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How Much Longer Will my Mini-Van Last?

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"It happened again....so I'm at the car dealership looking at new mini-vans. I have one picked out. When can you get here to sign the papers?" said my wife's voice through the speaker of my office telephone.

Our current mini-van had been having issues with the serpentine belt. It had broken and been replaced multiple times. Eventually the manufacturer admitted there was a defect in the belt tensioner and issued a recall. Vonnie wasn't convinced that we had seen the last of our problems, and made me promise that if the belt broke again, we would purchase a new mini-van. 

So when the belt shredded a few weeks later while she was running errands she cashed in on that promise.

That was 8 years ago, and the min-van we purchased that day is now approaching 100,000 miles. It has some signs of age, such as the spot of rust by the driver's side rear wheel, and the small dent in roof of the rear of the vehicle from when I backed into a malfunctioning garage door (oops). But it's generally in good shape, has always run well with virtually no unexpected repairs, and doesn't show any indication of being towards the end of its life. 

However, that magical number of 100,000 miles weighs heavily on my wife as she has an increasing perception that it may break down at any time.

How much longer can we really expect our mini-van to last? 

As I searched the internet looking for answers, one common theme I found is the most recommended way to make your vehicle last past the magical milestone of 100K miles is to strictly follow the maintenance schedule that comes with the vehicle. I pulled out the maintenance schedule out of the little folder where it's been happily resting since the day we bought the mini-van. 

That can't be a good sign.

Inspecting the book, I noticed there are two different maintenance schedules depending upon the usual driving conditions. Thumbing through the schedule that matched my driving conditions I notice that at every 3,000 mile checkpoint, in addition to the recommended oil change (which we've done consistently), there are a series of inspections and fluid checks. Some which are done as a part of a normal oil change service, and some that are not. As the mileage climbs higher, there are some major recommended maintenance items. Some of which I've done, and some that I haven't.

Have I shot myself in the foot in regards to making my van last past the 100K milestone by not performing all of the recommended maintenance items?

I was hoping to find a magic answer as I suspect I'm not the only one whose maintenance schedule book looks brand new. But to tell you the truth, I couldn't find that answer. I easily found stories of cars lasting 200,000 miles or more, as well as cars hitting the salvage yard at 50,000 miles each with varying degrees of care given to the vehicle.

Those are certainly both extremes, but what I wanted to know is, what is the average life span of a vehicle these days?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average age of vehicles on the road in 2011 was 11.1 years. Given that the E.P.A uses 15,000 as the "standard" for miles driven per year, one can clearly see that 100,000 miles is not necessarily the death knell for vehicles that it used to be. 

We'd be in a much better place financially to replace the van if we could make it last another year. It would be spectacular if we could hold out on replacing it until we've completed our Debt Management Plan, which according to CareOne's MyCareOne program management online tools, is now 1 year and 10 months.

While nothing is for certain, given the mentioned average, the history of my vehicle, and even taking into account my mediocre maintenance record, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that the van will last us another year, or even until we've completed our DMP. 

We're going for it!

What do you think?  Do you think our van will last that long?  What's the longest you've held onto a vehicle??

Related Links:

A New Car with Good Intentions

Make Your Spending Count

Buying a Car While on a DMP, What You Need to Know

As Cars Are Kept Longer, 200,000 Is New 100,000

Travis Pizel, My Journey out of Debt Customer Blogger, CareOne Services, Inc.Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis very candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family. You can also follow along with Travis on his personal blog, Our Journey to Zero. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles



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  • Hi t_pizel!  Fear not, my husband's favorite comment regarding when to start looking for another vehicle is, "it's just getting broken in good at 100,000 miles".  That should tell you something about how long we keep our vehicles.  In 34 years of marriage, we have had 5 vehicles (for which I was the primary driver) and he has had 2 full size trucks and 1 cargo van.  I know there is life after 100,000 miles if the vehicle has been well maintained and the majority of the miles are "road miles".  

    In 2009, we found a super, super deal on 2008 Cadillac SRX.  At the time, I was driving a full size 2000 Dodge Ram conversion van that we bought used with 40,000 miles on it.  The day we got the SRX, that van had 187,000 miles recorded and was still going strong.  My husband is a do-it-yourselfer so he does all the maintenance work on our vehicles and he makes sure the work is done routinely.  Why did we trade for the SRX?  Our family had shrunk to just the 2 of us and with the price of gasoline heading upwards, we decided it was time to down size.  

    The vehicle I drove before the van was a 1996 Cadillac Sedan Deville that we also bought used.  I think it had around 36,000 miles on it when we got it.  On trade day, that car had over 160,000 miles on it and was still going strong with no mechanical issues.  We used to put a lot more miles on our vehicles than the average driver because my husband is involved in several fraternal organizations that require him to travel both in and out of the State of Illinois.  For example, in the past 6 years, we have driven to Washington, D.C. 5 times.  Why drive?  Less expensive than flying and we can also do some antique shopping along the way.  After the D.C. trip is complete, we would head on to Maryland to visit our daughter and her family.   We have also made frequent trips to Atlanta, Georgia, to visit our son and his family.

