Mechanically Speaking: Vehicles lasting longer and longer

Trail's Ron Nutini discusses vehicle longevity and how to get the most out of your car.

I recently saw a statistic that interested me. The average vehicle ends up in heaven for cars (the wrecking yard) with an odometer reading of 320,000 kilometres. The more interesting fact to me though was that 10 years ago that number was 210,000 kilometres.

I have been fixing cars for a living for 24 years now and I knew in my own head that the vehicles I am fixing have a lot more kilometres on them than when I first started in the trade.  I am also fixing them a lot less often. That is especially true of well maintained vehicles.

At 320,000 kilometres the average vehicle would be between 12 and 15 years old.

These vehicles were new in and around the year 2000.  Pat yourself on the back if you are driving around in a nineties machine that is closing in on 400,000 kilometres.

Step back ten years and vehicles were going to their grave 110,000 kilometres earlier.

That is four to five typical driving years earlier. Those vehicles were 8 to 10 years old so they were built in the mid nineties.

Will this trend continue as technology continues to advance at a dizzying pace?  The latest reliability studies suggest the trend is continuing as owners of three to five year old vehicles report less problems than ever before.

What will happen in the next five years to these computers on wheels though?

There are some skeptics. There is a growing belief that modern vehicles have so much complex electronic equipment that they will be less reliable and become not economically viable to fix.  We are talking twenty modules with microprocessors in a typical new car.

Here in the trenches we are not fixing a lot of broken electronics.  They also have seemed to increase in reliability.

Most electronic problems are the result of water intrusion. The water intrusion is usually the result of a botched previous repair job.  When you finally decide to replace that cracked windshield make sure you get a quality job.  You want a perfect seal.  You also need all those plastic trim pieces installed the way they were when your vehicle came off the factory floor.

From my perspective, if reliability of the modern vehicle goes down it will be the result of poor maintenance and repair.  Much of that is being fostered by the automobile manufacturers themselves.

They are starting to push each other by selling vehicles that seem to require very little maintenance. Many will actually persuade you to buy their vehicles with free maintenance packages or even better sell you a maintenance package.

Buyer beware though.  The modern vehicle is very reliable: to a point.  That free maintenance package is designed to get you through the warranty period without a hitch.

It is not the kind of maintenance that will get you to 2 or even 3 hundred thousand trouble free kilometres.

Once a year visits to the “while you wait” maintenance provider are very dangerous. This is especially so when you are “lift the hood” averse.  Read your owner’s manual.

It will outline what is still the owner’s responsibility.  Checking fluid levels, inspecting systems, and reacting properly to any warnings are still outlined in bold type.  There will also be a section that suggests the maintenance recommendations are minimal ones.

If your vehicle has a tough life (cold, hot, wet, salty, dusty, sound familiar?) you may need more maintenance.

A good relationship with a vehicle health professional will get your vehicle what it needs to push new limits of vehicle reliability.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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