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High-Mileage Cars: Is 200,000 the new normal?

In the 1960s and 1970s, many automobile odometers did not even read beyond 99,999 miles. Hit 100,000, and the odometer turned back to zero. But now, thanks to tougher quality standards and post-recession financial concerns, Americans are driving their cars longer than ever before and high-mileage cars are the rule, not the exception.  Is 200,000 miles the new 100,000 miles?

Consider Porsche salesman Mark Webber. While selling new sports cars every day for a living, Webber still Odometer-100K-iStockdrives his 1990 Volvo to work, despite having more than 300,000 miles on the car. “I just can’t see the point of spending a lot of money driving a newer, racier car every day in city traffic when my old Volvo just wants to keep on going,” Webber told the New York Times.

Webber has plenty of company. While Americans once prided themselves on driving the latest and greatest car, a shift in spending habits following the recession has more Americans than ever before working to extend the life of their cars. A recent survey by the automotive research firm R.L. Polk & Co found that the typical car buyer keeps a new vehicle for 71.4 months, an increase of nearly 18 months since 2006.

This shift corresponds with a change in Americans’ attitudes toward automobiles. Cars, once synonymous with an individual’s identity, are no longer as important to today’s millennial generation.

David Champion, the senior director of Consumer Reports, says that in the past, “[People] would sell the car at 60,000 miles to get some residual value out of it. Nowadays, 100,000 miles is only halfway through the life of the car.” In fact, used car prices are rising as recession-savvy buyers look to keep spending down while getting the biggest bang for their buck.

The life expectancy of cars has steadily increased since the 1970s. A generation ago, many parts simply fell off a car at the end of their life cycle. Cars produced in the 1960s and 1970s were also more susceptible to rust and corrosion, so engines and transmission simply stopped working by 100,000 miles. Now, thanks to greater quality control and technology advancements, today’s automobiles meet strict requirements for anticorrosion standards. Gas mileage for cars is also an important factor — as mileage increases, it’s difficult to justify a new purchase.

And carmakers intend their cars to say on the road for a long time. For example, Hyundai and Kia now include 100,000 miles/10 year powertrain warranties with their cars.

Is your car approaching 100,000 miles and you hope to double that? These three tips will help keep your car on the road well past the 100,000-mile mark.

Drive gently.

Aggressive driving, hard stops and starts, and rapid accelerating or decelerating not only hurt your fuel economy, but these rough driving also adds unnecessary wear and tear to your car. Think about your morning commute: do you race to every stoplight, weaving in and out of traffic? Curbing your need for speed can help keep your car running longer.

Keep it clean.

A good wash will not only help high mileage cars sparkle, but it will also remove excess road tar and salt. This is especially important during winter months when salt residue from wintery roads can cause undercarriage corrosion. Regular waxing protects the paint job and resists rust.

Don’t ignore the check engine light.

Many drivers, myself included, enter a guilty state of denial when our check engine light turns on. Weeks turn into months, and the check engine light is still shining. If you have an older car, it’s essential to get the light checked out right away. It may be indicative of a serious problem with the transmission, timing belt or engine. Prompt attention can save your car from serious damage – and save you the headache and expense of having your car towed to the mechanic.

When you’re putting all those miles on your car, you don’t want to overspend on gas. To find out the gas prices in your area, visit Allstate.com’s Gas Price Locator.

What’s your mileage number? And how long do you plan to drive your car?

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