Dear Car Talk:
I'm going to college in the fall, and my parents want to give me their 2004 Honda Element. The Element has 140,000 miles on it, and my grandpa says it's going to fall apart and that cars can't be trusted after 100,000 miles. My dad says the Element could go to 200,000 miles.
I don't want to get to college and have a clunker that falls apart. I like the car well enough, although my first choice would be a Jeep. Should I sell it now and try to get something with fewer miles, or should I hang on to it? Thank you. -- Genevieve
Grip it tightly, Genevieve.
I side with your Dad on this one. Your grandpa came of age at a time when it was a surprise for cars to go more than 100,000 miles. A big hint was that odometers only went to 99,999.
Fifty years ago, you got bragging rights at the neighborhood OTB if you nursed your car over the 100K mark. But now it's expected. If you get less than 100,000 miles out of a new car these days, you'd probably go on Twitter and badmouth the manufacturer.
Hondas, in particular, have a reputation for lasting a long time, provided they're taken care of. Or even sometimes when they're not. We've got several customers with Elements that have 250,000 miles or more on them. And they're still running perfectly.
That's no guarantee that yours will always run perfectly. Stuff eventually goes wrong with every old car. But the Element has proven very reliable.
Plus, it's actually a perfect college car. The rear seats fold up out of the way to create a ton of cargo room to schlep your stuff from home to school every year. And they fold back down to drive your friends around. It's all-wheel drive, which will help if you run into snowy or icy weather. It gets decent mileage, so it won't cut into your pizza (not beer!) money. And it's got a washable cargo area, in case you get involved in any crazy sorority pranks involving whipped cream, rotting fish and livestock.
Perhaps most important, you know its history. If you sell it and buy something else, you'll have no idea how that other used car was driven, or how it was cared for. In the case of the Element, your dad took care of it. Which comes with an added bonus: He might even feel a little bit guilty when something goes wrong and help you out. Whereas if you trade it in for a Jeep, he'll automotively disown you and wish you "good luck" when it breaks down.
My only suggestion is to ask your dad to have it checked out thoroughly before you leave for school. Take it to a mechanic and ask him to look it over as if you were buying it as a used car. Ask him to tell you everything he can find that's wrong with it and everything that needs to be serviced and fixed. And have him change the rear differential oil and adjust the valves, if that hasn't been done recently. That'll give you one last chance to run the bill up on Dad before you take possession, Genevieve.