Why 200k miles is the new 100k

People used to fear owning a car over 100,000 miles. 200,000 was uncommon unless the engine was replaced.

The truth is, most modern cars on the road will go 100,000 or even 150,000 with zero unscheduled maintenance. That’s right. Not a single thing will break. Even at 200,000 miles, most cars are still fairly reliable. A blown, well-maintained engine is almost un-heard of today.

The market reflects it. Check around for a Toyota truck with 200,000 miles or more. Chances are, it’s more expensive than you think. Why? Because people know there’s a lot of life left in them.

Cars are getting more reliable for a lot of reasons:

  • Reliable cars sell better, so every manufacturer has been fighting to make their cars better.
  • Emission standards oddly, inadvertently made cars more reliable too. Newer engines must burn gas more cleanly in order to pass emissions. Dirt and grime in the engine causes wear; so now the engines last longer.

Why did emissions standards make cars more reliable?

  • First, the EPA wanted to make sure cars didn’t accumulate a few miles and then start belching bad stuff so they implemented a rule that said a certain percentage of cars would be randomly selected after they accumulated 100,000 miles. A minimum percentage of the selected cars still had to pass an emissions test. Worn, poorly running engines won’t pass an emissions test so they were forced to be reliable. Because manufactures are often running right up against the limit of emissions, engines would have to run close to as well as they do new as they do at 100,000 miles.
  • Second, is because manufactures were forced to build engines that burn fuel more completely. One of the leading causes of engine wear is dirt circulating through the engine oil (this is discussed in detail here). The primary source of that dirt is incomplete combustion of fuel which also happens to be very bad for emissions. Because emissions laws are always stricter, combustion is getting better and better with time, wear is decreased, and engines last longer. The Chevrolet small block is a great example. A 1980’s vintage would barely survive 150,000 miles. A newer model commonly lasts 250,000 or more.

Walk through a junk yard and it becomes clear. Older cars have reasonable seats and interiors that look fine. They were sent to the junk yard because of a blown engine or transmission. Newer cars in the junk yard don’t look so good. Seats and Steering wheels are worn through to the foam. Carpets worn through. These cars didn’t die because of a blown engine. They died because of no one wanted to drive them.

-Christiaan Best
Ford F-150 with 227,000 miles (original engine and transmission)

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