It was once a huge red flag: When a car's odometer would hit 100,000 miles, "it was almost a magic threshold that meant the car was probably worn out," says Kay Wynter, who runs an auto service center in Fort Myers, Fla., with her husband, Terry.
But thanks to improvements in car design and maintenance, that milestone now means something very different.
What allows one car to pass the 100,000-mile barrier with few repair bills, while another is ready for the junkyard? It's all about preventive medicine. Feeding your car the right things and taking it for regular checkups will make all the difference.
The type of miles matters
- You might reach 100,000 miles with less stress if you tend to drive highway miles. Highway driving puts less stress on a car than tooling around locally because it requires less quick braking and acceleration, and moisture under the hood has a chance to evaporate.
- "Cars that do a lot of short trips will require exhaust work a lot sooner than a car that travels on the highway a lot," Schappell says.
- Fix agrees. With local driving, she says, "if you sit in rush-hour traffic, tow a trailer, idle outside a school, drive on dusty roads -- that's considered severe duty."
Open the book
The key to keeping your car running smoothly is probably tucked at the bottom of your glove compartment: the owner's manual.
"There is a schedule in the manual that runs well over 100,000 miles," says Lauren Fix, author of "Lauren Fix's Guide to Loving Your Car." It lists when to replace parts likely to be wearing out. That varies for different cars, so check yours and follow it.
Newer cars might have the maintenance schedule built into an internal computer. A blinking light or a beep will announce that it's time to replace certain parts, says autoeducation.com founder Kevin Schappell.
"Typically, around 100,000 or 120,000 miles there are some major preventative-maintenance things that need to be done," Schappell says, so it's a great time to catch up if you've been lax.
Get fluent about fluids
The liquids that go into your car (gas, oil, brake fluid, power-steering fluid, etc.) are crucial to its survival. To extend the life of your car beyond 100,000 miles, these experts suggest frequent oil changes and fluid checks done at dealerships or full-service auto centers.
Gas also matters: Different cars benefit from different types, so check your manual. "For a Honda -- which runs really hot because of the compression -- if it says run premium, then run premium," Fix says. "But if it says there's no benefit from premium gas," you don't need it.
Find the right shop
"Do your research," says Terry Wynter, and choose the best people to extend the life of your car. Ask your friends and neighbors, and search online for reviews of repair shops. Sticking with your car's dealer can be a safe choice, because the staff will be trained to work on your vehicle.
Once you've chosen a shop, get to know the staff and ask questions. "Consumers are smarter now than ever before" about their cars, Wynter says, but many still are uncomfortable asking for details about work that needs to be done.
When you do replace parts, there are ways to save money: "A quick-oil-change place will charge you $50 for an $18 air filter," Fix says, because you're mainly paying for labor.
But an auto-parts store will charge you only the $18 price tag, she says, and "you can buy it and say, 'I don't know how to put this on.' They'll do it as a courtesy."