Maybe you or someone you know has an old junkheap of a
car with 250,000 kilometres on it. Maybe you think that's a lot.
Meet Peter Gilbert, who drove a Saab more than 1.6 million
kilometres through 17 Wisconsin winters.
And Clifton Lambreth, a zone manager for 600 Ford and Lincoln
Mercury dealers around the South, where he's seen plenty of Ford
pickup trucks with 1.2 million kilometres. He calls them ``road
And Michael Dennison, whose Bavarian Professionals auto shop in
Berkeley, Calif., routinely works on 20-year-old BMWs _ including a
1987 with 1.2 million kilometres and a 1982 with 885,000 kilometres.
``In our disposable culture, a car is one of the few products you
own that rewards your attempts to keep it going,'' said Dennison.
``There is a puritan satisfaction that comes with squeezing all the
juice out of a car.''
Michael Wright of Port Angeles, Wash., drove his Toyota SR5
pickup well past 480,000 kilometres before finally replacing it _
with a 1989 model of the same car that had ``only'' 240,000
``It was in good shape,'' Wright said. ``I feel like I'm driving
a new car!'' New compared to his old truck, that is - which didn't
have a radio or air conditioning or a working windshield washer.
What does it take to keep an old car running that long? Here are
some tips from folks who know a thing or two about auto longevity.
_ You probably know that changing the oil every 4,800 kilometres
or so is critical, but so are other small maintenance tasks.
Don't forget to change the filters and rotate the tires, said
Dennison advised changing the automatic transmission fluid every
80,000 kilometres; changing the spark plugs every 96,000 kilometres;
flushing the brake fluid every two years, and putting a new battery
in preventively if the old one has lasted five years.
Dennison said it's also important to keep cars from overheating.
``If your car has a low coolant indicator and it comes on, wait half
an hour to let the car cool off,'' Dennison said. ``Check the level
- if it's low, get your car towed.'' He recommended getting the car
towed if the temperature gauge goes beyond the two-thirds point, and
draining and refilling the cooling system every two years to inhibit
_ Keep your car clean, inside, outside and underneath.
Wash and wax frequently. Hose out wheel wells to flush out dirt.
Vacuum inside to remove grit that could corrode the upholstery and
carpets. And garage the car or park in the shade when possible.
Dennison said that rust due to rain, snow and salt on the roads
``is not nearly the issue it once was'' due to improvements in
rustproofing. ``The sun, however, is extremely hard on a car's paint
and interior,'' he said.
Gilbert's car, a 1989 Saab 900 SPG, is now in the Wisconsin
Automotive Museum. But he said washing it twice a week by hand was
crucial to keeping it going.
``Seventeen winters in Wisconsin is brutal,'' said Gilbert, who
has become a celebrity among Saab devotees, making appearances at
auto shows and Saab conventions. He got a brand-new Saab from the
company for free, and a video on YouTube shows the odometer turning
from 999,999 miles back to zero.
_ If you're facing a large repair, do the math.
What would the monthly payment for a new car be over several
years compared to the cost of say, replacing a transmission? If you
think you can get a few more years out of the old car, it might be
worth the investment, Wright said.
``I would look at a Kelley Blue Book guide,'' Lambreth said. ``If
a repair exceeds 120 per cent of the value of the car, it's probably
not worth it - unless you really love the vehicle and you don't want
to give it up.''
Dennison said ``it is almost always much less expensive to
maintain a car than to buy a new one - unless very expensive items
fail, such as the paint, the interior, and the engine.''
Your old car may also save you money on insurance, because you
probably won't bother with collision insurance. But before you
decide that the old jalopy is perfect for the teenage driver in the
family, remember that many older models don't have air bags, so
there are safety considerations as well as financial ones.
_ Don't worry about impressing your friends.
Kristen Bergevin's 1990 Lexus has a few scratches, scrapes and
tiny dents. ``It has about 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometres) on it
and still runs great,'' said Bergevin, who does public relations for
The Phelps Group. ``I live and work in L.A., where image is
everything, but I love my 17-year-old Lexus.''
If you need inspiration for keeping your workhorse going,
consider Cuba, where tens of thousands of old American cars built in
the 1950s and even earlier make up as many as a third of the
vehicles on the island's streets. Shipped there before the 1959
revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, the Chevys and Fords
were later joined by Soviet vehicles such as boxy Lada sedans and
Many of the old American cars are on their second, third or even
fourth engines, and have turned over their odometers numerous times
_ that is, the ones with odometers that still work. They are
lovingly maintained by their owners, and a majority are still
working vehicles, collectively known as ``maquinas'' or machines.
They serve as peso taxis for average Cubans who pile in and call out
their stops along the way.
The median age of passenger cars on the road in the United States
was 9.2 years in 2006, a record high, according to an annual survey
by R. L. Polk & Co. ``This is more evidence that vehicle engineering
and durability continues to improve with each new model year,'' said
Dave Goebel, a consultant for Polk's Aftermarket Solutions, in a
``The quality of cars today is incredible,'' agreed Lambreth.
``If you follow the manufacturers' maintenance, most of those cars
will surprise and delight you.''
Or, as Dennison put it, ``they don't make cars like they used to.
They make them better.''