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How Many Miles Can a Car Last?

By Shawn Furman | November 4, 2022

The average expected lifespan of a modern car is about 200,000. High mileage does not usually come without a cost, though. 200,000 miles is attainable for many of today’s cars, given that regular maintenance is performed, good driving habits are practiced, and no design flaws are present in one of your vehicle’s major systems.

There are several other factors that influence how long cars last today. With the average car on the road being around twelve years old at current, we have tangible evidence that modern cars’ lifespans are increasing. Keep reading to find out how you can get the most out of your vehicle and elongate the life of your car.

Most people want to get the most out of their cars, especially since a vehicle can be such a large investment. One of car buyers’ most important factors in the purchase of a new or used car is reliability. Thankfully, advancements in technology have helped bring the average lifespan of a car up from what it used to be.

What Causes a Car’s Life Expectancy to Decrease?

Just as there are several reasons that cars last longer than they have in the past, there are several factors that contribute to a below-average lifespan.

General Build Quality:
Not every vehicle is created equally. Some are known for their use of high-quality materials, while others are known for using cheaper materials. The use of cheap materials may not necessarily be bad as it keeps costs lower, but cheaper materials tend to wear out more quickly than better materials.

Overcomplication can also lead to a shorter average lifespan. German luxury automobiles are well-known for being overengineered. They may be luxurious, but they have so many moving parts that if one happens to fail, it can take more effort, potentially more specialized parts, and therefore, more money to fix.

This increases the chance that someone will not want to fix an issue or that a relatively minor issue will mechanically total a vehicle prematurely as the fix costs more than the vehicle is worth.

Neglect:
A more common factor that decreases the lifespan of a used vehicle is neglect. Sure, you might have heard one or two stories about car owners that never changed their oil without so much as an engine clunk here and there, but that is not normal. Car care is a necessity for every vehicle, and some vehicles are more sensitive to it than others.
Environment and Climate:
Another factor in life expectancy that remains out of most people’s control is the environment and climate. Regions of the United States with four distinct seasons, harsh season changes, or excessively wet or snowy seasons are some of the hardest places for a vehicle to operate.

Despite the best efforts of owners and manufacturers, corrosion and rust are sometimes too much for the defenses added to or built into a car. Prolonged cold weather is known to kill things like your car battery and will prevent your vehicle’s fluids from reaching normal operating temperature as quickly. Short commutes can therefore be extra hard on your car.

User Error:
Though it is not as common as deferred maintenance, user error can play a factor in reducing the lifespan of your car and its components. Using dish soap to clean your vehicle is a good example. Dish soap is more abrasive than dedicated car wash shampoo. It can therefore eat away the clearcoat and damage your paint.

That might not be detrimental to your vehicle’s function, but things like using the incorrect type of oil, not adding enough transmission fluid back after replacing it yourself, or not correctly installing a timing belt yourself can all cause massive damage to your vehicle if not caught immediately.

What You Can Do to Keep Your Car Running As Long As Possible:

There are many steps you can take to keep your car running for as long as possible.

Perform Routine Maintenance:
The easiest thing you can do to increase your vehicle’s life expectancy is to follow the regular maintenance schedule as outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Things like regular oil changes, transmission fluid changes, brake pad replacement, and timing belt replacement, if applicable, will all help.

Find a Good Mechanic:
You have probably heard horror stories of someone who took their car to the mechanic only to take it back three more times, each for a different item until the actual problem was fixed. Having a trusted, reputable mechanic work on your car and perform proper maintenance will save you time and money.

Practice Good Driving Habits:
An often-forgotten factor in vehicle longevity is your own driving habits. Those who drive their vehicle as if they stole it will ultimately be harder on its components than one who does not. City driving with constant starting and stopping decreases fuel economy and causes the transmission to work harder than it would on the highway.

This cannot always be avoided, but it may be worth an extra two minutes of driving if you can take a highway route to work every day than driving through block-by-block stop signs.

Take Care of the Minor Problems:
Do not ignore the little signs your car shows you when it is unhappy. Many have a tendency to ignore the check engine light because it is “just a loose gas cap.” That might be true, but the check engine light can signify a larger issue that might be hiding. Get it diagnosed before assuming anything.

The funny noise that only happens when you turn all the way to the right might be annoying sometimes, but it does not even happen all the time, right? These types of things can eventually become larger issues that affect other systems, can cost you money down the road, and can decrease the life of your car.

Go the Extra Mile:
If you have the opportunity to improve your vehicle somehow, you should do it. Certain things like extra undercoating protection, paint protection, replacing OEM parts with parts that are known to be better and more robust, and getting the occasional tune-up or valve adjustment can all help improve your vehicle’s lifespan.

Get a Warranty:
A warranty itself will not help improve your vehicle’s life expectancy, but it will give you peace of mind if anything does wear out or break prematurely. Many dealerships offer extended warranties that may be worth purchasing if you are looking for high-milage vehicles for your next new car.

Vehicles Most Likely to Last the Longest

The list of vehicles that are most likely to last to 200,000 and beyond is not as diverse as you might think. The majority of vehicles on the list, according to iSeeCars, are either pickup trucks or traditional body-on-frame SUVs.

The Toyota Land Cruiser and Toyota Sequoia are the two most likely vehicles to attain this high-milage goal with the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL, and Toyota 4Runner all trailing by a significant margin. Other trucks that round out the top ten include the Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Toyota Tundra.

It is not until the ninth-place spot that a car enters the mix. 3.9% of Toyota Avalon and Toyota Prius models have reached or surpassed 200,000 miles, more than twice the percentage of all other vehicles. Other notable vehicles that round out the top fifteen and represent a significantly higher percentage than other vehicles include the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, GMC Yukon, Honda Ridgeline, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna.

