By on February 28, 2017

1992 Honda Prelude Si odometer turning 100,000 miles, Image: Steve Lynch

Edward writes:

Here’s something I’ve been wondering: Why did odometers typically read only to 100,000 miles until fairly recently? Was that the maximum cars could possibly last when the practice began? Was it marketing — “100,000 miles, need a new car”? Is it something else? Durability expectations were certainly raised when Volvo added another digit, and with good reason. Two hundred thousand miles or more now seems to be feasible for many cars, with others known for exceeding that.

The odometer limitation certainly creates lots of doubt in the market for older vehicles. 50,000, 150,000, or even 250,000 miles are possibilities for a given vehicle.

On a related note, why are dealers so committed to ensuring no owner documents are provided with a used car? Even when buying an obviously well-maintained car at a reputable dealer, all I got was a whispered, “The timing belt has been changed.”

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sajeev answers:

The 5-digit odometer’s longevity was likely due to multiple factors:

  • Manufacturers don’t care, as they save money deleting unnecessary parts, instead adding new features/colors and trim/styling to provide consumers a reason to buy a new car. (Optimistic angle.)
  • Manufacturers don’t care, as they willingly engaged in systematic planned obsolescence (pessimistic angle) and I wish you good luck in proving this.
  • The State of New York demanded it by 1993, so automakers finally had a reason to add the extra cost and/or recalibrate their Canadian kilometer doohickies to read a proper American mile.
  • America has a strong culture of considering vehicles over 100,000 miles on the odometer as “over the hill.” Odds are you, dear reader, disagree, but you know many that consider otherwise.

Which is pathetic, but even the open market punishes used vehicles for crossing the 100,000-mile threshold upon trade-in. Would you rather have a “low mileage” 5-digit car over a high mileage car that did the dreaded roll over?

Much like the Dow breaking 20,000, this is an arbitrary threshold with no effect on your vehicle (or portfolio). It’s not like your 401k is now worth eleventy billion dollars in the Super-Mega Bonus Zone. An abused/neglected 60,000-mile car is far worse than a loved vehicle with 120,000 miles on the clock.

Regarding your last question, ask for the vehicle’s complete CarFax and walk away if you don’t get it. (Granted, we all know how that system can be gamed.) The number of variables in a transaction are mind-numbingly complex, made easier if you can afford the monthly payment on a brand spankin’ new loss-leader subcompact car instead. But not everyone wants or can use a Nissan Versa-esque vehicle, so I always recommend a PPI if you’re buying used with any doubts.

[Image: © 2017 Steve Lynch]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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64 Comments on “Piston Slap: New York State and the 5-Digit Odometer’s Death?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    with fairly rare exception, cars up through the ’70s truly were pretty much “used up” before 100,000 miles. my dad had a ’73 Mercury Cougar which he bought new, and by *1977* it had significant rust-through in multiple areas of the body. if you were in the snow belt, cars in the ’50s and ’60s started rusting pretty much on the dealer lot.

    old guys love to say “They don’t make ’em like they used to” because they saw a pristine lovingly restored ’57 Chevy Bel Air at a car show once. They’re conveniently forgetting the thousands of Bel Airs, 150s, 210s, DelRays, Biscaynes, etc. which long ago returned to the very soil whence they came.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “… if you were in the snow belt, cars in the ’50s and ’60s started rusting pretty much on the dealer lot.”

      This. If you got two years out of a car before rust appeared on rockers and quarters, you were ahead of the game.

      My first new vehicle purchase was a Chevy C-20 pickup in 1975. In mid-76, an awful squeak began somewhere on the firewall. After tearing out the entire interior including most of the dash, I discovered the passenger floor had a big rust spot! There was a leak around the heater fan housing. I fixed that immediately. The squeak? I located the source – an ill-matched body panel. I jammed a huge screwdriver into the gap and gave a twist. Squeak ended.

      Also, on the rear of the cab where the roof panel met the B pillar on the passenger side, rust began to appear!

      I kept that truck two years to the day. Sold it for close to what I paid for it, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Jim: Fords of the early/mid 70’s were particularly prone to premature rusting. In Ontario Ford lost a class action lawsuit regarding premature rusting.

