How to Make Your Car Last 200k Miles or More

black car driving down busy road

There was a time when car odometers did not read past 99,999 miles. There was no need. Vehicles just a few decades ago were not expected to make it much past the hundred thousand-mile mark.

But times have changed.

Lots of new cars, trucks, and SUVs continue to be sold, but many drivers are choosing to keep their vehicles longer. In fact, the average car on the road today is nearly twelve years old and has upwards of 150,000 miles on the odometer.

Soaring price tags on new models (thirty-five grand for a minivan?) and improvements in technology in the last twenty-or-so years mean vehicle owners can hold on to their rides far longer than in the past. Certainly more than a hundred thousand miles. With advancements in powertrain, lubrication, and corrosion protection technologies, it is not uncommon these days for a vehicle to travel beyond 200,000 miles. (My twelve-year-old SUV is approaching 225K and is in beautiful shape and our sedan will hit 200K this month).

The question is… how do you get your car to last?

If you find yourself in the market not for a new car that will depreciate quickly in value but instead for a longer life with the one you already have, here are some ideas to give it some longevity. Seven tips to make your car last 200K miles or more.

Tip #1 Start with a good car

If you want your car to last, you need to start with a car that is capable of lasting. Not all vehicles are created equal. Some have a tendency to last longer than others. If you want to go the distance, make sure your car is safe, reliable, and able to go the distance.

You can spend a lot of time searching Google to figure out which vehicle makes and models seem to have the greatest likelihood of reaching the 200K mark. Debates rage over the quality of domestics versus imports. Many lists favor imports – especially Japanese manufacturers. In a recent Consumer Reports study, nine out of the top ten vehicles “proven to get to 200,000 miles and beyond” were from Toyota and Honda. Road and Track, on the other hand, includes five domestic vehicles in their top ten list.

Here is the truth: almost any late-model car can be made to go 200K miles or more! Many domestic and foreign vehicles rank highly when it comes to longevity. And there are plenty of stories of cars that nobody would place on a list of long-lasting vehicles that have defied expectations. Some may simply require a bit more work than others.

And anyways, the idea of “starting with a good car” is not limited to brands or models or manufacturers. If you want a car that lasts, start with a solid specimen. In other words, find the vehicle that you want in the best condition and having had the best care possible. When I shopped for my SUV, I spent time looking for one that the owner treated even better than I would. I spent a little more time and a little more money to get a really clean and cared-for item. And it has paid off. Do your research. Take your time and find something in top shape. Make an investment of it. It is far easier to maintain a used vehicle that has received plenty of care in the past than to try to stretch out someone else’s cast-off.

You might also consider looking for a vehicle that suits your wants and needs. Making it to 200K miles is a lot more likely if you actually enjoy your car. It doesn’t make much sense to buy something that can get there if you end up hating the journey.

You might already have the car you want. But if you are shopping for a vehicle, look for a model you want and need, one that is likely to last, and for a specimen that is worth your investment.

Tip #2 Employ reasonable driving habits

Let’s say that you would rather your car not make it to 200K miles. In that case, drive it hard. Jack rabbit starts, slamming brakes, washboard roads, aggressive cornering or any other abusive habits will ensure that your car will suffer an untimely demise. You can throw in off-roading, drifting, racing, and the like. But if you prefer playing the long game, you might want to avoid rough use.

Aggressive driving habits put a good deal of stress on your vehicle. Your brake pads will wear faster. Excess heat in the braking system will cause other components (such as the brake rotors) to wear sooner. Nevermind the additional wear on the tires. Aggressive driving will also compromise the suspension system, the engine, the transmission, and the drivetrain.

Another driving habit that is important to note is how frequently and how far you drive. If you are accustomed to short and infrequent trips where your engine never quite gets heated up, you might consider an occasional longer drive. At least once a month, allow the engine to reach full operating temperature on the road for about half an hour. This helps to burn off contaminants in the oil and avoids a buildup of condensation in the engine.

But avoid warming up your car before you leave whenever possible. Decades ago, when carbureted engines were the norm, “warming up” was necessary to keep the engine running. But, although the average driver believes it takes at least five minutes to warm up an engine, experts agree that modern engines do not need to warm up for more than thirty seconds. Any more and you may be causing damage to the engine. Besides, your car warms up faster while you are driving. If you need to defrost a windshield, then go ahead. Otherwise, start it up and drive.