The Caveats of High-Mileage Vehicles

Before going any further, it is important to highlight four important details about vehicle life expectancy:

The Cost to Get There:
The road to 200,000 miles does not come without expenses. Regular maintenance costs money. Doing it yourself will certainly save you some money, but you will still have to pay for things like oil, transmission fluid, and a few other miscellaneous items, depending on what type of vehicle you own.

Vehicle life expectancy also comes with different meanings. In some cases, life expectancy means how long a vehicle can last without a major component like the engine or transmission needing major repairs. Other times it can mean how long a vehicle will last without the cost of any repair exceeding the value of the vehicle.

Remember that any vehicle can last if you are willing to spend the money to keep it running. Many people forget that tires, brake pads, drive belts, headlights, and other wearable components will need to be replaced several times within the average lifespan period. Even components like the fuel pump and starter may need to be replaced before the magic 200,000-mile mark.

Reviews Versus Reliability:
When car shopping, it is always a good idea to do your research. Good reviews do not always translate to reliability, though. A new or used vehicle can have stellar fuel economy, comfort, styling, and driving experience ratings without being a reliable car.

At the same time, a vehicle that reportedly has a rough ride does not have the latest technology features, and has generally bad reviews can be a great future high-mileage vehicle because of strong reliability ratings.

Some of the best places to research vehicles include Consumer Reports, Car Complaints, and the NHTSA. All three of these sites have resources like reviews, reliability reports, consumer complaints, and recall information about specific makes, models, and years.

Functioning on Assumptions:
Do not neglect research just because of what you see or hear. Even though vehicles like the Honda Civic, Ford F-150, and Toyota Camry are everywhere does not mean that they are automatically reliable and can get to 200,000 miles with no issues. Not every vehicle is manufactured equally, and even these well-known models have problem areas and model years.

No Guarantees Your Vehicle Will Make It:
One last thing to remember is that even the most reliable vehicle on a report will not always be reliable for you. Oppositely, the most unreliable vehicle on the market may prove to outlast some of the Toyota, Subaru, Chevy, Ford, and Honda models about which you hear people brag. Longevity involves many factors regardless of what vehicle you choose to own.

Why Are Modern Cars Lasting Longer?

As evidenced by data from the federal government, cars are lasting longer than they have in the past. There are several factors that currently lend to longer vehicle life expectancy than in the past.

Better Manufacturing Processes:
More advanced technology has resulted in better automotive manufacturing and design practices. Greater efficiency, faster production, less waste, better-fitting parts, and other benefits have, in part, contributed to vehicle longevity.

Better Materials:
Bolstering advanced manufacturing processes is the use of better materials throughout each vehicle. Integrated anti-rust agents have helped prevent corrosion that used to be prevalent on certain models. Better paint and clearcoat solutions have helped elongate the exterior condition of various vehicles. More resilient tire compounds, fluid components, and lighting materials have all contributed to increasing the average vehicle lifespan.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of components that have the use of better materials to thank for their increased longevity. Even basic things like car wash formulas have improved to remove road grime and dirt more efficiently to ultimately improve the life of your car.
Better Technology:
Better manufacturing and materials are both the result of technological advancements, but the use of specific technology integrated within vehicles themselves can also improve a car’s lifespan.

Electric cars have simpler drivetrain components than gasoline-powered vehicles. Even though they are technologically complicated in other areas, major components like the electrical engine have the potential to be less problematic over a long-term ownership period.

Advanced safety features in new vehicles prevent accidents that old cars without them might otherwise have. Advanced computer systems work hand-in-hand with better materials to reduce wear on parts that used to be less durable.

Better Maintenance Items:
Maintenance items have also become more advanced. Motor oil, especially, has additives like detergents, anti-corrosion agents, dispersants, and anti-wear agents that help increase the lubrication of parts. The best synthetic oils can last for thousands of miles more before being changed than oils of the past.

Essential fluids like transmission fluid, coolant, and differential fluid have become more robust and wear-resistant.

Million-Mile Vehicles

There are some vehicles driving around with impressively high mileage on the odometer, but there are only a handful of vehicles that have reached the elusive one million mile mark. Some are still being used, many are famous, and others are now used as showpieces rather than daily drivers.

The current Guinness World Record holder is a 1966 Volvo P1800 with around three-and-a-quarter million miles. The next two closest vehicles are a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 240D and a 1979 Volvo 245 GL with 2.85 and 1.63 million miles respectively. 240D and 245 GL models are known for being robust with several examples achieving sub-million mile, yet still impressively high, odometer readings.

Several other vehicles included in the million-mile club include a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle, a 1983 Lincoln Town Car, a 1991 Chevy C1500, a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD, a 2006 Ford F-250, a 1989 Saab 900, a 2007 Toyota Tundra, and a 1991 Honda Accord.

Perhaps the most famous car in the club is Matt Farah’s “Million-Mile Lexus.” It is a 1996 Lexus LS 400 that has been passed around YouTube for others to experience. Tyler Hoover of Hoovie’s Garage also recently purchased a 2004 Dodge RAM 2500 with just under one million miles. He is only about 100 miles away from hitting the lofty seven-digit odometer reading.

Your vehicle will most likely not hit the million-mile mark, but it is certainly possible if you take care of it. If you want to get there yourself, remember that several of the vehicles on this list have had things like transmission and engine replacements at some point in their journey. These examples still prove that a good car and a bit of love can help a car go the extra mile.