Car Maintenance Tips: Help Your Odometer Reach 300,000 Miles

The July 1, 2009 edition of Bottom Line Personal, one of my favorite publications, included an excellent column on car maintenance tips. Columnist Eric Peters, author of Automotive Atrocities! The Cars We Love to Hate, shares his tips for maintaining cars and extending their useful life. As the owner of a 19 year-old vehicle, I appreciated the tips, and wondered if my vehicle would be in better shape had I read this several years ago when I first started driving it.

Five Maintenance Tips For Getting To 300,000 Miles

1. Keep your battery charged. This is especially important if you don’t drive your car that often. If you plan to let a vehicle sit for more than a couple weeks, you should invest in a “trickle charger,” or battery tender, which plugs into a regular household outlet and keeps your battery fully charged, automatically. I have a battery tender for my lawn tractor battery for winter months, and it guarantees a strong start in the spring.

2. Keep at least half a tank of gas in the car. Plenty of reasons not to let your car run on fumes, but one I had never considered before reading this article is that an empty gas tank is more prone to rust.  The rust can leach into your fuel and clog filters and fuel lines downstream. Rust could also eventually eat through your gas tank leaving a hole.  At today’s gas prices, who can afford for that to happen!

3. Don’t forget the tires. When you fill up your gas tank, or every couple weeks, whichever happens more frequently, be sure to check your tire pressure. If you drive an older vehicle like me you’ll need to pick up a tire gauge. Look at the label inside the door, or in your owner’s manual, to find the correct tire pressure for your specific model. Low tire pressure causes things like uneven wear on your tires and decreased gas mileage.

4. Change the oil. There is some debate in the frugal car owner world on whether or not you should change your oil as often as prescribed by car manufacturers (and those express oil-changing facilities). I’m no expert, but I think you should stay pretty close to the suggested schedule, only deviating a month or two, or a couple hundred miles. Peters agrees with me. Besides, a $30 oil change is much cheaper than a new engine, and if you are ultra frugal, you can even change your own oil!

5. Be kind to your clutch, and your brakes. If you drive a car with a manual transmission you know at some point you will likely have to replace the clutch. But you can extend the life of your clutch, and your brakes, by not riding either one for long periods of time, and by using your accelerator (or not using your accelerator) to coast a bit as traffic ebbs and flows.

Automobiles are becoming more and more expensive these days. In fact, next to buying a home, it is probably the largest single purchase most people will make in a lifetime. Use the steps above to increase the chances your vehicle will last well beyond your car loan, guaranteeing you many years of debt-free driving.


  1. Thanks for the great tips! We try to take good care of our cars as well. And I agree with the Avoid Accidents tip. My college car (a Topaz) was approaching 200,000 miles when it was totaled in an accident.

  2. I sure hope my 2001 Saturn makes it to 300,000 miles! The debate on how often to change my oil is something I struggle with all the time. As my car gets older, I will shorten the period of time in between changes.

    Thanks for the other tips.

    • I have a Saturn SC-1 and have just turned over 290,000 miles — expect to reach 300,000 in a few months.

  3. Item 2 is complete rubbish. As a fuel system designer I hear a lot of old wives tales like these. Most fuel tank are made out of plastic but if you have an older model with a steel tank; even a small amount of fuel will coat the inside of the tank and work as arust inhibitor. As I amon a role another story is that if your tank get too low you will suck up all the crap from the botttom of the tank. The fuel is always sucked from the bottom of the tank.

  4. @Ian: Good to know! I do drive an older vehicle, but it sounds like I was worried over nothing! Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    @PassiveFamilyIncome: I’d love for my old truck to make it to 300k, but I’m not sure she’s going to make it. In the last two months I’ve had to replace the alternator, flywheel, starter, and a number of smaller parts. These things seem to come in waves, though, so maybe it has a little more life in it.

  5. My Betsy Jeep has over 157K miles and is still going strong. Just had her oil changed and inspection. I did not know about keeping the gas tank filled to half to prevent rust. I shall make that part of my Betsy Health Plan
    Thanks for the wise tip!

  6. I wanted our old Jeep Grand Cherokee to make it 238,857 miles – the average distance to the moon. But around mile 190,000 someone rear ended it and the insurance company insisted on totaling the car rather than fixing it (I ranted! I raved! To no effect).

    So – another tip would be: Avoid Accidents.

  7. My 04 Corrola is my last new car. I have about 142K Km on it now and plan to drive it until the duct tape won’t hold anymore. I change the oil at regular intervals according to the manual(every 8,000Km) and do it myself every 4,000Km. I read an article a while back from a guy who had a GM truck go over 1000000 Km or miles, I can’t remember which, but I do remember he attributed it to frequent oil changes.

  8. Thanx for all the great reminders. I believe routine maintenance is the key to the looong life of a car & for that matter anything else, including our bodies! With so many keeping their cars for a longer period, more attention to maintenance is needed….

  9. Number one doesn’t seem like that good of a tip. No one has had to get a new car because their battery died. You just buy a new battery.

  10. With 230K miles on my 94 ‘sol I have put on 90K since I bought it. I think it will make 300K miles easy. Next week I drop exhaust to replace oil pan gasket. May as well change out all new nuts and bolts while at it since a bolt broke off when I tried to torque the fastners down.

