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100,000

Over 100kDad and I were in the "Battleship," the grey '76 Ford LTD, somewhere on I-76--I don't remember where we were headed. For the last couple of miles, Dad had been paying very close attention to the instrument panel. "Instrument panel" is kind of too strong a term for what the LTD had: a CinemaScope wide-screen speedometer, a gas gauge, and a bunch of dummy lights, none of which were lit up. The engine sounded normal, the car was tracking straight and true, but Dad was very intently focused on something. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he replied. "Just hold on."

He started slowing and pulling off into the median, extremely attentive to his speed and rate of deceleration. He came to a precise stop and pointed at the odometer, a very satisfied look on his face.

"00000.0", it read. All zeroes.

At Dad's insistence, we got out and stood in front of the car and shook hands, a modest ceremony to commemorate what was, at that time, something of an accomplishment: getting a 1970s Detroit car to hold together for 100,000 miles.

I was reminded of that day a couple weekends ago when my GTI went over 100,000 miles. Coincidentally, it was just me and my oldest son in the car at the time, on our way to my sister Janie's house for a birthday party. We took the back roads, and it hit 100k in the middle of a particularly squiggly stretch. I was hoping to get a picture of the odometer "Volkswagen Information System" screen reading "100000," but I was concentrating on my driving and missed the precise magic moment. I took the low-res photo above with my cell phone when we got in the car to go back home.

Modern engineering has advanced to the point where 100,000 miles is no longer all that rare an accomplishment, and manufacturers are openly touting the unkillability of their products:

That wasn't the case back when I was growing up. In those long-ago mythic times, when men were men and ties were narrow, getting a car to go 100,000 miles was a rare feat. It was widely believed, with no small justification, that Detroit deliberately designed and built its cars so that they would fail mechanically not long after you paid off the loan, an alleged design policy known as "planned obsolescence." Whether that was true or not, the baseline assumption seemed to be that you would drive about 12,000 miles a year--new car warranties were 12 months or 12,000 miles, covering only the major mechanical systems--and after four or five years, somewhere around 50,000 miles or so, it was time to either trade the old heap in, find a mechanic whose children's higher education you didn't mind paying for, or take up auto mechanics as an avocation (and probably still lose the car to the tinworms despite all your efforts).

The pre-1960 domestic iron, like Dad's '49 "Oldredford" or the 1950 "Futuramic" Oldsmobile that I believe was its immediate successor, was a slightly different story. The weak ones of that vintage had been culled from the herd long ago, and the survivors were the tough ones. Slow, hard to drive, horrid on gas, out of style--but just about unkillable, with dirt-simple mechanical systems and body panels made of consumer-grade armor plate.

The VW Beetle was probably the first modern car to get a reputation for long-term unkillability. Beetles were prone to rust in snow-and-salt country, but if you could keep the rust at bay, the darned things would last forever. They might break down from time to time, but if they did you could just about fix them with duct tape and kitchen utensils. The ease of maintenance was reflected in the title of John Muir's best-selling book, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. This was at a time when most other imports, particularly the British and Italian offerings, were prone to breakdows and nearly impossible to fix.

As the Disco Decade wore on, Detroit cars seemed to get steadily less durable each year, while first-gen smog controls decimated the horsepower curve and quality contol succumbed to acute national malaise. The undisputed "champion" in that respect was the Chevrolet Vega, a miracle of engineering malpractice with a self-destructing powertrain and biodegradable body panels, assembled by workers whose attitude toward build quality ranged from casual indifference to soul-destroying hostility. That's not to say that the Vega was in a class by itself by any means. Mopar's terrible twins, the Aspen and Volaré, matched the Vega stride for stride in rust and assembly defects; the tinworms found AMC's Hornet and its derivatives (Gremlin/Spirit/Concord) just as tasty; the running gag was that "Ford" was an acronym for "Fix Or Repair Daily," "Found On Road, Dead," or, if you were the mechanic instead of the owner, "Funding Our Retirement Daily."

While this was all going on, Japanese cars were becoming more and more common. The early Toyotas, Datsuns, and Hondas were rust-prone, but aside from that they were reliable, mechanically durable, and properly assembled--everything the Detroit offerings often weren't. (For a mid-80s Honda, 100,000 miles was the end of the break-in period!) Over time, consumers came to expect all cars to hold together longer and run more reliably.