      That’s one reason why despite being the ‘Broughmiest’ of all vehicle manufacturers you see so few Fords of that era. The Grand Torino Elite, the LTD, the T-Bird, all in glorious Ford brown should be saved and displayed for other generations to see what middle class, urban North American males aspired to drive in the days of glam rock and disco.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Mr. Dailey, you used a word that is totally offensive to me, and I’m reporting you.

        The word? DISCO.

        Thanks for nothing.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Zack, I may still have my white, Tony Manero style, Pierre Cardin designed suit down in the basement somewhere. Unfortunately, I did give away my handmade, two-tone white and black, platform shoes that I had made to go with the suit.

          Showing up at the Disco dressed like that, with the disco haircut and driving a Mark IV, ensured more success than JB has ever dreamed of.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Chryslers were pretty bad too. they lasted a bit longer, though, then suddenly collapsed into a ruddy pile of dust. my mom’s ’72 Duster held on for a while, but with liberal amounts of RTV sealing water leaks everywhere and a re-welded torsion bar mount or two.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I’ve had old guys tell me, “Thank God they don’t make’em like they used to!”, and then recite all the maintenance required back in the day (we’re talking about the ’40s and ’50s), and how tires lasted 5,000 miles, or 10,000 if your were lucky.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I find that still to be true.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        That experience still exists, only on two wheels. My motorcycle went about 3800 miles on its OEM tires. The replacements (Continentals) fared even worse with the front giving us the ghost at 5500.0

        My most valuable motorcycle-owner skill is removing and mounting tires using Zip ties (see YouTube, this technique is fantastic).

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      Dad always used Dodge Maxi-vans for a work truck. At 80,000 he replaced the timing chain and at 150,000 he sold them and started over. Only one had any power-train issues and that one started as his own fault as the 727 was generally a pretty hearty transmission. These were used to haul some pretty heavy, nearly on the bump stops, loads some days.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Even outside the Rust Belt, cars generally needed a lot of work before 100k, like ball joints and bushings in the front end, a starter, a generator or alternator, a water pump, a couple of fuel pumps, maybe an a/c compressor, a radiator, and the usual tune up parts (eight sets of plugs, points, and condensers, and along with at least two caps and rotors, and one at least one set of wires). Maybe also a valve job and possibly a re-ring, and if the rockers were on shafts, a valvetrain rebuild. An automatic transmission might go 120 to 140k before needing an overhaul, but that was it.

      The next to last car my mom owned was a ’66 Rambler American, and we put 85,000 on it before trading it in December, 1977. I know we put at least a couple of starters and alternators (both Delco-Remy) on it, solid state voltage regulators (they were made by Motorola) an a/c compressor (Borg-Warner York), radiator, rocker arms and shaft, at least a couple of water pumps and fuel pumps, a front end rebuild (ball joints and bushings, and the infamous AMC trunnions), u-joints, and front and rear wheel bearings.

      • 0 avatar
        Junes

        Sometimes cars were great back in the day. My father, a diehard Mopar man to this day (the old Mopar of course), bought a new 1969 Plymouth Fury III and drove it 475,000 miles on the original engine as a traveling salesman. It was the 318 cubic inch V8. He maintained it meticulously, which meant periodic changes of spark plugs, points, condenser, distributor cap, PCV valve, belts, hoses, filters, along with engine and transmission oil changes. It was a glorious fern green color and had the largest trunk I have ever seen in any car. He had extra leaf springs and air shocks installed in the back because he carried heavy loads. Unloaded, the back was jacked up like a drag car. He did have to change the starter and alternator a couple of times, the water pump once, and had the transmission rebuilt once. He had an aftermarket air conditioner installed at Sears Automotive that would make the windows frost up!! Considering the loads he hauled, it’s kind of amazing the engine lasted as long as it did. (We also had a 1969 Chrysler Imperial with the 440 in sky blue. To say that it was huge doesn’t do it justice. The thing was colossal. The truck of the Fury III still seemed bigger though.)

