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How do you get 3 million miles out of 1 car?

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Irv Gordon got 3 million miles out of his car. His secret? Read the manual.There’s a certain satisfaction to getting the maximum possible use out of something you bought — squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the bottom of the tube, wearing a pair of jeans until they pretty much collapse into a pile of rags, etc.

But you’d have to work pretty hard to get more value out of a purchase than Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, N.Y. who recently became the first human to get 3 million miles out of a passenger car.

Gordon bought his Volvo P1800 on June 30, 1966. The car’s initial cost was high; Gordon paid $4,150 for it brand new, about $30,000 in today’s dollars.

“It was a very expensive car at the time,” Gordon says. “A regular Volvo was $2,200; a new Chevy was $2,200. It was about as much money as a Cadillac.”

Why did he pay so much?

“I’d had two General Motors cars that both were lemons, both broke down, both gave me nothing but trouble,” Gordon says. “I was always getting late to work and I was a brand-new school teacher at the time. I need a car that was dependable, and GM didn’t stand behind their cars. They told me it was my fault the cars were breaking down.”

Gordon test drove the car and liked it so much he was willing to pay a price that was about the same as his annual salary. The car’s been paying him back ever since.

“If you buy something you like, you tend to take better care of it,” Gordon says.

So what’s Gordon’s secret for squeezing every last mile out of a car? Basically, RTFM.

“Just follow the owner’s manual, the directions it tells you to do. You know, when it tells you to change the oil, change the transmission fluid — that kind of thing,” Gordon says. “It’s not brain surgery. Most people never bother to look at the owner’s manual. They get a little package that comes in the glove box and they put it in the kitchen someplace and that’s the last they ever see of it and they never know how to take care of their car.”

“I figure the people who wrote the book are the people who built the car, so they must know what they’re talking about,” he says.

While dealers and other car servicers may want to do more than the manual suggests, Gordon says that only doing car maintenance as often as specified in the manual worked out just fine for him.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten more than your fair share of mileage out of a car? What was your secret?

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15 Responses to “How do you get 3 million miles out of 1 car?”

  1. rick says:

    i got 333k out of a honda accord. i think if i had not turned the car over to my son it would have gotten more before we sold it. now we have metros and camrys with 200-300k on them. I’d like to drive my metro forever. great gas mileage.

  2. SLCCOM says:

    A good starting point is to NOT buy American! And drive so that you don’t get into collisions. (Yes, some are totally unavoidable by you, but most aren’t.)

  3. Claes says:

    rick: that’s awesome. Had a Honda Accord I took up to 210K … that’s my highest mileage so far.

    SLCCOM: It’s funny, I asked Gordon about accidents and he said that though he really does his best to drive safely, he still gets hit from time to time and has had to have a lot of body work done.

  4. Wow, I got ~250,000 miles out of a VW Jetta. This makes me wish I’d kept it!

  5. Jim says:

    I am on my third Dodge truck. This one is ten years old and has 170,000 miles on it. They are very reliable.

  6. Meagan says:

    Whoa! 3 million miles! That’s incredible! I love that his main tip is to read the manual! I better go home and read mine!

  7. Trillium says:

    Well… I jinxed myself trying to get a million miles on my Toyota Corolla a couple years ago. Just put $4K in the car to fix it up and was bragging to my parents about what great care I take of the car and how I was going to have a million mile car and how cool was that! Three days later, I was rear-ended and the car was totaled. The other guys insurance only paid blue book value which was $5000 on an older car. They did not care that I just put $4000 into it. So I netted $1000 on the car that I had hoped to be my lifetime car. So that is the reason why everyone does not have a million mile car — ACCIDENT!! That was not on my radar. I would think twice about putting $$ into an older car again due to the unfair insurance valuations….

  8. Master Allan says:

    I also drive a Honda Accord. 140,000 on a 1997 year. The original owner put the first 70,000 miles on it. I drive about 4k a year now. At this rate and driving like a grandmother I expect this car to live longer than I do.

  9. Jerry Mandel says:

    Important. What cost for overhauls, repairs, replacements? What about spare parts availability?

  10. Aimee says:

    We have a Saturn SL1 and a Saturn SL2 with 300k+ and 220k+ on them. Yes – American made. Love these cars and wish that they still made them. They get great gas mileage. We maintain them vigilently.

  11. knotreally says:

    1996 chevy extended cab truck with over 350k miles AND its the original engine. plugs were pulled at 150k and put back in b/c they were clean. Letting your car warm up before driving when its cold, not driving like the accelerator is an on/off switch, and RTFM will go A LONG WAYS.

    3 million on the same engine: impressive. 3 million on the same car: not impressive.
    However, i fail to accept that the 3million was put on the original engine. As an engineer by study and amateur mechanic (i replaced the engine in the car i’m currently driving) i have a REAL hard time believing that one could get 3mil out of the same engine. And by real hard time i mean, i’m calling BS until someone can prove its the original engine.

  12. Claes says:

    So many hardcore long-milers here… I love it!

  13. Frugal says:

    2000 Cavalier with 164K miles, still going strong. Hope it will last much longer, but may not be possible + 2001 Windstar 141K miles and counting.

  14. I got close to 400,000 on my 1996 Nissan Pathfinder. Then something happened in the electrical system and to tell you the truth I was afraid to drive it again. Here’s my YouTube video for it turning over to 300,000: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HFHB0AKC58

  15. Claes says:

    Nice! Guess you can see if you can beat that on your next car.


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