I am a huge fan of million-mile car owners. So I’ve put together these 10 tips to make your car last forever according to the gurus who have actually done it.
- Choose a car you love (It’s a longterm relationship)
- Pick a model with high reliability
- If used, recondition it to top Spec.
- Fanatically maintain it according to the manual
- Build a monthly repair fund
- Research the model’s weak points
- Keep it Clean
- Drive it like Grampa
- Highway Drive!
- Buy parts on sale and store rare replacements parts for the longterm.
The first question that needs to be asked is, “Do you actually have what it takes?” If you want to join the million mile club its not a cake walk. You’ve got to have a lot of commitment.
Yes, making your car last “forever” means meticulous maintenance, but it’s so much more than that. So, let’s unpack what longterm car ownership really looks like.
It takes intentionality, a solid plan and real affection for your car to make it last.
While what you find below may seem a bit like overkill, trust me, it’s exactly what separates million-mile car owners from the crowd.
Admittedly, varying climates and driving conditions drastically affect the longevity of even the best-maintained cars.
You should still be able to easily double or triple the lifespan of your car compared to all your silly friends who are stuck paying out the wazoo for car loans.
1. Choose a Car You Absolutely Love
Surprisingly, This is the single most important rule.
I once heard a miserable old man grumbled within hearing of his wife, “I wonder if this journey was really worth it.” …Awkward moment to say the least!
Longterm car ownership is like marriage, there’s got to be love and a spark in the relationship or you’ll turn into that grumpy old man.
The bad news is that you are the weak link, in the relationship with your car. I once read the story of a guy who took a Ford Fiesta over 700,000 miles! Dude! He must have really loved that thing! It’s like one of crappiest cars ever!
So are you really cut out for the longterm relationship thing? Most people are pretty impatient. They “divorce” their cars pretty early. It’s like a “till dent do us part” kinda relationship.
The good news? You should really buy your dream car. Think about it. You’re going to need the emotional connection to make this thing last. Oh, and by the way, some other good news: Longterm car ownership is waaaay less stressful than marriage! My wife would agree too, but its still totally worth it.
When I say “buy your dream car” I don’t mean the Ferrari and I don’t mean right now. Be realistic and responsible. Whether its a Volvo, VW Beetle, Lexus, or Civic it’s got to be endearing to you.
For example, Land Rover Defenders don’t last forever because their reliable they last because they have a cult following of die hard owners!
In fact it’s been said “Land Rover has been making mechanics out of Defender owners for decades.” Why do they do it? Because they adore their trucks.
That affection is the main reason why Defenders last.
The cars that last are cars that are loved. So buy a car you truly love above all..and if it has a high reliability ratings thats a plus.
Also, Picture yourself in 20 years. Does the car your driving now make sense?
A turbo Honda Civic Coupé may seem cool for a new college grad, but 5 years later he’ll be straining to strap his toddler into the tiny back seat. In and out..in and out…FAIL!! He should have gone for the sporty Honda Accord.
2. Pick a Model with High Reliability
We’ve all had high maintenance relationships. They kinda wear on you right? It’s far easier to make your car last forever if its already super-reliable. Can I narrow it down for you? Strongly consider Toyota… or Lexus if you’re rich.
If you go anywhere in Africa and look around you’ll notice something very startling about the cars you see. Almost all the old cars in Africa are Toyotas. They’ve simply out-survived the rest in the most brutal conditions on earth. It’s a perfect test-bed for durability. For more on my experience with Toyota’s in Africa you can read my story.
Andrew St. Pierre White is one of the foremost overland 4×4 veterans in the world. He’s got a binge-worthy Youtube Channel which I just love. His years in Africa have brought him to the same conclusion.
Andrew tells the story of an acquaintance of his who drove Toyota Land Cruisers all over South Africa as land surveyor. The nature of his work demanded hundreds of thousands of KM’s on Africa’s most brutal terrain.
The Land Cruisers were tough as nails with bullet proof reliability. But after decades he was getting bored so he decided to try something new: a Ford F150. The F150 rattled to pieces within 2 years.
He lost a huge amount of money, took the loss and skulked back to the Toyota dealership for another Land Cruiser.
Yes F150’s are respectable trucks, but they are not even close to the over-engineered industrial strength of the Land Cruiser. Context of use is everything.
It may surprise you, then, to find out that I actually drive a Honda Accord and I beat around town with super basic standard 2007 Hyundai Accent(both in near perfect shape.) Why not Toyota? Well, because I’m biding my time and saving for a Toyota Landcruiser and a small electric car for around town. Good things come to those who plan and are patient.
A word on electric vehicles. I predict that electric vehicles will be unbeatable in terms of reliability. They simply have far less wear and tear parts to replace or fail (no exhaust, engine oil, transmission oil, timing belts, spark plugs, fuel pumps, fuel lines, water pumps, radiaters etc) So keep that in your back pocket as you make longterm purchase plans for a “lifer” car.
- If you’re buying second hand: Make sure it is: one owner, dealer maintained, no accidents, highway miles, all maintenance records included. (Honda, Acura, Subaru, Toyota, Lexus are good places to start)
- Solid Models to Consider(not exhaustive): Compact(Civic, Fit, Corolla, Impreza), Sedan(Camry, Accord,) Crossover/small SUV: (Manual transmission Subaru Forester, Rav4, CRV) SUV(Sequoia, Land Cruiser, 4Runner), Van(Odyssey, Sienna), Luxury(Most Lexus Models)
- Avoid Model Refresh Years! Don’t do it. I know your salivating at the curves of that newly redesigned car. Good things come to those who wait. History proves that they often come with all kinds of gremlins (Yes even Honda and Toyota have bad years).
