“Lifetime” of a car is 100,000 miles….

We had another surprise expense last week when Dad’s car needed a new catalytic converter.  Our mechanic (I love Kevin!) got us an after market part, which was about $1,200 less than the Honda part.  So, $800 later, we have a new catalytic converter on Dad’s car (and a scheduled oil change).

My old Honda Civic had major problems with the emissions system – replaced the catalytic converters (yes 2!), and the O2 sensors twice before 100k miles.  Turns out this was an issue and Honda reimbursed me since I had kept all the maintenance records and receipts – that was a nice surprise $5k check.  But when our mechanic told us that Dad’s was going bad, I had to look up what the expected life of a new catalytic converter was.  His car is old enough and worth little enough that we’re starting to look at cost of repair vs a new car payment.  Everything I read through mechanic Google indicated that a catalytic converter should last the “lifetime” of the vehicle.  Dad’s car has about 150k miles on it, it’s an old Honda Accord, and our mechanic is pretty sure he can keep it running until 300k.

So, if a catalytic converter is supposed to last a “lifetime”, it should last about 300k miles and maybe something else is wrong with Dad’s emission system.  Through more Google searching, I discovered that “lifetime” means about 100k miles – one obscure article about the expected life of a catalytic converter mentioned 100k miles.  Then I started a general search for “vehicle lifetime”, and turns out, about 100k is when most people sell, junk, or otherwise get rid of their vehicles.  I just have a warped sense of “lifetime” I guess.

Growing up, my dad insisted on American cars (turns out it had something to do with a discount buying program he got through work), and 100k miles was a *lot* of miles.  I don’t think we ever had a vehicle with that many miles on it for very long.  My dad was also a hobbyist mechanic, and would rebuild engines and transmissions for fun (and profit), so I probably never noticed when a car was getting older.  We did keep the cars for 5-10 years though.  My very first vehicle (an F150 long bed, extended cab truck) was traded in for my Civic Hybrid at about 110k miles. I didn’t trade it in because it had high mileage – it was still running perfectly – but because I couldn’t park the dang thing in the DC area and I needed a smaller vehicle.  My Civic made it to almost 200k – which I think was a very respectable life, and now I expect all of my vehicles to make it to at least 150k or more.

But, based on Google, it seems that 100k is kind of a choice point for most folks.

When you’ve disposed of vehicles (by choice!), what was the mileage?  Is there some mileage point that you start to look at new (to you) cars?  What criteria do you use for deciding that it’s time for a new car?

4 thoughts on ““Lifetime” of a car is 100,000 miles….

  1. Pretired Nick

    Most cars these days should get to 130,000 miles without having any major issues. The value will drop a lot as they approach 100K so if you’re at 80 or so, it’s often better to move on. But for a good Honda or Toyota, you could easily get to 200,000 and you’d save a lot by holding on as long as possible.

    1. Mom

      Dad’s car is still holding pretty steady at a Kelly Blue Book value of about $3200, and has been for the last 3 years. It’s paid off, and we’re making payments on my car, so we’re hoping to get it to last at least another year when mine will be paid off – another estimated 10k miles or so – still well under 200k, but as long as it keeps running with minimal maintenance, we’ll keep it going.

  2. Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    I don’t personally have a number for mileage. I have a mechanic like you do and as long as he says the car is in great shape I keep one driving. The only time I will consider buying a new used car is when the cost per year is more the it would be to get a different car. If I spend 2k on a car is its costing me 500-1000 per to keep it running nice I stick with it. Sure over ten years that 2k car will be 5-10k in fixing but thats a lot better then 20-30k for a car and still ending up doing the same thing with up keep. No payments is how I look at it.

  3. plantingourpennies

    On my last car the mechanic told me at 80K miles: “Your clutch is probably going to go at 100K miles from what I’ve seen in these…” But I thought, surely I’ve taken such good care of this car it’ll be fine! At 99K miles, my car rolled to a stop because my clutch blew out and when they replaced it they took a look inside the transmission and told me it didn’t have much left in it either. We got rid of the car ASAP since that was just one of many expensive things that were falling apart all at once.

    We’re hoping our current cars last longer. They’re at 130K and 72K, and we’d like to keep them until they die.


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