"We back them better because we build them better."The first multi-year warranty on a mass-production domestic car was, I believe, AMC's two-year "Extended Buyer Protection Plan" in 1973 or so--though the second year was an extra-cost option.

Not long after that, GM offered a five-year engine warranty on 1975 Vegas with the improved "Dura-Bilt" engine--the redesign which more or less corrected all that was wrong with the original Vega four-cylinder. The attempt to salvage the lemon-scented Vega's reputation came too little, too late, and the Vega went out of production after the 1977 model year.

Two other manufacturers were more successful with using warranties as confidence-builders. Chrysler, its reputation still suffering from the Aspen and Volaré, offered a 5 year, 50,000 mile warranty on its K-cars and their derivatives, and Chairman Lee Iacocca made a point of mentioning it in the commercials:

Early Hyundais earned a reputation for cheapskate build quality and extreme fragility. To Hyundai's credit, they addressed the engineering and production deficiencies, and after cleaning up their act, offered a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain--which they still do.

My GTI, like most new cars these days, came with a 5-year 50,000-mile warranty. It rolled through the warranty mileage in two and a half years without incident, but at about 53,000 or so the second-stage fuel pump failed on me. As I understand it, there are two fuel pumps, one that runs all the time, and another one that cuts in at 2,500 RPM or so. When it failed, it "failed gracefully," as the engineers like to put it. The car was still drivable, but the torque curve ceased to exist above 2,500 and there was no pickup. I think that says something for those nerdy German engineers that they designed it so that a broken fuel pump did not lead to raw gasoline spraying all over the engine bay, fires, explosions, and/or other apocalyptic events.

Even though the GTI was out of warranty, my friendly local dealer and VWoA split the cost of the repair with me as a spontaneous gesture of goodwill. The #2 fuel pump went soft on me again at about 97,000, but the repair required was much less expensive the second time around. I haven't looked in the VW forums to see if that's a known weak point with the 2.0 turbo or not.

At the 100,000 mile scheduled service (which I had done at 99,500 or so), they replaced a broken sensor wire and an ignition coil that had gone wobbly--and that's it, apart from "consumables" like tires and brake pads and some fender damage that wasn't my fault. Given VW's latter-day reputation for high repair costs and intermittent quality issues, I'm not inclined to complain. The car still has that fantabulous torque curve and can easily rip off a sub-6 second 0-60 dash (ask me how I know), and the handling and brakes are as good as the day I drove it off the dealer's lot with 000007 showing on the odometer.

I'm already looking forward to the 200,000 mile celebration.  This time, I'll have my camera ready.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

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I well remember saying to my wife that the 1967 Ford Galaxy we owned at the time was ready to be traded in because we had over 40K on the odometer. Now 40K seems like low mileage. The Good Old Days in some cases were not all that good. I do miss that Galaxy with it's 427 engine but not when it is time to buy gas.

In days of yore, say the late 1960s or early '70s, IF a car reached 100,000 miles, the old saying was that it began life anew since all odometer digits returned to 0. Usually by then, the floorboards and quarter panels were rotted out, the engine smoked, and the upholstery was in shreds. Nowadays, at 100,000 miles, you need a tune-up.

When my trusty Ranger turned 100,000 (I have pics of the odometer somewhere), the original front brake pads had about half of their life left, the upholstery looked brand new, and there was no rust anywhere, even though it had never spent a night in a garage.

Yep, they sure don't build them like they used to.

Ha! Great minds. . . . .

http://acagle.net/images/Mustang000.jpg

That's my Mustang II. It took over 20 years to reach 100k because the little old lady that had it first didn't drive it much and I commuted by bus for years so I didn't drive it a lot either. I do remember how 100k was almost a mythical milestone that few people ever saw in a single car. Now the Spousal Unit's '97 Honda is still on its original transmission and has just had a few odds and ends repaired and it's at 130k.

For each of the cars that I have owned that at one time had less than 100,000 miles I have stopped and taken a picture. My 1988 Pontiac Bonneville on my way from school to work. My 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera on my way to work. My 1997 Saturn SW1 on my way to work. Maybe I work too much... I am looking forward to the time my 2006 Mercury Milan "rolls" over its digital odometer in about 25,000 miles from now. It will probably happen on my way to work...

