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

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 [3].

“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?