Monday Mileage Champion: Same As It Ever Was… And Will Be…

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Forbes recently published an article titled “ Cars That Can Last 250,000 Miles (Or More).”

Unfortunately for the author and Forbes, measuring long-term quality of any new or late model is nearly impossible.

Most defects and cost cutting compromises don’t become glaringly obvious until well after the vehicle becomes a common site at the wholesale auto auctions I frequent. That dependable car of yesterday can easily become a rolling pit of the modern day regardless of what seemed to be the reality.

So, I won’t pretend to know the crystal ball of reliability when it comes to any new car. However older used cars are a panacea of good data from actual owners, and to me that’s the only yardstick that truly matters.

Every week another 6,000 to 7,000 vehicles get added to our Trade In Quality Index. This week 22 out of the top 25 vehicles in overall mileage fell into one of four categories.

  • Chevy/Ford Truck Or SUV
  • Ford Panther Platform
  • Honda Car
  • Toyota Everything

The other three vehicles that made the Top 25 this week were two Nissan Maximas and 1 Sentra. I do sometimes see a small blip of high mileage Jeep Cherokees and Jeep Grand Cherokees, Ford Tauruses with the Vulcan V6, not to mention a long line of GM vehicles that came with the 3.8 Liter V6 engine.

Everything else pretty much either makes a brief appearance or two in the list (VW TDI’s, 10+ year old Volvos that have working odometers, pre-1996 Benzes), or is simply never in the running (Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi, SAAB).

What makes a given vehicle last far longer than the norm? Or get curbed at the earliest opportunity? For most of us it comes down to three factors.

1) Ease of repair

2) Overall durability of parts

3) Brand perception

Now normally I would offer everyone here a full drill down of each one and how, let’s say, a 1994 Toyota Camry is infinitely simpler to maintain than a 1994 Mercedes S-Class. Or why a rear-wheel drive Volvo wagon is often seen as worthy of long-term investment, while an older Mitsubishi Galant is often curbed at a far earlier point in time.

But I have the flu. So please, feel free to either support or debunk those three factors. Your Uncle Floyd may have owned a full sized Dodge Van back in the day with a quintillion miles on it. That’s fair. However you may have a different conclusion as to why one model is truly better than another.

Do these three factors reflect why a given vehicle is kept over another? Or am I missing something else in the mix? As Linda Richman would say when she feels a bit tired and vehklempt, “Discuss!”

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5 of 103 comments
  • MAGICGTI MAGICGTI on Mar 19, 2013

    There is a 2001 Volvo V70 NA/automatic with 440k miles on eBay right now, that's a testament to longevity. It's a MA/RI car too, show me a decade-old Japanese car that wouldn't be in pieces in that environment. No doubt it took some money to get there, but you can get a modern Volvo to the moon knowing a trusted Volvo specialist, they're out there.

    • See 1 previous
    • Marko Marko on Mar 19, 2013

      Hmm, there are plenty of decade-old (and older) Japanese cars in MA/RI. Granted, Volvo rust resistance is second to none - I have never, ever seen a rusty 850 or S/V/XC anything - but the 1992 Camry or any Toyota introduced afterwards will hold up quite well. (With a few major exceptions, see below.) It took Honda a few more years, perhaps, but they hold their value enough to be worth fixing. Subaru is a more extreme case of this - they can rust dangerously from the subframe up (TTAC ran an article), but their resale value is ridiculously good, so they get fixed and back on the road. Bad rust resistance? - Nissan Pathfinders - Toyota Tacoma/Tundra (I saw a mid-'90s Tacoma's wheel fall off a few days ago. Luckily it was at parking lot speeds.) - Mazda anything (especially the small ones). - Lots of Mercedes made from circa 1994-2002. This includes all W202 C-Classes, all W210 E-Classes, earlier W163 M-Classes, early W220 S-Classes, and early W203 C-Classes. It seems like they fixed the issue on the W211 E and all subsequent models.

  • Wsn Wsn on Mar 19, 2013

    @ Geeber "Out of 25 vehicles vehicles with the highest mileage, 22 fell into one of the four categories of vehicles named by Mr. Lang. Which means that those vehicles were 88 percent of the vehicles with the highest mileage. Even if we add the TOTAL market share of those four manufacturers – GM, Ford, Toyota and Honda – it doesn’t come anywhere near 88 percent of the total market." ------------ Your logic fails where you assumed that the observed result (by the author) is the real distribution. There are two major issues: 1) Raw data bias: certain makes/models may just never enter Steven Lang's 2nd hand car network. Toyota/Honda/GM/Ford may not account for 88% of national sales, but they may actually account for 88% of all the cars that went through this particular network. To have good samples, you would need to find data from DMV, not from a sales network. 2) The choice of "top 25" is random and without explanation. Why 25? Why not top 133? Why not top 54? They all produce different results. Would there be a big gap between No. 7 and No. 8? Would it be more scientific if we use a weighted average for all the cars in that network? If you like it being simple as in "top 25", then please also accept that it will have a margin of error like 30%. Coupled with a margin of error of 40% with the 1st point, you don't really have any useful information here.

    • Geeber Geeber on Mar 20, 2013

      Mr. Lang regularly compiles these lists (I've seen previous articles by him on this topic). After a few articles, you begin to believe that he is on to something. The same four categories of vehicles inevitably rise to the top of the mileage heap. And then his findings are confirmed by independent mechanics and others in the business, and you realize that he really is on to something.

  • Pig_Iron Emissions and safety inspections are wholly unnecessary as both systems are designed to last the life of the vehicle. ✌ But they will not be discontinued, because to Marxists/fascists, "There is no truth but power". And for power, you need to control other's lives. It's never really about safety, ecology, gender, race, religion etc. - it's really about control. Happy "Pride Season". 🏳‍🌈
  • Dukeisduke It's at $12,188, with seven bids. Priced out of the average collector's budget.
  • Jeff S I don't think safety inspections for most vehicles are necessary. There are so many ways that the system can be cheated and for those who maintain their vehicles and have newer vehicles it is an opportunity for an unscrupulous mechanic to rip them off. Most law enforcement agents will give citations to cars that are really bad and unsafe. As for emissions testing it should be limited to metropolitan areas of a million or more in population. These are my opinions after decades of experience and observation.
  • Cprescott My current ride is paid off in December. Hopefully there will be no more car payments ever. So expensive these days and you have to really pay attention as there are so few actual cars being made in the affordable range.
  • Jeff S Price seems high but then after Covid it probably isn't. Does appear that the car is complete and is restorable. Agree the seller will get at least that price and possibly more. I remember these early Mustangs well when I was growing up and remember the fastbacks were released in August of 64 as a 65 where the regular hardtop and convertible were released as 64 1/2s April 17, 1964. Brylcreem gave one of these original Mustangs away in a mail in contest.