How Long Should a Car Last?
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How Long Should a Car Last?

By Autolist Editorial | September 11, 2019

Buying a new or even used car is usually the second-most expensive thing that people buy during their life aside from a house. New car prices have also risen dramatically over the years, and yet, consumers have come to view cars as something relatively throwaway increasingly. The amount of time people keep their cars is now roughly between five and seven years, which is also usually approximately the life of an auto loan. Financing a new vehicle for six years only to get rid of it once you've paid it off is akin to having a lifetime lease. If you want to get the most out of your car and your money, you might be asking, how long should a car last?

A Car's Lifespan Depends a Lot on You

Certain cars actually are made better than others. Some automakers like Toyota and Honda have gained a well-deserved reputation for manufacturing reliable and long-lasting vehicles. Similarly, Ford is well-known for producing durable and dependable trucks. Within those brands, some models have a stronger reputation than others. For example, the Toyota Camry is regarded as bulletproof. However, it's also true that a lot of a vehicle's long lifespan has to do with how well it's maintained. Even the best-made vehicle won't last very long without regular oil changes and replacement of worn parts. Eventually, something will break that is extremely expensive to fix and the owner will move on. You don't have to look far to see vehicles that are still on the road that are 20, 30, and even 50-plus years old. It isn't just random luck that these cars are still running, but rather the fact that they were well-maintained from start to finish.

How Long Do People Keep Their Cars?

As previously mentioned, people are keeping their vehicles for much less time than they used to. The average time people keep their cars is about six years, which is not much longer than the average auto loan. The average age of vehicles on the road is about 11 years. That might look like the stats are against you if you want to keep your car for a long time. But it's important to remember that many car buyers look to move on after this time. It doesn't necessarily mean that the time is being cut short against their will.

One Reason People Move On: Advancements

One reason that people often decide to move on from their older car is due to the tech advancements that are being made seemingly every year. New car models are typically equipped with all the latest safety features as well as convenience features. If you look at vehicles from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, you'll see a lot of models with only front airbags, some without anti-lock brakes and even cassette players. You won't find navigation systems, iPod hookups, backup cameras, or a plethora of other features often standard on modern vehicles. The desire for more modern conveniences often convinces people to move forward from their old cars.

How to Make Your Car Go the Distance

Suppose you're one of the people that want to keep their vehicle for a long time. How can you do that? The easy answer is regular maintenance, but it goes a little bit further than that. Two other important factors are buying a safe, reliable model and also purchasing a vehicle that you like and want to keep for a while.

That means not compromising on what you want or buying a vehicle that is doesn't fit your lifestyle. For example, if you want a four-wheel-drive pickup, but decide to buy a two-wheel-drive, you may have buyer's remorse that could be costly eventually.

The same goes for space. You might reason that a compact crossover fits your family now, but eventually, you'll be eyeing a large SUV or minivan when your family gets bigger. The idea is to plan long-term to get the most out of your purchase.

Follow the Maintenance Schedule

You can find this schedule in your owner's manual, or you can often find them online at the manufacturer's site. This schedule should tell you when to perform the various services over the life of your car. It will show you how often to change the oil, when to rotate the tires and when you should replace the timing belt. If you currently own a high-mileage vehicle and haven't been keeping up, you can still start now. Take your vehicle to a mechanic and get it inspected. Have any problems fixed, even if they're minor. Then, take another look at your owner's manual and plan to follow the schedule. Most vehicles with proper care should make it at least to 100,000 miles on the odometer. Getting to the 200,000-mile mark might take a little more doing, such as having a well-known reliable vehicle, and being willing to make a few high-end repairs.

When to Use the Severe Use Schedule

You might notice in your manual or on the manufacturer site that there's a maintenance schedule for severe use. Severe use doesn't just mean towing, hauling, or going off-road a lot. It includes driving in hot climates, frigid climates, driving in stop and go traffic or making a lot of short trips. All of these factors are harder on your vehicle than driving in a temperate climate, mostly on the freeway. If these situations sound like your driving, then you might consider following the severe use maintenance schedule to make your car last longer.

Don't Go Cheap On Parts

Another way to help your car last longer is to use quality fluids and parts. Low-quality or wrong engine oil, oil filters or transmission fluid could cause more expensive repairs in the long-run. The same goes for generic and cheap parts. They may not fit as well on your car, and they're likely to wear out a lot faster. Instead, look to replace any worn parts with either OEM parts or parts by a well-known and reliable brand. Sometimes the third-party parts can be even better than OEM parts. If you look through enthusiast sites for your vehicle, you might be able to find out what other drivers are using with good results.

Use the Right Gas

Another element to not going cheap is the required gas type. Some vehicles explicitly state that they need premium gas. Not using premium gas in a car that requires it could cause performance issues and eventual damage. Some vehicles say that premium gas is recommended, which means you're still safe using regular gas as it has sensors to compensate for it. On the other hand, if your vehicle calls for regular gasoline, you won't get any benefit or better fuel economy from using premium.

Pay Attention to Your Vehicle

Get into the habit of checking under the hood every so often to make sure everything is in order. Look for leaks, odd smells, or anything that looks worn or broken. When you're driving, pay attention to unusual noises, smells, or feelings. If your car starts behaving differently, don't ignore it. Either take it to a repair shop or check it out yourself. Catching a problem in the early stages could save you money on a significant repair later.