Eight ways to get the most mileage out of your car

Rachel Hartman

Your car’s mileage may not reach into the millions, but having an odometer hit six digits is almost standard these days.

"Cars today are built and designed to easily go 200,000 miles,” says Mike Quincy, auto content specialist for Consumer Reports. He suggests buying the best car you can and keeping it as long as you can.

Irv Gordon has done just that -- and more.

“Everybody has a hobby – I like to go places,” Gordon says.

As of early October 2011, Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 had about 80,000 miles to go before hitting the 3 million mark. He's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for most miles driven by a single owner in a non-commercial vehicle. These days, he often takes his Volvo from his home in East Patchogue, N.Y., to Montreal for a crepe or down to Maryland for fish cakes. He once drove to San Francisco to check out a new eatery – Fog City Diner – he'd heard about. “I went 3,000 miles for a cup of coffee,” he says.

To get the most miles out of your vehicle, follow these guidelines from Gordon and other drivers of high-mileage cars:

Tyson Hugie's 1994 Acura Legend LS coupe is nearing the 500,000 mile mark.
1. Follow the owner’s manual. Adherence to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule is critical, says Tyson Hugie, who drives a 1994 Acura Legend LS coupe. Hugie bought the car in 2003 with 95,000 miles on it; in early October, the odometer was just 2,500 miles shy of 500,000.

Read your owner’s manual and follow the oil-change intervals listed, Quincy says. The manual will offer guidance on replacing items that tend to wear out, such as brake pads and shock absorbers. For Hugie’s car, that means replacing the timing belt every 90,000 miles regardless of whether it still looks brand new.

2. Pay attention to details. “I take the Rudy Giuliani position on broken windows,” says Michael Zifcak, owner of a 1995 Subaru Impreza with more than 415,000 miles on it. Zifcak, who uses the car to travel between homes in Providence, R.I., and Lake Tahoe, Calif., fixes every dent right away, no matter how small it is. Besides amazing the mechanics he takes the car to, this attention to detail “helps me have a positive attitude about keeping the car going.”

Michael Zifcak has racked up more than 400,000 miles driving his 1995 Subaru Impreza between homes on the East and West Coast.
3. Drive smart. Maintain a fair distance between your car and the cars in front of you to avoid sudden braking, Hugie says. Other car-friendly techniques he follows: Letting the car warm up to operating temperature before revving it high, taking off conservatively when a stop light turns green, and using the engine to slow down on descents instead of riding the brakes.

5. Listen to the car. Craig Ferguson, who drives a 1987 Saab 9000 with more than 324,000 miles on it, understands his vehicle’s quirks. “The doors need a little help opening, but once the car is on the road, it’s fine,” he says. Knowing what to expect helps him figure out when something is normal and when something needs to be checked out.

6. Hop on the web. Most auto brands have owner groups online that you can join, says Roger Cook, who drives a 2000 Saab 9-5 with more than 310,000 miles on it.

These groups can help you find ways to keep the car in good condition and to save money. When the controller for the anti-lock brake system of Cook’s car went out, he found – through an online Saab forum – that he could remove the controller himself and send it to a shop for the repair. The cost to fix the part was less than $200; Cook estimates he saved more than $2,000 by using the forum.

7. Keep it clean. Even small things, such as eating and drinking in the car, can take a toll on the vehicle’s condition, Gordon says. He generally doesn't treat his Volvo like a mobile restaurant.

Craig Ferguson, whose 1987 Saab 9000 has more than 300,000 miles on it, says he has become well attuned to his car's "quirks."
8. Use common sense. In modern vehicles, it’s easy to rely on computers to indicate when the vehicle has a problem, Hugie says. Tire pressure monitoring systems and other tools serve a purpose, but are not a substitute for a driver's overall awareness of a car's condition.

Insurance for high-mileage cars

As your vehicle’s odometer racks up the miles, keep these factors in mind when it comes to auto insurance:

Re-evaluate your policy. When a car exceeds 100,000 miles, its residual value isn’t that high, Quincy says. Consider contacting your insurance company or agent and ask about your coverage options. You may decide that some coverage that you thought was essential when the car was newer – such as collision and comprehensive – isn’t really necessary now.

Check whether you need business coverage. If you’re putting many miles on your car because you’re using it for work, you may need to get a policy that covers business use, says Michael Hieger, an insurance adviser at Farmers Insurance in Ballwin, Miss. This offers you greater protection on the road, especially if a car-related lawsuit pops up.

Focus on liability. Even if your car’s market value is no longer high, you’ll want as much coverage as possible in case you're liable for injury or damage to another motorist or car. Forty-eight states require minimum auto liability coverage; it's not mandatory in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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