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Junes: he must have done pretty well. The Imperial was an aspirational car. Fury II’s and III’s were the car of choice of the Toronto Police Department. Large and durable. They however never removed/disengaged the yellow running lights. These were uniquely placed in the Fury and therefore a discerning person could identify one from quite a distance. Thankfully.

          Not a Fury but a Monaco, from a later date but still close enough: “It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas.”

          • 0 avatar
            Junes

            AD, you’re so right, the Imperial was absolutely aspirational. It was the Chrysler analog to the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham that my father refused to purchase because of how fanatically Mopar he is. I should have made clear that we got the Imperial 5 years used, not new — we couldn’t afford a new one. And it was a mighty fine piece of junk. The engine and drive train were ok, but pretty much everything else didn’t work: power windows, interior lights, air conditioner, power antenna, radio, cruise control (which one time got stuck in a full throttle position — scary with four unharnessed kids using the back seat as a romper room. My father ripped the cruise cable out of the engine compartment after that incident). We could never get the carburetor adjusted right and timing was always off, and there was major spark knock. But it was huge and impressive, just the thing for a struggling family man to show off in his little community.

          • 0 avatar
            montecarl

            Yep nothing worked in our Imperial… Windows worked when it wanted the air didn’t work..My dad had to stick a pair of garden shears in the carbarator to prop the choke open to start the car

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Right. The build quality was just not there. And yes, many of the beautiful classics you see today had significant restorations…whole engine replacements, paint jobs, interior reupholstery and floorpans.

    • 0 avatar
      montecarl

      My dad had a 70 Chrysler Imperial by 75 the car was used up and ready for the junk yard…Our 13 Madza 6 Still have the new car smell…

  • avatar
    heycarp

    Last 3 used cars I purchased from dealers here in Dayton Oh. furnished the phone # of the previous owner. Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.

    • 0 avatar

      That runs afoul of privacy laws depending on the state.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I’ve bought a couple of cars off used car lots, and was able to talk to the previous owner. On one, I was able to fix an alignment issue (with camber kits for McPherson struts) that the previous owner said she hadn’t been able to solve.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The 2014 Lincoln MKS I bought (which is now getting CPO’ed, thanks to the dealer falsely advertising it as such on their site) has all of the previous owner’s information in the satnav system…favorites, previous destinations, and his / her home address. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to figure out who that person was from there.

      Guys, remember to delete your destinations and phone book data out of (a) rented cars, and (b) cars you’re unloading / trading in.

      That said, I have never seen a dealer outright surrender contact information for a previous owner. I have, however, seen them print records for a pre-owned vehicle and fail to redact the previous owner’s name and contact information.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        I’m interested in hearing about your impressions of the MKS. Their cliff-like depreciation makes them a tempting buy in the used market.

        But I haven’t been very impressed with the Taurus and I haven’t yet actually driven an MKS yet, so my interest hasn’t progressed past the autotrader ad stage.

        • 0 avatar
          duffman13

          I’m hoping the same thing happens with the new Contis; I sat in one at the DC auto show this January and it’s definitely a car I would like to own for around $20k.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a used ’92 Roadmaster Estate from a local dealer here in PA. Dealer sticker on the back was for a place down near Baltimore or DC. On a whim, I called the service department of the dealer and mentioned a name I found on something in the glove box… the service manager remembered the car and was all too happy to tell me about the previous owner, an elderly gent who had it maintained religiously at the dealer. Nice.

  • avatar

    We actually have government regulation to thank for this. When the Feds required a car to pass pollution for 80k miles, they had to build better because they know statistically that failures occur over a spread of mileage, not at a magic number.

    Remember points ? Carbs ? (No not the dual quads or sixpack gleaming at the car show…the dirty, crap two barrel that won’t get the right gas to your car in the summer or winter and fire off.) The biggest part of a tune up used to be that the spark was right for a few thousand miles before the points fell out again.

    Leaded gas…change your oil at 3k miles…..

    Nope, other than as a fun-day ride, Carbs, points, etc can all be in the dust bin of history.

