Can your average new car be expected to make it to 100,000 miles?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was looking for a second car. I wanted a classic. For some reason, I said something about a 1992 car with 180,000 miles on it. My stepbrother said, "You know that engine has been rebuilt, don't you?" That started the debate. He claims most engines are ready for the junkyard after 100,000 miles. I tell him that since 1990, I'm guessing, engines are made so much better than in the '50s and '60s, and it's not so surprising to see a car get 200,000 miles or more. He claims that would be rare. He also claims that he will NEVER lose this argument, because if new cars were good for 200,000 miles, a dealership would give you a warranty for that long. I know I'm right. How can I prove him wrong, though? -- Josh

TOM: Well, you're more right than he is, Josh. The only flaw in your argument is your use of the term "classic" and "1992" in the same sentence.

RAY: Here's the story. Back in the 1950s, if someone got 100,000 miles out of a car, it was cause for celebration.

TOM: And today, everybody gets 100,000 miles out of a car. If they don't, they're writing to us claiming that they'll never buy another [fill in the blank] as long as they live.

RAY: And while your stepbrother is right that 200,000 miles is rare, it's a lot less rare than it used to be. And 100,000 to 150,000 miles is not rare at all. It's pretty much expected.

TOM: And warranties ARE longer. Back in the '50s, you typically got a 12-month warranty on a new car. Now, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi offer 10-year power-train warranties, and Chrysler recently announced a limited LIFETIME power-train warranty. So, as long as those companies don't go belly up first from fixing everybody else's engines, you're pretty much guaranteed a good, long engine life.

RAY: So there IS more confidence in the longevity of engines and transmissions. And I would attribute it to several factors. Better manufacturing is certainly one. But I think the biggest factor is better lubricants. Detergent oils came on the scene back in the '60s, and they've been improved continuously ever since. That means metal parts run longer without grinding each other to death. And that's really the key to long engine life.

TOM: So tell your stepbrother that he was wrong on two counts -- his argument, and that he would never lose this argument.

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