I grew up in an era when a car was considered junk if it ever made it to 100,000 miles. Even the manufacturers weren’t optimistic about their cars achieving the 100,000 mile plateau – the odometers maxed out at 99,999.
My 1966 Plymouth Sport Fury, despite tune ups and carburetor rebuilds, refused to run in cold weather. I sold it at the 85,000 mile mark. We purchased our 1971 Volkswagen bus new and babied it for 70,000 miles before we dumped it (the air cooled engine would not stop sending exhaust smells through the ductwork). These were not isolated instances; my parents seldom owned a vehicle which made it past the 100,000 mile barrier.
The 100,000 mile mindset
Because automobiles just didn’t hold up so well in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, buyers rightfully developed what I call the 100,000 mile mindset. Owners planned to get rid of their cars before that odometer rolled over, knowing that even if it still ran well, the mileage would frighten buyers away. The “smart" thing was to buy a new car every seven years, because, at 15,000 miles a year for seven years, the car would be worn out.
Changing to a 200,000 mile mindset
Even though today’s automobiles are better made and last much longer, old mindsets die hard. We are still afraid of that 100,000 mile mark. Yes, one can realistically expect more maintenance issues as the mileage increases, but more maintenance is far different than the breakdowns and unreliability of those clunkers of yesteryear. Today’s vehicles, properly maintained, should last 200,000 miles. My 1986 Ford Ranger was an eye-opener for me. It had 36,000 miles on it when I bought it in 1989 for $7,500, and had 220,000 miles when I sold it for $2,000. Admittedly, it was needing work at that stage in its life, but my point is that if 200,000 miles was realistic on a vehicle 20 years ago, it is more realistic today. If you still subscribe to the 100,000 mindset, it is time to change it to 200,000 miles.
Thinking it through
Think through this philosophy with me. If we base the life of a car at 200,000 miles, then think in terms of what you are paying for the remaining life of the car. I will use my sweet 1999 Cadillac DeVille as an example. The new price in 1999 was about $40,000. When I purchased it three years ago for $7,200 it had 64,000 miles on it. If we go by the old 100,000 mile mindset, we would say that I got the car for 18% of its original price while it has 36% of its life left…not bad. However, we know that this Caddy will go way more than 100,000 miles, so applying the new 200,000 mile mindset indicates that I paid 18% of the original price for a vehicle that still has 68% of its life left. I like the way this sounds!
Money in your pocket
Continuing with the Cadillac numbers, the ownership cost for the first 64,000 miles was $32,800 ($40,000 – $7,200), making the cost per mile to be $0.5125. Assuming that I drive my baby for 200,000 miles and I can sell it at that point for $3,500 (KBB private party value for my model at 200,000 miles), my ownership cost will be only $3,700 ($7,200 – $3,500) for 136,000 miles, or only $0.027 per mile.
Now…at this point things get a bit dicey because I realize that a higher mileage car will have more repairs. So, assuming worse case scenario, if I had to replace both the engine and the transmission (rebuilt with 100,000 mile warrantees) I would spend around $10,000 in repairs, bumping my cost per mile from $0.027 to $0.10.
If I were to extrapolate my Cadillac numbers over a lifetime (assuming one drives 500,000 miles), owner A (who buys new and trades at 64,000 miles) will spend $256,250 while Owner B (who buys at 64,000 miles and drives to the 200,000 mile mark) will spend only $50,000…a savings of over $200,000 in a lifetime. These numbers, while huge, are not unreasonable. Liz Pulliam Weston, in her book “Deal With Your Debt,” estimates that the typical person could save $250,000 over a lifetime by driving a car 10 years instead of 5 years.
Why don’t people keep their cars longer? Why do they trade or sell a car that is perfectly dependable? I don’t know. My guess is they get bored with the same car, or they want to impress someone, or get the newest and fanciest. I believe that many are still hanging on to the outdated 100,000 mile mindset.
Drivers used to push a car to get that magic 100,000 miles out of it, knowing it would be junk at that point. But I assert that the typical car today is more trustworthy at 200,000 miles than the yesteryear clunkers were at 100,000.
Therefore, 200,000 miles is the new 100,000. Change your mindset to 200,000 miles and you will save a fortune over your lifetime.
How many miles do you try to put on your cars? If the car is still dependable, why do you get rid of it? Do you succumb to the 100,000 mile mindset?