Reliable cars

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Sep 16, 2004
Vista, CA
I've been looking through 12 years of data on fleet vehicles of all types, sedans, pickups, mini-vans and suv's. Out of an annual total of 6 to 8 thousand vehicles, some with few records and many with every record, cars that were kept on an average of 3 years and 100k miles I found 12 drivers that have been there at least 10 years. There were 2 excellent drivers 6 good and 4 that were tough on vehicles. No matter what vehicle the 8 better drivers received the records of repair and maintenance were very good and the other 4 always had problems. It did not matter what vehicle the better drivers had, they had excellent luck and little if any unscheduled maintenance. Three of the good drivers drove mini-pickups and got over 100k miles on clutches and close to that on brakes. One of the bad drivers never exceeded 30k miles on a clutch in a mini-pickup, and about the same for the brakes. His mileage was much worse and he wore out tires and had many other non-scheduled maintenance problems. This look at the data is not controled or scientific but the picture I get is that the driver is far more important than the vehicle brand or the oil or anything else. We had a Mazda 323 with a 5-speed go 200k miles on the original clutch. It was a vehicle driven by a female that did not give it up in the normal rotation and so far, refuses a new vehicle replacement. This 323 is on 5k dyno oil changes and lives in good weather, and is garaged, every night and every day at work. It has never seen freezing weather or much rain. So in the end, I don't thing oil has that much to do with how long an engine lives. It's only a small part of it all.
I agree, oil is a tiny tiny part of it. More important is changing all the fluids and keeping up on maintanance in proper intervals. Unlike most people, if my car does something strange and then stops, I don't assume the problem has mysteriously fixed itself, instead I have my mechanic diagnose, find, and fix the issue.
It's all about maintanence, especially the preventativ type. I'll use my father-in-law as an example, he comes from the, "if it aint broke, don't fix it" mentality. Only problem with that is that all his small problems snowball on him and turn into greater issues, then later on he's standing there scratching his head wondering what the heck happened.
In the ten years I've know him since I met my wife, he has had 3 new cars..uuughh.. Me, I have only had the same two cars I had when we met, both with around 138k, and run PERFECTLY...paid off...and properly maintained... That is the key.

I suspect that bad drivers neglect their cars, too.

All things equal, these cars are maintained pretty much the same. That's why the comment about bad driving habits are the difference. When two identical cars in the same area driving the same miles, doing the same job and one gets 30k miles on the brakes and everything has to be replaced, and the other vehicle clears 100k with a much cheaper brake job, then the difference is driving habits. The 30k driver is just hard on the vehicle. It's probably because he (or she) is a very important person, and the car is just in the way.
I believe you're 110% correct, Larry. I see the very same thing in law enforcement.

Cars that are assigned as take-home units always last longer (with significantly fewer repairs) than those that are assigned as "pool units." The pool units get beat to death and need new brakes, tires, transmissions, etc. MUCH more often than the take-home rides.

In 13 years on the job, this observation has shown to be true across the board. I've worked for three different agencies - two suburban county agencies and one major metro municipality - and it's always the same story.
I know that this is BobIsTheOilGuy, but in the grand scheme of things, oil is not very important, beyond using the right spec and viscosity and changing it on schedule, as Tosh pointed out, "A little mechanical empathy and some pride of ownership goes a long, long way", and as AstroVic states that a bit of ownership does the trick. Now having said all that, I still use synthetic lubricants and my justifacition is pride of ownership and little else.
I think a lot of "bad driving" can be balanced out with exceptional maintenance. I beat the **** out of my vehicles yet they still seem to last a long time. I also use premium oil/filters/maintenance parts, and the OEM parts when available for any repairs. Ideally, a vehicle maintained well and driven "properly" would last the longest but I've still gotten a lot of use (150K-200K before selling) with my method.

I've also seen engines last for over 30,000 miles on their initial factory-fill oil that were driven gingerly, and other engines that failed with less than 7,000 miles because they were beat far too bad (more miles on the racetrack than the street).

Type/Spec/Weight of oil is important, especially for some engines i.e. some VW's, Toyota's, Audi's etc. that have a known sludge problem. Even with the factory recommended 5K interval oil change, I've seen engines blow up because a conventional SL/SM oil was used instead of the factory recommended synthetic (VW 501 spec. specifically).
The old coot I worked for at the brake shop always maintained trucks driven by the owner lasted better than ones driven by an employee.
"This look at the data is not controled or scientific but the picture I get is that the driver is far more important than the vehicle brand or the oil or anything else."

The driver can be a major limiting factor to getting good life, but for most of us the real question is with a population of good drivers what matters ? Some vehicles do last longer than others given regular servicing with OEM approved products. For vehicels used hard that are also cared for what matters ?

Automatics don't seem to take hard use over long periods like manuals do, clutches and tires aside, and wimpy powertrains seem to suffer when handling loads, be it people, trailers, or hills.
I have to say that I think proper maintanance and good oil have alot to do with it.Im currently driving a 2000 Chevy s10 that i bought new and it has 132000 miles on it.Since day 1 I have drove it like I stole it seeing redline atleast once a day.this truck gets a pretty poor reliability rating but mine still runs like new and uses no oil in a 5k interval.That right there tells me that a good maintanance scheudle is key.

Originally posted by LarryL:
All things equal, these cars are maintained pretty much the same. That's why the comment about bad driving habits are the difference.

I was speaking of the case when a driver is responsible (or irresponsible, as the case may be) for the maintenance of the vehicle they drive.

I'm basing my comment off of the vehicles I see on a daily basis and how they're driven.
I just hit 108,000 on my '01 Passat 1.8T 5-speed. Still on originally front brakes, clutch is solid. Cv boot just split and I elected to have the timing and acc. belts prematurely. I don't baby it (redlined a few times a month in 2nd gear on freeway on ramps just for S & G 's) but I certainly don't drag race it. I think it's all about easy starts and stops ( good for fuel consumption too)
My brother has a car with 170K on the original clutch. He learned to drive stick in it, I think. His fiancee shifted it into 1st at 45MPH and destroyed the 1st gear synchros(it won't go...I'll just PUSH REALLY HARD!!!). She no longer drives that car
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