion if you want your car to last to 200k+ miles per the theme of this article…

@Nedra – My favorite Mechanic which I have used for years and is VERY honest: Chris, the shop owner at Rio Import in Norcross. He only works on Honda’s & Acuras though.

bigdawg88

November 1st, 2012
4:52 pm

2001 Toyota Camry (4cyl), bought used in 2004, has 220K+ miles. Leaks oil and tranny fluid, but still runs fine. I keep the fluids topped off and get the oil changed @ 3x per year. Probably time to get a new car, but I don’t want any car payments!

peachyk

November 1st, 2012
5:03 pm

1995 Geo Prism sedan, bought it nearly new when I was 19…now in my mid-30s. 230,000 miles and still going – doesn’t look or sound the best but it runs well and I drive it frequently. My 2001 Honda Accord didn’t last as long!

[...] Can your car last 200K miles?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Last month, Consumer Reports also gave some tips on making your car last 200,000 miles. Much of it was common sense, but it was nice to see it all summarized in one place along with a list of cars that are likely to last and the ones you should avoid. [...]

Richard

November 2nd, 2012
7:54 am

92 Ford Taurus less than 100K “Auto Service Center” in Doraville provided my
mom great service and the Ford is still reliable! “Don’s Car Care” in Suwanee is honest too.

Patrick

November 2nd, 2012
9:28 am

I had a 2005 Ford Focus I bought back in 2006 with 25K on it, and just traded it in back in July. I had about 208K on it, the A/C compressor was shot, and it would have run me over $1,000 for a new compressor. For the majority of its service and repairs, I took it to the local Ford dealership, which has always provided excellent service. A few times I’d take to Wal-Mart if I just needed an oil change and was in a hurry (plus could do grocery shopping there as well). The only time it went to any other shop was if it was an emergency, like when I had the battery and alternator die on it back in ‘08, and back in 2009, for body work after a wreck.

I do about 150 miles on average daily, driving from near Carrollton to Norcross, sometimes having to drive into Atlanta and then back to Norcross. About once a month I’ve had to drive all the way down to Pensacola, FL from Carrollton, so that’s racked up some miles. I watch my car’s mileage and condition like a hawk. If I notice the mileage creeping up to when I need to get another oil change, I do it. If it’s getting close to one of the maintenance milestones, I do it. When I notice the tires or brakes getting some wear, or suspect them of wearing, I’ll have the service station double-check, and if they look ready for replacing, I tell them to do it.

Leslie

November 2nd, 2012
10:14 am

1994 Volvo 960 with 275,000 . . . . go to VolvTech for all services after warranty ended. Stay with same mechanic once you find a good one. He said should last AT LEAST another 125K . . . Hate the thought of car notes — hate it!

[...] Can your car last 200K miles? Fortunately, my dad stepped in and negotiated a 50 percent discount on the price of a new transmission, but I was scarred forever. I vowed to always buy the most reliable car I could afford. I drive cars for a long time which is why I have only owned … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Martin

November 7th, 2012
8:00 am

I have many used cars, trucks and suvs with different brands in good condition and I am dealing in used vehicles.