High Mileage Vehicles Come with Baggage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Autohouse
Vehicles are lasting longer. This is a look into the issues related to the extended age of cars and trucks. The author offers an opinion as to the next step car makers should take.

Submitted: March 12, 2016

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Submitted: March 12, 2016



A pronouncement in a Toyota ad used by the company some years ago piqued my interest. The voice over said, “80% of all Toyotas sold in the U.S. in the last 20 years are still on the road today.” I tracked down the source of that statement and it was Akio Toyoda president of Toyota Motor Company. It was part of a column written by Toyoda that appeared in the Washington Post on February 9, 2010. Essentially it is a mea culpa for quality control problems at the car maker and an outline for the path forward as envisioned by the leader of the brand.

Two things struck me about Toyoda’s statement on his vehicles’ longevity. First how very difficult it must be to verify that all those Toyota Carinas and Previas built around 1990 are still on the road. What is the mechanism to tally all the junk that goes to the shredder? The last time an automotive recycler pulled one from our lot to the great beyond the manufacturer name or miles-driven seemed to be last things on his mind. He seemed more acutely interested in whether it rolled and whether any sparks were flying when it did. But then again maybe the statistic can be arrived at by just comparing last year’s national fleet registration by make and comparing it to this year’s figure.

The other thing that struck me actually got my head nodding in agreement.And that’s how many more miles owners are driving their cars. I tried in vain to come up with any reliable statistic that indicated the average life (in miles) of a vehicle in the U.S. The chat rooms and forums abound with personal accounts running up into the two millions of miles. The closest instance of a verifiable seven digit odometer reading was recorded in 2006 in an Associated Press article about Peter Gilbert’s 1989 Saab 900 SPG. The Wisconsin salesman drove the vehicle for 17 years and retired it to a museum after Saab verified the mileage according to the AP article.

Everyone realizes that Mr. Gilbert’s experience is an aberration, but it does point out what auto maintenance done the right way can achieve. I can personally offer more unverifiable anecdotal reporting of the longer life of our national fleet. Years ago (like the 20 years Mr. Toyoda references) a car in for repairs that had 125,000 miles on it was a rarity. Now a vehicle with over 100,000 seems to be mature and it is not at all unusual to see cars approaching or exceeding 200,000.

So what does this higher vehicle mileage mean for the average car owner? First, you have to give some credit to the car makers – their cars are better made. Once the vehicle gets over the shake- out period when all the flaws show up, necessitating recall, they are better. Equal credit goes to the consumer groups that have put enough pressure on the manufacturers to do their jobs better.

On the other hand, shouldn’t car companies’ manufacturing standards be raised as a longer vehicle life is anticipated? Remember you don’t have to be driving the high mileage car to be involved in an accident caused by a rarely seen age-related failure.

But car owners must expect higher upkeep costs as miles mount and acknowledge the need to perform due diligent inspections of the high mileage cars they intend to purchase. But most importantly they have to realize that at some point in a vehicle’s life there comes a point of diminishing returns. That’s the beauty of the story of Mr. Gilbert’s Saab. Regardless of his attachment to the vehicle, he took it off the road when he realized that the car’s rusted frame had compromised its safety.  


The Associated Press, Car does 1 million miles, retires to museum, msnbc.msn.com

Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s plan to repair its public image, washingtonpost.com

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