    I guess, the bottom line is if your vehicle is still running well (you might want to have it checked out by a reputable mechanic), why take on more debt just because the "sky MIGHT be falling?".  Whatever you decide, good luck!

  • Larry Burkett used to say,  "The cheapest car to drive is the one you already own".  Your van looks and sounds almost new!  You stated "it's always run well  with virtually no unexpected repairs"  There's your answer!  Why trade it for another vehicle?   The mileage is only a number.  If you can convince Vonnie of this, you should be good for another 100,000, or at least until you are DEBT FREE!  Keep your eyes on the goal.

    By the way, I drove a 1995 Ford Escort.  I had the car for 15 years, changed the oil every 3,000 miles, did some maintenance, but like you, not all, and that faithful car had 244,500 miles on the odometer when someone hit my husband head on and totaled the car.  Thank God, my husband survived.

  • I truly hope your van lasts until you are credit card debt free.  That would make it so much easier on the wallet.  The longest I kept a vehicle was 160,000 miles and it was still running good when I traded it in.  I was afraid it was going to start costing me more in maintenance then making a car payment again.  Good luck to you and Vonnie!!  :-)

  • Hi Tiquie, you make a great point in regards to "road miles."  Again, while nothing is a certainty, generally if a vehicle is used more for long distance / highway type miles it seems last longer.  Our van is the vehicle that we take on all our out of town trips since it has the most room.  So, I think that fact again increases the potential of being able to make our current van last us through the end of our DMP.  Thanks so much for your comment!

  • That's a great quote, Susan!  If you really think about it, it's true.  If we add up how much we've spent on repairs over a year on the van, and compare it with how much it would cost us to make a payment each year, it's WAY cheaper to keep the van we have.

    Let's hope it stays that way!  I'm so glad that your husband was OK after being in an accident.....I was in an accident a few years ago where someone's breaks failed, they ran a red light, and smashed into my driver's side front quarter panel at about 45 mph as I crossed the intersection (I had a green light).  I hate to think what may have happened if they would have hit me just 3 feet further back on the car (driver's side door).

  • Thanks for your thoughts, mdavis1964 - It really helps to hear examples of others having vehicles last well past the 100K mark.  It really is beginning to sound like vehicles that are generally taken care of will last longer (again, nothing is a certainty), but its more of a perception as the miles rack up that they will become maintenance nightmares.

  • I have had great luck with the cars I have purchased - I always bought used 80's Buick or Oldsmobile models and I would run them past 200,000 just fine. However, my dad is a mechanic so I was always up to date with maintenance. When my husband and I moved, my in-laws sold us one of their cars for a disgustingly low price and the car only had 7,000 miles on it so it was practically new. I hope to get many, many years out of the car before even thinking about buying new.

    I will say that as cars age so do some of their parts and between 80,000 - 100,000  miles is when you start replacing hoses and other parts and that can be pricey - but I do believe it is cost effective for myself to just replace the parts instead of taking on debt to buy a new car. Of course if the car's computer fizzes out of if there needs to be an engine overhaul, obviously I would consider buying a new car. Also, this probably sounds crazy, but I hate the thought of wasting a car over smaller maintenance fixes haha. I tend to love my cars and feel sad when I have to tell them goodbye haha, silly yes.

  • LOL, saracarr - I know people that are emotionally attached to their cars as well.  :)  I was riding in a friend's mini-van this week that was well over 200K miles...and it was running fine.  I'm feeling more at ease with our decision to try to make it until the end of the DMP before trading it in.  Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Our goal, for our 1995 Nissan Sentra, (160,000 + miles) was to make it last until after we graduated from our DMP + 6 months so we could save the down payment.  We took loving care of her, because she was our only car and we REALLY needed her to last.  Four months before DMP graduation she started giving us trouble.  We did what we could to keep her going, but after getting stranded for the third time and being told it would cost us at least $2,500 to repair we gave up and purchased a new car.

    However, we had some friends who really needed a car, but could not afford a car note, so we gave them the car.  They had it towed it to their home and the husband worked on the car for several weeks.  He got her running again and I saw our little red Nissan over the weekend still moving and not ready to give up yet.

    Am I sad, I gave her away?  Sometimes, but I am loving my new car all the same and we still graduated on time.  But, we only had two more months to go when we got the new car.

    I say, LET IT RIDE……

  • Making your car last 160K miles is quite an achievement.....and kudos to your friends for making it go even further, motherofone!

  • I'm starting to think that our second vehicle isn't pulling its weight anymore. Since Vonnie started

  • I really happy found these website eventually. Really informative and inoperative, Thanks for the post and effort! Please keep sharing more such blog.

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