533,000 Miles and It Runs Like a Top
By JOSEPH SIANO
JUNE 3, 2007
THERE is no one secret to getting your car to live to a ripe old odometer reading. Luck could get you there, but it is no surprise that many vehicles that have reached 200,000, 400,000 and even 500,000 miles have received extraordinary care and maintenance, often with the owners doing the routine work themselves.
Many people owning high-mileage vehicles are proud of the accomplishment and they all seem to have pet strategies to extend the lives of their cars. Clyde Thurston of Tallassee, Ala., credited frequent oil and transmission fluid changes for getting his 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT to more than 220,000 miles. Patrick Swift of Elsmere, Ky., said not taxing the engine and brakes by using cruise control helped his 2000 Chevy 2500-seriesvan reach 533,000 miles. And Loren Faeth of Ames, Iowa, said his 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SDL ran like new with over 400,000 miles because he changed all the fluids himself.
“The commonality I’ve seen among people who drive cars 300,000 or more miles is that they do their own service on the car,” he said. “That way, you know the oil has been changed and it’s changed right.”
Whatever strategies owners are using, cars are indeed staying on the road longer. Ashland Inc., which runs the Valvoline Instant Oil Change centers, said it had been seeing more high-mileage cars. Barry Bronson, a company spokesman, said the number of vehicles serviced with 75,000 miles or more rose 8 percent from February 2004 to February 2007. In that same period, he said, there was an 18 percent increase in vehicles with more than 120,000 miles.
Automobile repair experts said that while using the right oil and changing it frequently were vital for a car to last that long, little things also help. Michael Florence, a co-author of “The Everything Car Care Book” (Adams Media), said that owners should heed service recommendations and other tips found in their car’s owner’s manual.
“Any part of the car that’s supported by lubrication or has fluid in it should be carefully maintained,” said Mr. Florence, an auto mechanic who lives in Flemingsburg, Ky. “Like the brake system. The fluid should be changed every two years because it helps stop corrosion.”
400,000 MILES Loren Faeth checks under the hood of his Mercedes.
LYNN L. WALTERS FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
He said that spirited driving could also shorten a car’s life. “The more pressure you put on parts, the sooner they’ll break,” Mr. Florence said.
His co-author, Rob Blumer, recommended having a mechanic check the timing belt periodically. “If that breaks, it will affect the timing, which can lead to engine damage,” Mr. Blumer said.
His rule of thumb utilizes his index finger. “I hold up the middle joint of my finger against the belt, and if I can count three cracks in the belt in that span, it’s time to replace it,” he said.
Cosmetic issues can also shorten a car’s life if they are left untended. Mr. Blumer suggested waxing a car twice a year and buying a scratch-repair kit from a dealer.
Vladimir Samarin, a mechanic in Toronto who has a car-care Web site at samarins.com, suggested that drivers living where the humidity was high or the winters were harsh get underbody rustproofing when they buy a new car. He said rustproofing also protected brake lines beneath the car.
Relying on oil-change centers to alert owners to chassis problems is a bad idea, Mr. Samarin said, because most companies park the car over a mechanic’s pit instead of raising it on a lift where the wheels can be jiggled to check for loose suspension.
IS IT THE OIL? Patrick Swift uses high-mileage oil in his Chevy van.
MARY ANNETTE PEMBER
And as soon as an engine starts to run hotter than usual or the coolant level drops, he said, check for coolant leaks. “Overheating can lead to real damage,” he said.
Mr. Samarin also warned drivers not to overfill their fuel tanks. “Otherwise you could get fuel into the vapor canister,” he said. If that happens, the charcoal in the canister could find its way into the fuel lines and cause damage. “When you get that first click of the gas pump, stop refueling.”
Mr. Swift, who owns the high-mileage Chevy van, said one reason it has lasted so long is that he has always used oil designed for high-mileage cars, even when the van was new.
Tom Olszewski, Exxon Mobil’s technical adviser for North America for automotive products, said the high-mileage oil category was more than 8 percent of motor oil sales at auto parts stores. He said it was designed to keep engine seals like those around the distributor shaft and the rear main bearing soft and pliable to prevent leaks. But he said using those oils early in a vehicle’s life, as Mr. Swift did, was not necessary.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any harm in it,” he said. “I just don’t think you need that kind of protection until the vehicle has seen the mileage.”
Mr. Faeth, who has the Mercedes with 400,000 miles on it, takes oil changes very seriously. He recommended that owners who want their cars to last should get a chemical analysis of their used engine oil. The analysis could turn up metal particles and show areas of excessive wear. That knowledge helps determine the optimum grade and formulation of the oil the car needs.
Mr. Faeth uses the Oil Analysis Company (youroil.net) of Chester, Va. “Originally, I had hoped to keep it until I got a million miles on it,” Mr. Faeth said about his Mercedes, but he isn’t sure the body will last. “So I’m hoping for one million kilometers.” That would be 620,000 miles.