I crossed 100k in my Kia Rio a few months back - it's now sitting at 111k. I would have taken a picture, but I was late for work at the time, so I didn't have an opportunity to commemorate the event. The car seems to be holding up surprisingly well so far, so there's a better than even chance in my mind that I might get to commemorate being the first person on my block to drive a low-end Korean car over 200k.

Wish me luck!

I've owned a number of Volvos over the years, but one that I loved and sometimes miss was my '83 244Ti, that I bought with 265,000 miles on the clock and sold 3 years later with over 330,000 miles showing. Yes, it would burn some oil (worn valve guides and an old turbocharger) but it was solid, reliable, and pretty darn fast.

Currently, I abuse a 2005 Toyota Tacoma as a work vehicle. I got it new off the lot in September of '05, and it's currently at 143,000 miles. Aside from a prematurely worn steering rack, it's just been scheduled maintenance and consumables.

Back in the '50's, when Detroit was going strong, my dad bought a new station wagon every other year. That was at the accountants. recommendation. The economic situation was a lot different then, but I remember how many car buyers drove their their new car right to the rustproofer for a complete undercoating. I heard often that the engines held up but the bodies would rust out. Back then, Detroit spread salt on the roads in the winter. At the time,a number of owners would change the oil after just 1,000 miles, then regularly at around 3,000 miles after that. That maintenance meant that a lot of engines lasted longer.Longevity was not on many minds as it is now.

My first car, a 1970 Dodge Dart with the trusty Slant 6, actually made it to over 200,000 miles (barely). Summer of '85, me and 3 of my friends went on a special road trip right before the turnover, and right before the odometer turned over, all 4 of us put our hands on the steering wheel, counted down the tenths and cheered when all the digits turned to zero. What a blast!

And, being a Mopar, the odometer digits actually went backwards when the car was in reverse (how many of you here knew that?), so what did we do? Right after the turnover, I pulled into a mall parking lot with alot of wide-open space, put it in reverse till the digits went back to 99,999... and did it all over again. Misspent youth at its finest!

I got my 1975 Impala over 200k. It was burnt orange, so it hid the rust well until its last days. The motor was refreshed once in that span. The motor is still living in my dad's garage waiting for a project to call itself home.

My 2001 Dodge Caravan has 247,000 miles on it. On its 3rd transmission. Leaks every fluid like an old dieing dog. I'll be amazed if it makes it through the summer, but I'm confident it'll hit 250,000 miles. Which is pretty amazing considering most of those miles were either in metro traffic or pulling a boat (my father-in-law owned the van for the first 215,000ish miles).

My wife's 1996 Honda Civic has 254,000 miles on it. We put a new timing belt and water pump in it last Friday, so we obviously think it has some life left. It'll get a new stereo this weekend. 5-speed manual, and will still smoke the tires (don't tell my wife). It loses/burns a quart of oil every 2500 miles, though it doesn't puff blue nor leave a puddle. Plugs look good too. It's like oil magically disappears.

My 1988 S-10 has over 180,000 miles on it, though I did have to replace the motor. Rust is starting to claim more of it than I care to admit. As far as repairs go, this truck has been pretty needy over the years, with a list of repair/replacements longer than any sane person would keep opening their wallet for.

My wife and I have 3 trucks. I've been turning the wrenches on them since they were new, with only work bigger than I can do farmed out (front end alignments mostly).

1990 Suzuki Samurai - torn down for a rebuild/tinker at 305k miles. It was burning some oil, but running fine. In pieces in the shop :(

1992 Ford F150 (300CI I-6, 5 speed, 4x4) with 250k miles. It is my wife's daily driver.

1997 Ford F350 (7.3 Powerstroke, 5 speed 4x4)with about 345k miles. Its my daily driver.

Each truck had a clutch done at about 200k miles, give or take. The two pickups have had their front ends rebuilt. Each has had an occasional alternator, water pump etc ... the usual stuff. Bodies are in pretty good shape (well, the Samurai had spent more time in upstate NY, so its' body was rusted). Each has been running synthetic oils for most of their lives. The only real oddity was when the powerstroke started running on 4 cylinders one night; turned out to be a problem with a connector in the engine wiring harness.