    Now, you wear out shocks and suspension, followed by “sensors” and “relays” all of which are NOT in warranty. The hard points tend to last, the electrics connecting them will make you batty.

    Add to this the changes in the economy. You don’t sell a new car every three anymore except to a very small subset of Caddy buyers and rich folks..and they change not on model cycle but boredom. Most have to last a five year note….or a lease/resale cycle with a lesser warranty but still a warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      @ speedlaw: Certainly agree with that. Ii started driving in about 57 and it was a big pain. The points, however, are now history even on most restorations. The Pertronix and/or Crane electronic ignitions fit under the stock distributor cap and run for a long time with no maintenance. I am one who says “thank God they don’t make them like they used to”.

  • avatar
    jmo

    With cars lasting so much longer than they used to why are so many of the B&B convinced that manufacturers are intentionally making an inferior product?

    • 0 avatar

      Market Segment. The small cheap car can’t be quiet, and you don’t hit the same NVH target, even if you can, as the more expensive car. The difference between making the cheap car and the expensive car is probably tiny compared to the retail transaction price, so anything you can do to encourage them to move up ladder is good for you. If they put the “cash on the hood” in the interior, I am convinced that they’d upset the market segment applecart. I soundproofed some of my cheap cars in the past, and if one hack artist in a driveway can make a significant difference, imagine if OE did anything.

      Planned obsolescence – the OE know exactly the average of how long parts last. They have to last the warranty, and beyond that, literally no one cares at OE…I used to think BMW-MB built better because the car was so expensive the pay out period would be longer, but that is no longer true, even if it was at one point.

  • avatar
    Ion

    What’s “fairly recently” it seems most cars added the extra digit in the early 90’s.

  • avatar

    Not sure it’s quite right to say the market punishes the value of cars over 100,000 miles. Many banks will not lend money to buy a car with over 100,000 miles on the clock. Truly it’s the financial institutions that impact high mileage cars, and for whatever reason they have picked 100,000 miles arbitrarily.

    Most buyers don’t have enough cash, so if there is no bank loan then the car isn’t an option to a large proportion of buyers. I sold a car once through a tote-the-note lot, not sure I would ever buy one that way.

    Buyers don’t care too much if a car is over 100,000 miles, they do care if they can actually drive it off the lot or not.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I’ve bought cars off of note lots, but I’ve never financed through them. I either pay cash, or arrange my own financing.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Not sure it’s quite right to say the market punishes the value of cars over 100,000 miles.”

      not anymore, for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Exactly. 100K miles is that threshold where the car is still, with some exceptions, too pricey to be a cash car in a lot of people’s cases, but no bank will finance it (and, really, a lot of banks Ive seen cap mileage at 70K, not 100K). So, yes, dealers do give you less for 100K mile cars on trade because they’ll be harder to shift.

      The main people who can buy 100K cars are those who have the credit and banking history to take out an unsecured signature loan at their bank for the amount of the vehicle…and those who can just outright pay cash.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    There was a time, during the 1980 to 1990 period, whereby GM odometers only had 4 digits, and from 1991 through 2009 whereby they had 6 digits, but the first one was rarely required.

    Even now, GM could probably revert back to the 5 digit odometer and save 11 cents per vehicle manufactured, and it wouldn’t make a huge impact.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Four digits? What? Uh, I’ve never seen that, and I’ve seen a lot of ’80s GM cars. One reason that cars went to six digits is because kilometers rack up almost twice as fast, necessitating six digits.

    • 0 avatar

      Uh no. I’ve been in every GM product made from 1980 to 2001 and haven’t seen a 4 digit odometer. Last one I can recall seeing was in a 1931 Ford Model A.

      My 86 Pontiac 6000 had a 6 digit odometer as well, though it was digital and ran to 199,999 before it stopped. the non digital dash had a 6 digit odo as well.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yeah I noticed a lot of Corsicas and Bonnies from way back had 6 digit. Wasn’t uncommon to see 220k+ on a well running 3800 Bonnie or 88.

