Change Your Mindset and Save a Fortune: 200,000 Miles is the New 100,000 Miles

by Joe Plemon on April 28, 2010

200000 200,000 miles! Just don’t take picture while driving 70 MPH!

Creative Commons License photo credit: gwdexter

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.

Lifetime savings

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 not?

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.

Summary

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?

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Clow August 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm

The Roadmaster was one of the last “great American iron” cars. Can’t argue with them. 🙂

Also just saw your update about the Windstar. Glad I was able to help and that you’ll stay safe. That rear axle fracture issue is serious and kudos to Ford for fixing them free all these years later and not just saying that’s what happens when they get old.

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PaulK August 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Aaron that ” $6K for a 99 Caddy is right around “towel throwing" range.” But, if you are willing to put some extra effort into reclaiming some value from it, there is some usable parts that could be re-marketed. People form a relationship with their vehicles for various reasons, often sentimental. Chances are, that you could “parts out” the vehicle for considerable funds using free internet advertising. After stripping it of any resale value, your closest salvage can usually offset the cost of towing for its disposal.

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joeplemon August 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm

PaulK,
I also agree, but with a lump in my throat. Every once in awhile I will tell myself, “Joe, if that Caddy had a new engine, you could probably drive it for ten more years.” It seems almost rational. But my wife would shoot me. I suppose I will continue to drive it as it is until I decide to give it up altogether.

Thanks for the idea of parting it out. Something definitely to consider.

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Janet Bennett October 1, 2011 at 10:11 am

I have been using my boyfriends Toyota Camry yr. 1995 with 262,000 miles on it 3 hours a day to and from work. He had a friend put in an engine for $1300. I’m a little nervous driving that distance daily with a car that could be potentially unsafe. Any thoughts?

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Janet Bennett October 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

I have been driving my boyfriends 1995 Toyota Camry with 262,000 miles 3 hours a day to work. It broke down and either needed to be trashed or a new engine. He opted for a new engine and I’m nervous driving a car with MORE miles than anyone could hope for. I’m concerned about safety. Any feedback is appreciated.

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joeplemon October 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Janet,
No words of great wisdom; it depends on your finances and your comfort level in driving the Camry. Are there other issues besides the engine? If not, my guess is that the Camry is just fine. They are well built vehicles known for their longevity and high mileage. Obviously, older vehicles break down more than newer ones, but even if they do, it isn’t the end of the world. Something to consider, both for peace of mind and practicality, is to make sure you have AAA or other roadside repair insurance.

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Daniel October 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

My 2001 DeVille has 135,000+ miles and still going. I’ve only had to put a little over $3,000 in to it to keep it running in the 7 years I have owned it. I couldn’t be happier with it since I bought it with about 50,000 miles for $12,000. I hope to get at least another 85,000 miles out of it.

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joeplemon October 20, 2011 at 6:28 am

Daniel,
I like the way you think. Buy a good car and drive it till it drops. That being said, I hope your DeVille will still be going strong in another 85,000 miles.

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James Hampton November 6, 2011 at 5:18 am

Your math is faulty in the ‘Lifetime Savings’ portion of your article. If you are speaking of purchase price alone, at 15,000 miles per year, the original owner is selling their car at just over 4 years’ use. You claim that the second buyer is spending $75,000 over the course of his life while the original owner is spending over five times that much.

Since when and where can anyone on this planet find a four year old car with 64,000 miles on it at less than one fifth the original price? You can’t! If you can’t see the math in the this you might want to write on some other topic. Also, the second owner will spend much more on maintenance than the first owner (in your scenario).

Have a good day.

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joeplemon November 9, 2011 at 9:43 am

James,
Thank you for taking the time to analyze my math. You are correct about finding a four year old car with 64,000 miles on it at less than 20% of the original price. It won’t happen. My Caddy WAS less than 20% of original price at 64,000 miles, but it was eight years old…not four. I corrected the post and used 500,000 miles lifetime driving (60 years at 8,000 miles per year). My lifetime savings with this correction dropped from $300K to $200K.

Your comment about higher maintenance on the used vehicle is valid, but if you read this paragraph,

“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.”

you will see that I factored in $10,000 in repairs for driving the higher mileage car.

Thanks again for your attention to detail.

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JoeyG January 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Greetings: Your thoughts please … thinking of buying a 1999 Caddy Deville in Naples Fla for under $8K … 33K miles… white exterior, tan interior, looks garage-kept, probably a “snowbird owner who drives to the store once or twice a week, 2-3K miles per year ….. looks good, but I have not met with the dealer yet…. your thoughts? thank you

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Joe Plemon January 16, 2012 at 8:36 am

JoeyG,
Wow. Sounds like a sweet Caddy. I don’t know that I can give an unbiased recommendation, however, because I love my 99 DeVille so much. I WILL say that (after I wrote this post) mine had a head gasket issue which I learned is not uncommon for the Northstar engines. If I was you, I would factor in an expensive repair or a replacement engine when considering the purchase. By the way, as I discussed in this post, I replaced my engine (with a Jasper rebuilt engine) and plan to continue driving my Caddy for many more miles.

Let me know what you decide.

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Sharon April 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm

We are shopping for a used car right now. (plan to pay cash) It is to replace my 1997 Buick LeSabre Limited with 102k miles on it. I am slightly attached to the car, but it is quite large and needs some work. (Brakes, speedometer, headliner, various leaks, and the mech. said it will soon need power steering and suspension/shock work.) The repairs totaled over 5,000. Even if we did all of them, we would still be faced with the possibility of transmission or engine failure.

Anyway- the reason I am commenting is just to add MY reason for wanting to have a newer car. I grew up driving clunkers and have been broken down on the side of the road (or in the middle of an intersection!!!) many times. Being a young girl with no cell phone, I was forced to rely on the help of strangers. I once, out of desperation, accepted a ride from two men just so I could get to a pay phone. It terrified me and the thought of breaking down alone in who-knows-where is still scary. I know even brand new cars have been known to fail suddenly, but I feel much more confident in a newer car.

So that is a reason to keep a newer car from a woman’s perspective.

I did enjoy the article, and it seems like good advice to keep in mind while I am looking for a used car to purchase. I am looking for a 2004-2006 scion xB.

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Joe Plemon April 27, 2012 at 7:43 am

Sharon — thanks for sharing your perspective. Even though my wife and I both drive older cars, we make sure that they are maintained regularly and repaired when even the slightest thing is wrong. I certainly don’t want my wife to experience anything like you have been through, and if she ever feels unsafe because of the age of a car, we will attempt to get her a newer one.

Wishing you the best on your search for the newer used car. I LOVE the fact that you are paying cash!!

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Michelle May 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Joe,

We purchased my 1997 Buick Park Avenue with 70K on it in 2001, and it just turned 250K over the weekend. Same tranny, same motor. Needs a new radiator due to a weekly thirst for 2 quarts of fluid, and minor irritations like the gas gauge flipped completely around, and the cruise doesn’t work. She needs tires badly, and my job is getting ready to move 25 miles further away. Is it time to retire the old gal?

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Charles May 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

I bought my 2004 Focus wagon for just over $14,000 about 9.5 years ago. I hit 200,000 miles today. When I bought it my SO was upset with me buying a Ford (I can not quote her here, the post would be deleted). She asked how long I would own it. I said 140-150K miles. After so many almost trouble free miles, I can buy another Ford with her permission.

Take good care of a modern car and it should last you 200K or more. A nice side effect of keeping the car for so long is that my new car fund is enough to pay cash for any car I would want (2014 C-Max Hybrid is the leading candidate).

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