  11. Nice car maintenance and care tips. This for sure can help people save money on their car costs especially during this economic downturn. If you have great mechanic skills you can also get some factory service manual for your car so you can repair the car yourself and save even more.

  12. I am driving a 1991 Honda Accord with 238,000 miles on it and have no doubt it will make it to 300,000. Love this car–a young man at my local parts store claims his wife is driving a 1988 Accord with 375,000 miles on it. I get asked all the time if this car is nickel and diming me to death, and honestly, no! We have always done all the scheduled maintenance–oil changes, timing belt, etc., and most of our repairs have been things that just plain wore out. I was really disappointed that the factory clutch only made it to 218,000 miles!

  13. These are good ideas. I think the most I’ve ever paid for a car is $2,500. I have never financed one. We seem to be able to keep old cars running for long periods of time. The cars we buy are in fairly good condition and often 14 years old when we get them. We tend to buy a new one every 6 years or so.
    Mrs. White

  14. Advice regarding quick oil change places – ALWAYS check the dipstick and be sure the oil is refilled after an oil change.

    I just replaced the engine in my 2006 Chrysler Town & Country with 58K miles. From what we can determine, the oil was not completely filled at the last oil change, 3K miles back.

    The van has never burned a qt of oil, oil always changed every 3K miles, no leaks, no oil spots, no smoke – no problem that can be located, but 3K miles after the last change the engine was out of oil and severely damaged.

    The repair shop I use is convinced the oil was not filled completely at the last oil change.

    I was fortunate that Chrysler replaced the engine under warranty at a cost of $50 deductible.

    I’ll probably avoid quick oil change shops in the future, but will definitely check the oil level after every oil change.

  15. Good list of maintenance tasks. The best part is that all these tasks can be preformed without the need of being a mechanic. Each of these will definitely extend the life of your vehicle.

  16. Very well done i’m already on 250K miles on my 87 bimmer still running like a champ, i do use full synthetic no issues especially with the engine or tranny. for those of you who claim that running on fumes won’t damage your fuel system i wish you the best of luck couse you’re gonna need it. For the others do not let your car run on fumes either way you have to refuel why take any chances.

  17. Re: Item (2) – Fuel, and comments 2, 9 and 24, I think that the issue of keeping a gas tank relatively full has less to do with rust, and more to do with condensation (water) which may foul the fuel injectors. Most fuel pumps should never be run “dry.” And running OUT of fuel in any car can be very dangerous: on a busy road, in the dark, we are nearly invisible. And on a road that is not busy, people could be very vulnerable. There’s no point is making your CAR last forever if you’re not there to drive it!

    And please, NEVER try to conserve fuel by coasting down a long hill with the engine off, or with the transmission in neutral. Since fuel prices began to soar a few years ago, I’ve heard many kids discuss having done this, and it’s very DANGEROUS. With the engine off, you’ll lose any power steering, power brakes, and in many car models, you could also damage various (expensive) components of the drive train. You might even hit the “jackpot” and cause your steering wheel LOCK to engage, as you turn the key a bit too far. Even coasting in NEUTRAL while the engine is still running can be extremely hazardous, and on a steep grade, you can easily find yourself at 80 mph (no engine braking) and out of control. And get this: it’s probably illegal, too.

    Re: Item (4) – Oil, Call me crazy, but I think many people over do it with the oil changes! Some shops & drivers insist on 3k miles or even fewer miles between oil changes! In fact, a brief search for “oil change myths” makes for some very entertaining reading.

    Unless you drive a taxi or other heavily-used vehicle, or TOW something, or frequently make mostly SHORT trips, or drive where it’s always DUSTY, I think you can “push” it to the limits of the scheduled maintenance interval, which on many cars is closer to 7.5k miles. I drive my 1996 4WD (hard!) about 4k miles per year, and I change the oil just yearly. And I could probably cut that interval in half, but since it needs a yearly inspection anyway, I do it then. And in place of those “skipped” oil changes, just invest in a few shares of Chevron or Exxon/Mobil a few times during each year.

    However: If your car OVERHEATS for ANY REASON, you should probably change not just the oil, but the (automatic) transmission fluid, immediately. Excessive HEAT destroys some of the additives in any modern lubricant. A good mechanic can tell if your ATF has been overheated by both the smell (cooked) and color (brownish) on the dipstick.

  18. I purchased a 1989 Buick Lesabre in 2006 with 26000 original miles for $1100 dollars. We drove it until May 2010 and it had 60000 miles on it and sold it for $800 dollars. I had to replace the alternator and battery. I still figured it cost me around a penny a mile. That new car smell is nice but saving thousands of dollars is much nicer. I always change my oil, oil filter, air filter and fuel filter at regular intervals.

  19. i drive a 2002 Chev. 1500 truck with 310000 only replaced fuel pump once and change oil ever 3000 miles also Mobil one oil , we had another 1997 model Chev 1500 truck we gave to my son which has over 500000 miles.

  20. I usually did all general repairing and care by self in my 2010 Chrysler Sebring that helps me to reduce my maintenance expanse.
    My mechanic had given me some helping tips and some I gathered from online resource like hiperformer online site engine_basics page that are easy to access and use for any general car owner like me.