        Ford was the last hold out, and undeservingly so IMO. There were exceptions of course, but bread and butter cars like the Tempo and Crown Vic were good for well over 100k. The Taurus, once the transaxle was sorted was still hit and miss with the awful 3.8L. You got a double dose with the 3.8L, it not only ate heads and was prone to knocking, the extra torque wasn’t exactly helping matters with transaxle longetivity.

        Still, I’ve cranked up a 1987 Sable (3.0L only that year) at the dealer in the service bay and was writing down the mileage. It said 30k. I asked the man was it 130k? No. 230k. Owned since new. It ran great and he took excellent care of it.

        Now having a 3.0L Taurus with that many, ha well I proved it several times (this one and my 93 that went beyond 300k) that they were capable, especially if even sorta maintained with trans fluid/filter changes, etc. Mine has been through the ringer compared to his nice clean Sable, heh mine looks like every bit of its odometer. His could have passed for 130k easy, maybe 30k to someone unfamiliar with cars.

        Mine is getting better though. I enjoy improving it.

    • 0 avatar
      AthensSlim

      Wow! DW is full of shit, imagine that!!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “On a related note, why are dealers so committed to ensuring no owner documents are provided with a used car?”

    When test driving my truck (which the dealer did say he had picked up at a vehicle auction in Phoenix) I did find the previous owners insurance paperwork. Seeing that the insurance was through AARP and that the registered address was in Sun City, AZ – that told me everything I needed to know about the 1st owner.

    I do find it silly for some of the used cars at the local Buick/GMC dealer, cars that I know have likely been maintained since day one by that dealer, they don’t at least provide a print out of service records.

    Come on. When there’s a spotless 2009 Lucerne (metallic brown with tan leather) sitting on a Buick dealers used car lot, I can be pretty certain where it came from. Especially in a small town where the 1st owner probably lives 3 blocks away and traded it for a new Lacrosse.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a different experience. When I bought the CTS from a dealer, they showed me the car’s whole service history from the system-although I politely made it clear that I was up on the recall/TSB history of that model. When I got the car, in the owner’s manual was a copy of the old registration. I wrote to the old owner, who kindly wrote back and said they traded because they wanted new. I saw the car got regular oil changes and save one brake job, all work was done at the dealer. Notably, he bought new Michelins at the dealer, who did a horrible balance job on these full retail tires. (I thought a wheel was bent-it wasn’t)…but my wheel smith made it perfect and I got almost 40k more out of them.

      I’d rather buy a used car from the new car dealer who sells that car, under the theory that anything dicey goes to Auction, and if there is a problem, the New Car shop is a bit more accountable.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Nearly everything is sourced via auction or wholesaler (from other dealers), either Manheim, third party local, or more recently Carmax. Inventory turnover is very common, I’d say outside of a few oddballs the UCM hangs onto unless you catch it early in cycle you are looking at an “auction car”.

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      I went to look at a 3-year-old CPO Sonata GLS on Friday, just to see what I thought of it. It turned out that the car was bought new at that dealership, traded in there, and serviced there regularly. They voluntarily gave me a printout of the service record for the car. Didn’t even have to ask.

      And the best part was that even despite all that, for some reason that car had gone unsold for three months so it was being offered at a very good price. I was so impressed that I bought it to use as my new daily driver.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Not getting maintenance and repair records is one reason I won’t buy a used car from a dealer.

    On the flip side, I imagine that a lot of people trade cars in to dealers to make the transaction easy, not have to entertain strangers and flakes at their homes, and to be done with the car cleanly even if they realize they are leaving money on the table. The last thing they would appreciate is a phone call from a new owner asking questions about the car.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      In the two cases where I called previous owners, they didn’t seem to mind talking to me. When I bought a ’76 Vega GT 5-speed in ’84, I got to talk to the P.O. before I bought it. It didn’t have the GT wheels on it, as he had swapped the wheels and tires to another Vega he owned. I asked him if he had any concerns about it, and he said just the miles (93,000). I bought the thing and drove it for eleven years and another 125,000 miles, before selling it (it still ran okay, just leaked oil) for $750. A big box of used and NOS parts went with it.