- Do your homework. Once you’ve narrowed down the make and model, decide on accessories, and engine choice carefully. More electronics means more repairs and a turbos can be a pain to repair.
3. If It’s Used, Bring it up to Top Specs
I’m a proponent of buying used vehicles in most cases. So, when I buy a car I bring it up top specs. If maintenance records are spotty, I assume that all the major things need to been done. If the car is over miles for the timing belt, transmission oil changes, etc. I do it.
I tell my wife I’m bringing the car up to “Don Specs.” She just roles her eyes. She’s just glad she has a reliable car.
I encourage folks to write a list of priority maintenance items as soon as you buy the vehicle and over the first year of ownership systematically address each item starting with the most critical one.
This does gives you a baseline to work from. It gives you control and peace of mind moving forward.
4. Fanatically Maintain Your Vehicle
Fanatical maintenance is best defined by the aviation industry. I’ve got several friends who are pilots and they are hyper-cautious, but its also why 30 year old planes are still safely plying the skies today.
If you want to make your car last forever, start thinking more like a pilot/aircraft mechanic than a motorist.
In aviation everything is by the book, even smallest abnormalities are addressed immediately. Inspections and full tear-downs are regularly scheduled occurrences. Only proper parts are used. The planes are kept pristine inside and out. Engine hours are logged, even how many engine starts(wear events) are recorded.
So start a file for receipts, a maintenance log, and a schedule in your glove box.
It takes a keen ear, and intentional effort to stay on top of your million mile car maintenance.
- Your MUST religiously follow the manufacturer maintenance regime. Have the oil changed(synthetic only), rotate tires, inspect brake and fuel lines, flush fluids etc according to the manual and on schedule.
- You must keep a file of receipts(for warranties), and meticulous maintenance records in your glove box.
- Dealer maintain it if possible, or find a perfectionist mechanic.(you’ll know him by how clean and organized his shop is)
- Use original parts or lifetime parts in a pinch: This matters big time. You want the interval between changing the part to be at least as long as the first time it was changed since new. Million mile car owners use these warranties on their lifetime parts to get free or discounted replacements.
- Let a friend test your car once in a while, they’ll often notice problems and noises that you’ve missed.
- Plan preventative maintenance. Don’t wait till it’s broken. For example, change the water pump with the timing belt. As soon as something sounds odd or feels different address it. This is why having a maintenance fund is important. Don’t procrastinate. Faulty parts can cause secondary premature wear on other parts.
- Be climate conscious. If conditions are dusty, change the engine air filter more frequently. If you have salt on your roads in winter, undercoat your car well every year.
- Wash and wax regularly. Your car’s paint isn’t just for looks. It’s your car’s main armour against rust. Keep it clean and protect the paint. Doing so will also give you regular opportunities correct even the tiniest rust spots before they become an issue.
5. Build a Maintenance Fund
Set up an automatic withdrawal every month toward a maintenance fund. (I recommend $200) It allows you to plan for engine overhauls and major repairs without stressing and prevents you from procrastinating on repairs.
6. Know Your Car’s Weak Points
Even the most reliable cars have their common failure points. Sign up for your model’s online forum or google: “Your Car, Year + Complaints” to get started. This will help you prepare or maybe upgrade a weak component in due time.
7. Keep Your Car Prestine
- Wash at least monthly
- Wax at least twice a year
- Develop a cleaning habit: every time you get out of your car take at least one thing out…a receipt, gum wrapper, pebble…I don’t care..just something. Leave a clean micro-fiber cloth in the glovebox. Clean your dash your waiting in the car next time. Stuff like this imbeds a longterm routine that pays off.
- Get good seat covers: Start protecting them early.
- Get custom fitted waterproof floor mats like Weathertechs, Husky Liners or my favorite Findway Liners. So many rusted out floor boards actually rust out from the inside because of moister in the carpets.
- If you live in hot climates, protect your car with dash shades.
8. Drive it Like Grampa
Listen if you’re a Micheal Shumacher your car is doomed. If you’re going to make your car last forever, you’re going to need a good dose of caution and patience.
- Stay at the speed limit
- Drive defensively, leave plenty of space ahead of you. You may be able to stop quickly but the guy behind you will destroy your million mile dream with a sickening crunch.
- Yes the occasional red-line rev is good for knocking off some carbon, but generally don’t stress your car. No jack-rabbit starts and hard braking. It’s all wear and tear. Note the traffic light pattern a block ahead and if its green, don’ t rush cause it’s about to turn red. Arrive just as the red is turning green again and save the gas and brake dust(classic hyper-miling trick).
9. Drive Highway Miles as Much as Possible
If you want to make your car last forever consider getting a beater car for the abusive “stop and go” city driving or winter driving.
Consider that a car that drives 300 miles on highway experiences only a few cold engine starts, practically no brake wear, and practically no transmission wear because it stays in top gear virtually the whole distance.
On the other hand, a city car running errands over 300 miles, would experience at least 10 times more cold engine starts, 50-100 times more brake wear, and endless gear changes on the transmission. This doesn’t even include suspension wear from potholes and steering component fatigue from weaving through town. See the difference?
I like the idea of using an electric car for city. Its a perfect fit.
10. Store Rare Replacement Parts
Finally, think ahead. After about 10 years even dealerships stop supplying factory parts, so you’d be wise to think about storing a good amount of critical parts that you’ll need for future engine rebuilds and perhaps a few body panels like bumper covers in case of a fender bender. Remember, you’re in it for the long haul, so don’t be short-sighted.
I know you want to make your car last forever, or at least outlast 95% of the cars on the road, follow these suggestions and you’ll be well on your way. Bon voyage!