No, Your Car Won’t Blow Up At 100,000 Miles

Illustration for article titled No, Your Car Won’t Blow Up At 100,000 Miles

Today, we're going to cover a topic that has been plaguing neurotic car owners for decades: what do you do when your car reaches 100,000 miles?


To the most neurotic of car owners, the answer to this question is simple: your car won't reach 100,000 miles. That's because these people think a car with 100,000 miles is garbage; trash; refuse; the automotive equivalent to a toaster that won't toast, which is really just a place to store your slices of bread every morning.

I'm not sure where this 100,000-mile fear came from, but it's certainly a commonly-held belief among virtually everyone from the Baby Boomer era. "Why would you want THAT car?" they'll ask, revolted, as if they've just bitten into a sandwich that tastes like envelope glue. "THAT car has more than 100,000 miles on it. It's the automotive equivalent to a blender that won't blend."

Some of these people become so upset with the idea of a 100,000-mile car that you have to wonder if something happened during the Baby Boomer-era formative years that makes them believe that 100,000 miles really is the death knell for the automobile. Maybe, back when they grew up, cars would catch fire right at the 100,000-mile mark. Or maybe, back when they grew up, 100,000-mile cars would disintegrate into small flecks of dust. Or maybe, back when they grew up, their parents had a Chrysler.

But regardless of the reason for all this 100,000-mile hatred, these people generally seem to really practice what they preach. For example: what these people do, when they go to buy a used car, is they search high and low for an example of a vehicle with less than 100,000 miles on the odometer, giving absolutely no regard to the car's mechanical state, or its body condition, or the fact that it's a Saab. "Look!" they'll say, coming home with a brand-new used car after a day of searching, and test-driving, and looking at odometers. "I found this excellent Land Rover Freelander with only FORTY SIX THOUSAND miles! Now, can you kids come outside and help daddy and the tow truck driver push it into our driveway?"

So today I've decided to make a little public service announcement for these fine folks, inasmuch as I'm going to explain to you a simple truth about modern automobiles: they won't blow up at 100,000 miles.

To explain what I mean, I must draw on my own personal experience, largely because I have absolutely no real facts to support my position. So let's take my first car, which was a 1996 Volvo 850 Turbo, purchased for $6,500 in September 2004 from a guy who had decided to sell the Volvo and keep his other car: an Alfa-Romeo 164. This is the moment when we should've realized our running costs would be approximately the same as a navy battleship.


And what a maintenance nightmare it was. I'll never forget the day it actually hit 100,000 miles: we pulled over, took all the requisite photos, excited to see the milestone odometer event. And then, less than 20 minutes later, several engine parts disintegrated and the car had to be towed to the dealership. I swear this is true.

But here's the thing about this Volvo: it wasn't the 100,000-mile mark that caused this unfortunate incident. In fact, we had problems like this at all sorts of odometer readings, including 85,000, and 90,000, and 95,000, and 95,200, and 95,400, and 95,450, etc., so I don't really think it was the mileage's fault. In fact, I still run the Carfax on this vehicle every few months, as I do with all my old cars, and it remains out there somewhere, six years later, faithfully driving down the road in Fort Collins, Colorado, draining some poor, unfortunate sap of all his money.


OK, so let's move on to my second car, a 2001 Audi A4 painted a heinous color that should've been called "Chi Omega Rush Week Purple." This car passed the 100,000-mile mark just fine; flawlessly, really, with no troubles at all, until the transmission completely died several months later. So maybe my own personal experience isn't really a great way to prove my point, although I must say that the aforementioned incidents were largely my fault. This is because I chose two European cars, and with hindsight I now know that European cars are designed to last approximately the same amount of time as party balloons.


No, to really prove my point about 100,000-mile cars, you have to have a Japanese vehicle. In order to show you what I mean, I must direct your attention over to AutoTrader, which has a search category entitled "Over 200,000 miles," presumably in case the following situation ever takes place:

Person 1: Well, it's time to find a new used car!
Person 2: That's great, Steve! Let's check out some listings online!
Person 1: You know, Person 2, these miles are just too low. Can we find something with over 200,000 on it?
Person 2: What?
Person 1: You know what I mean, Person 2. Something that's really broken in.
Person 2: Why do you keep calling me Person 2?
Person 1: Oh, and can we only search for smoker's cars?


After just a few minutes of searching, I've found a large number of cars that prove once and for all that this 100,000-mile thing is a myth, including this 2002 Toyota 4Runner with 414,538 miles, this 1998 Mazda Protégé with 278,579 miles, this 2002 Nissan Frontier with 350,721 miles, this 2002 Honda Insight with 440,471 miles, and possibly the overall winner: this 1989 Toyota Camry with 626,635 miles, which is enough to drive to Neptune and back, assuming that you do not check my facts.


So I must say to you, Baby Boomers, that your car will not explode at 100,000 miles, provided that a) it's a reliable vehicle to begin with, b) you maintain it properly, and c) it was not previously owned by me. Disregard any of those points, and you'll end up with the automotive equivalent of a colander that won't coland.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.



David Ruddock

People also forget that miles != age. There is such a huge difference in what age will do to a car versus what miles will do.

A 5-year old car with 200,000 miles, as long as it is well maintained and not been beaten to death, can look and drive like it's new.

A 25-year old car with 50,000 miles, even if it is well maintained, is still going to run into the issues a 25-year old car will run into, because it is 25 years old and time takes a toll, not to mention older vehicles are - this is a fact - more unreliable than newer ones, a truth car nuts often simply will not admit.

Miles are important, but age is just as important. A '91 Civic (just picking a "reliable" car here) with 50,000 miles versus a 2010 with 200,000 - both well-maintained, I'd go with the 2010 every single time.