Okay, so the old-timers insist that they don't 'make 'em like they used to,' while all of the engineers claim that today's cars (even the cheap ones) will last hundreds of thousands of miles more than those that came before. With 100,000-mile tune-up intervals, platinum spark plugs and high-wear engine components, many modern vehicles are in fact capable of easily breaking half a million miles.
Ah, but of course, there’s a caveat: you gotta help it get that far. Even a high-quality car that lives a hard, low-maintenance life will expire well before its time. You don’t have to baby a car to get maximum longevity out of it, but taking proper care of it is essential.
Making a car last half a million miles is all about maintenance.
The owner’s manual is your best friend in this regard. All new cars have a scheduled maintenance guide included, and sticking to the recommended service schedule will help ensure a car lasts as long as possible. While a vehicle is under warranty, it’s often best to take it to a dealer that you trust, but once those 36,000 (or 48,000, or 100,000 if you’ve got a Hyundai) miles are past, you’ll save money by finding a competent independent mechanic to do the routine maintenance, or learning to do it yourself.
Now “routine” means “on-time,” as well. No waiting until 50,000 miles to do that oil change that was due at 40,000. Owners of cars that are pushing seven-figure mileage cite regular maintenance as one of the most important ways to get there.
As the run gets longer and longer, expect some parts to wear out. A car will go through stacks of brake pads, engine belts and tires on its way to 500K. Rubber bushings, brake rotors and ancillary components like alternators and batteries will probably fail as well. Just because these parts are what they call “wear items,” however, that doesn’t mean that their replacements should be cheap. Many wear items can take other components with them when they fail, so it’s best to use quality replacement parts where possible, limiting the chance of a catastrophic failure.
On a budget?
The Internet is a good source for less expensive, original-equipment parts.
There’s something to be said for keeping it clean, as well. A car that sits outside covered in grime is going to be much more subject to the ravages of weather and time than one that’s garaged and washed regularly. It’s no fun keeping a car around for two or three decades if the paint falls off after ten years. Damaged paint also allows the sheet metal underneath to corrode and rust, which can lead to failed components. Similarly, sitting outdoors full-time allows the sun to damage interior fabrics and plastics, giving a car a tired appearance before its time.
Lastly (and most importantly), the key to making your car last half a million miles or more is to drive it properly! It goes without saying that the best-built, best-maintained car in the world ain’t going to reach any kind of longevity if it’s totaled against a tree. It’s important to maintain the big nut behind the steering wheel as well. Alert, careful driving is an important key to making your car last. Defensive-driving courses can be a big help in this respect.