My next door neighbor had a Pontiac 6000STE that he replaced with a Mercedes-Benz 300E. He said the Pontiac was at least as impressive an engineering achievement as the revolutionary W124 Benz, because EVERYTHING on it failed within a few hundred miles of the warranty expiring. It went from serviceable touring sedan to scrap iron a few weeks, like a Lotus racing car crossing the finish line only to collapse from nothing having been a gram heavier duty than it needed to be.

I jsut recently bought a used car with 60K miles and remarked that it was really low mileage. Wow times have changed.

I have a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid for work. A couple months ago I actually took a video of the odometer rolling over 200k. 1 water pump at 100k and new tie rods at 150k are the only major repairs over all those miles. Another one in our fleet has 260k on it with the exact same repairs, and that's it.

I'll admit to being an outlier, but my 1971 Vega had about 220,000 on it when I traded it in on a Samauri. Being a Southern car, the only real rust problems I had were around the front and rear glass - pulling both, sanding and repainting was an every two year maintenance item on the car.

I replaced the original "a gallon of oil every two weeks" engine with a sleeved one at around 100K, and it was still running well at 187,202 miles when I did a Buick 3.8L swap.

My '00 TDI New Beetle clicked 200K last year (yes, I pulled over and took a photo), and when I get done refurbing the suspension wear items, it should be good for another 150-200K. Other than the welds on the exhaust system finally rusting out, there is very little rust in evidence on the car, even after ten years in the Middle West rust belt.

Bought a 08 Ford Focus new with 100 miles on it. It now has 128,000 and I have only replaced the front brake pads (turns out they had about another 30,000 left in them). I flog it mercilessly, never wash it and it sometimes goes 10,000 miles between oil changes. I drive about 200 miles a day and the car still gets over 35 MPG in stop and go traffic. Times have changed indeed. I think I’ll wash and wax it this weekend, it’s earned it.

The VW Beetle was probably the first modern car to get a reputation for long-term unkillability. Beetles were prone to rust in snow-and-salt country, but if you could keep the rust at bay, the darned things would last forever.

Yeah, but at the additional cost of having to rebuild the engine regularly.

Pretty much every car is unkillable if you don't mind doing things like that to it. (Though in fairness it's probably easier on a Type 1 than on pretty much anything else...)

(On the main topic, my '94 Toyota pickup has 270k, and is going to run until a broken timing chain guide eventually kills the engine.

Not worth $1800-odd to fix it at this point.)

My Dad and Grandfather were in a race in the 70's to see who would be the first to hit 100K in a car, Dad in his '65 Barracuda or Grandpa in his '71 Galaxie. Alas, a woman T-boned Grandpa's Ford, so Dad won. He eventually put 125K on it before it too was totaled in '82.

I, on the other hand, have rarely owned a car with less than 100K. 3 of the 4 I have now are over the century mark ('05 Mazda3 105K, '98 Escort, 112K and '60 T'bird 154K). I was the first to turn 200K on a car when my '99 Odyssey flipped that magic number in 2010. 160K of those miles were mine.

The T'bird is a bit surprising as probably fewer that 10K of those miles have been put on in the 24 years it's been in our family. That means it went over 140K in it's first 18 years of life, unusual for the 60's & 70's.

Great article -- really took me back. I recall that in the '60s shocks were considered pretty much worn out at 30k miles, and new exhaust systems were lucky to last five years before rusting out from the inside. Parts stores back then always had a myriad of exhaust mid-pipes hanging on the walls. And it was no coincidence that Midas shops back then installed only shocks and exhaust components. (In fact, MIDAS stood for Muffler Installation Dealers' Association.)

My 96 Jeep Cherokee was totaled in a wreck (other driver's fault) at 217K. My 05 Escort died at around 208K, but it started getting expensive around 175K. If a car can't get to 200K anymore, it's not worth buying. From now on, I'm selling at 150K to 175K.

On the other hand, my 76 Mustang II in effect died at 80K, but we kept it going past 100K somehow. We refused to give up.

Yankee,

When I was a kid, I'd borrow my parents '71 Scamp and '79 Horizon surreptitiously. Sometimes I'd drive home in reverse to erase the evidence, but one time I got chased by a security guard in a fancy neighborhood because there were complaints about a small orange car being driven around backwards.

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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