(Discover other Things You Learned About Your Car That Just Aren’t True

Tip #3 Take time for maintenance

Key to a long-lasting vehicle – one that crosses the 200K mile line – is attention to routine preventative maintenance. If you subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought, your car is probably not a candidate for the 200K mile club.  You need to take care of business before major problems present.

That principle is understood in the world of aviation, where the stakes are… (pun alert) higher. Routine preventative maintenance is more than the norm. It is essential. And required. In the air, there is little to no margin for error. A breakdown is not an option and there is no pulling over to await a tow vehicle. Routine preventative maintenance is the means by which an airplane is kept in the sky. As a result, planes are kept in service for decades.

If you want your car to make it the distance, stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance items, including when to perform fluid and filter replacement (especially oil changes), check the tire pressure and have the tires rotated, replace the belts, hoses, and spark plugs, service or replace the battery, and more. Often overlooked is the timing belt – an item that, if it breaks while the engine is running, can cause catastrophic engine damage on some vehicles. And don’t ignore a check engine light.

Check out Three Months or Three Thousand Miles” and Other Oil Change Myths

Tip #4 Spend money on quality parts and materials

Pinching pennies is one thing; if you are trying to get your vehicle to 200K miles, you are either looking to prove something or you want to save money. But skimping on parts and materials for your car is not a solid plan to get there. Cheap replacement parts will not wear as long as quality components.

Budget oil, transmission fluid, and engine coolant can lead to premature wear. Using the wrong type of fluid just because it was cheap or readily available can cause damage and, in some cases, void any warranty you have on the vehicle. Make sure you follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations not only for the service intervals between fluid changes, but also for the proper grade and type of fluid for your car.

In some cases you can exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. For instance, you could substitute synthetic engine oil for conventional oil and allow the benefits of using synthetic oil to aid you in your quest for 200K miles or more.

Tip #5 Don’t neglect the details

If your car is going to make it to 200K miles, the mechanical systems alone will not get it there. Sure, the engine, transmission, steering, suspension, and brakes are all important. But so is your car’s body. A few dents probably won’t get in the way, but if the body is creaking, cracking, groaning, and rusting at low mileage, good luck getting through high mileage.

That is especially true with today’s unibody vehicles. A full-sized truck (and some full-sized cars and SUVs) has a heavy frame underneath to which all of the mechanical components are attached. But most passenger cars (and most SUVs) feature a unibody design. The structural part of the body is made up of sheet metal; there is no “frame”. That means, a rusty body is not only unsightly (which really wouldn’t prevent you from racking up miles), but it is also prone to develop structural problems over time (and that will keep you from making more miles).

So, keep your car washed and waxed to avoid dirt, debris, salt, calcium chloride, and other contaminants from building up. Clean the surface, inside wheel wells, underbody components, and the engine compartment. And take care of the interior as well.

A clean car not only lasts longer but is also more enjoyable to drive.

If your car is in need of a little more TLC than you are able to give it, why not have the paint surface and the interior brought back to that “like new” appearance with professional detailing?

Tip #6 Listen to what your car it trying to tell you

I like to listen to music when I am driving. And not quiet music. It makes driving more fun, right? It also helps if I really want to ignore squealing brake pads and other noises.

Of course, if I want to get my vehicle to last for the long haul, I am going to have to identify when there is a concern.

So are you. That means paying attention to what your car is trying to say when it has a problem.

If you have ever raised a puppy, you (eventually) became familiar with her cry to go outside. If you ignored the whine, you ended up with a mess to clean up on the floor. If you tuned in to that certain sound, well… training went a lot better.

Same goes for your car. Have the brakes inspected when they start to whine instead of waiting until they are grinding mad at you and require a new set of brake rotors instead of a simple set of pads.

Look for leaks, belt wear, signs of overheating, unusual noises, and any changes in how the car handles on the road.

Tip #7 Develop a relationship with a trusted repair shop

Finally, if you want to make your car last 200K miles or more, make sure you have a relationship with a trusted repair shop who can accurately diagnose and deal with any problems you run into on your way. Even if you prefer to take care of some maintenance items yourself – oil changes, filter replacements – at some point you will need professional care.

It’s not a great idea to start looking for a physician when you are really sick. Better to have one on hand in advance. Likewise, if your car develops transmission trouble, don’t have it towed to “the nearest” shop just because you have nowhere else to go. Find a trusted shop with qualified technicians today.

And with some quality care, you too can get your car to last 200K miles and more.

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

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