When I was a wee lad, my father taught me a new phrase: “planned obsolescence.” I had asked him, “Why don’t cars last forever?” Maybe I saw an old grandfather clock, or some other timeworn item, and wondered why they seemed to last forever, while cars had to be replaced every few years.
That was definitely the case when you lived 40 miles from the nearest big city, where most of the jobs were. Back then, if you squeezed 100,000 miles out of your vehicle, it was a major accomplishment. If the odometer crossed the 150,000 mark, or even an amazing 200,000 miles, you got the best thing that ever came across that assembly line.
My dad explained that cars simply had to wear out, to keep the economy healthy. If they lasted forever, he told me, all those auto workers would be out of a job. Same goes, he said, for appliances, televisions, and just about everything else. It made sense to me.
Until, that is, my uncle Richard bought a Volvo sedan. He made an 80-mile daily round trip for many, many years, piling up a half million miles on that car. So, it CAN be done, I said.
A few years ago, I posted a picture of myself posing with my 1997 Toyota Avalon, as it hit the 220,000-mile mark. The caption read, “Still chugging along, despite a few odd noises, some gas problems, and a few unsightly dents. Oh, and the car is doing fine too.”
Some of my friends have offered tips on keeping a vehicle alive long past its “planned” expiration date. Certainly, some luck is involved. It helps if no one runs into you, or vice versa. Of course, the value of a qualified, trusted mechanic cannot be overstated. If you find a good one, hold on to him for dear life. One woman took that advice quite literally. She wrote, “I married my mechanic!”
You cannot underestimate brand loyalty. Some folks swear by their longtime carmaker. Others swear AT certain auto manufacturers.
Plus, the importance of regular oil changes and routine maintenance, including good brakes, properly inflated tires, clean filters, and healthy spark plugs, hoses, and timing belts. “Whatever you do, don’t ignore that check engine light,” one man wrote. “Some people think it’s just an emissions thing, but it could be far more serious.”
Others with six-figure mileage vehicles just say they were blessed with good assembly-line workers. “I don’t know why my ’89 Toyota pickup had nearly 400,000 miles on it,” one wrote. “I sure as heck didn’t take care of it!”
Others warn of the evils of ethanol-mix gasolines and cheap motor oil. “Keep that stuff out of your car,” one wrote. “Use 100% gasoline and synthetic oil. You get what you pay for, and I’d rather spend a dollar or two extra for good ingredients.”
One friend told me cars were lasting longer because today’s roads are better. “Fifty years ago, we had bumpy roads. No wonder cars didn’t last long.”
Another said he makes a trip to the dealer every time he receives a recall notice. “Some people ignore them, but not me,” he said. “If they’re offering to replace something under the hood,” he said, “there must be a good reason.”
The same goes for “funny sounds.” A mechanic told me, “People come in here telling me they’re hearing something strange under the hood. I’ll ask ‘em how long it’s been going on, and they’ll say about six months. If they had come in when they first heard it, I could’ve nipped it in the bud.”
He added, “If you really want to extend that car’s life, take it easy on the gas pedal and the brakes when you start and stop. No jack-rabbit starts, and no sudden stops. That’ll wear your car out. It’s just common sense.”
A woman said, “Cars are like you and me. The older they get, the more attention they need. People will baby their car the first few years, then let it slide. If you want it to last, give it tender loving care, especially after it gets old.”
Saving the best advice for last, one person wrote simply, “Prayers help.” Another said, “Not being able to afford a new one, has made my old one last longer.”
My friend David Glenn said, “Just keep it wet.” What? He explained, “As long as you keep oil, gas, water, and all the necessary fluids from running low, it’ll run forever.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make sure my car is nice and wet.
(In case you’re wondering, my unofficial survey included mentions of several car makes: the most frequently praised, in order were Chevy, Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Nissan.)
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. His website is ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37405 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.