    • 0 avatar
      RJStanford

      Honestly, I recently traded in a rarely-used Element and this was a big factor. I offered it around on Facebook to friends at a very reasonable price, then took probably a 10-15% hit (surprisingly good offer actually) at the dealer from what I could reasonably have found for it on EBay or CL just to not have to hassle with all that.

  • avatar

    My dad used to work with a guy who bought a used Caravan. He found the owner’s phone number on the owner’s manual and called him. The previous owner said he had sold it back as a lemon law buyback.

    It turns out the manual was switched – the lemon car was a different color.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I think it was somewhere around 77-78 that we went to KLM’s…It had to be the mid 80’s until we started to see the extra digit, on the odo. At the time ,my wife was doing a 75 mile round trip commute. We bought a cottage up north 125 miles away. In late 80 I bought her an 81 Monte Carlo. I babied that Monte, and traded it, in early 89 with 23,0000 KLM showing on the clock. The Monte had been meticulously maintained no rips , no dents, no rust. The car looked and drove great ..(I’m fussy, and the guy you want to buy a used car from}

    So the used car manager/ 26 year old son of the dealer, looks it over. The dude looks at me “23000 KLM’s Eh ? “..I look a little sheepish. He goes on to say, with a bit of a smirk…”More like a 123,000” …I have that.. “I guess I’ve been busted” look, pasted on. How foolish of me to even think, I could slide one by such an expert. I took solace in the fact that I had never even implied that the Monte had only 23,000 KLM’s.

    We agreed to a price, and life went on…In actuality the odometer in the Monte was on its 3rd time around 223000 KLM’s (about 133, 000 miles} …Well maintained, and all, the Monte had seen the best part its life. Though it did look pretty.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    In the olden days of carburetors the start-up choke setting washed the cylinders with lots of extra fuel, thinning the oil enough that when a car rolled over 100,000 miles it was time for a ring job. That is, if it was worth keeping.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    We just bought a car for our 16-year-old daughter (a 2010 Kia Forte Koup EX with a 5-speed manual), and it has 103,000 miles on it. I didn’t want anything with more than 120k on it, because I want some grace period before it needs things like CV joints. Saw plenty of cars with 150k or 160k on them, but I wasn’t interested in any of those.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In 2009, we bought a 2001 Elantra with 138k on it, and ran it to 201k in 2014 – the rust finally got ahead of me.

      It *did* require a lot of repairs over the years (I think it had a rough childhood), but it never once left us stranded. Two of my kids took their driver’s test in that car. The family was sad to see it go.

      The newer H/K cars like yours are much better than those.

      Many happy miles to you.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      tonycd and bd2 both guarantee a minimum of 880,000 trouble-free miles from any Hyundai or Kia vehicles, so don’t worry.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    My ’95 F-150 had an LCD odometer, with six digits for miles plus the tenths digit. Toyotas don’t have the tenths digit, and I miss that.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    I’m selling my Audi today to a gentleman that lives about an hour south of me. Carfax shows nothing past the first owner. I am including all the maintenance I have done since, which includes over 60 thousand miles in less than 4 years. In over 140 thousand miles, the car has not a single thousand miles unaccounted for in terms of full synthetic oil and all that. It’s been nothing short of a dream car, but we drive quite a bit, so it’s time to move on.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    The reason is actually quite simple. Back in the day 100K miles was a good life. Imported cars however, were originally manufactured for kilometers. Since a KM is shorter that a mile, a five digit odometer that read in KM would turn over at the equivalent of 63,000 miles. Even a POS Fiat could eclipse that distance, so anything made with KM as the primary unit of measure had the sixth digit. Foreign car makers, also obsessed with cost savings, were not going to produce a special odometer just for the American market, so those six digit odometers were simply recalibrated to read miles. Fans of the imports often said the six digit odometer reflected confidence in the product to really go the distance. Detroit, fighting to improve its image, added the sixth digit to counter the myth that the imports’ extra digit implied an automatic longer life. It’s really no more complicated than that.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    My Father used to tell the story of the “guy next door” who repoured the babbitt main bearings on his Franklin like every 1000 miles. He said “they even made a kit for that purpose”.

    You young whippersnappers these days have it so easy.


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