Driving 500,000 Miles: Lessons Learned

September 28th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

One man’s car is on pace for .5 million miles. What's the secret?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Tyson Hugie is defining “driving your car into the ground” in more specific terms. As his 1994 Acura Legend LS approaches 500,000 miles, Hugie has become an unintentional hero of responsible car ownership.

Hugie authors the blog Drive to Five, a chronicle of his car’s journey to 500,000 miles. He notes that while he doesn’t have the flashiest vehicle on the road – “It doesn’t even have a cup-holder!” – the pros of owning a hearty car have more than offset the cons. He’ll be rolling into the corporate office of American Honda in Torrance, Calif. later this year as his odometer hits the half-million mark.  

We checked in with Hugie to get his take on how the “drive it ‘til the wheels fall off” theory of vehicle ownership really works.

What made you decide to drive this car to 500,000 miles?

I'd sought after this particular vehicle for quite some time before making the purchase, just because I knew it was the make and model I was after. At 95,000 miles on the odometer, it was already well worn out by most people’s standards. I honestly didn’t buy it with the intent of owning it this long. My argument was always, "When it starts costing me more to maintain than I'd be spending on a new car payment, I'll sell it." Well, that never happened.

At first, I just wanted to reach 200,000 miles. Then I figured I might as well try for a quarter million.  At around 220,000 I took my biggest road-trip ever – an 8,000-mile journey to Fairbanks, Alaska and back. As I was creeping up on 300,000, I hit two deer and thought the car was finished. Not so. A few weeks of body work later, and I was back on the road. The 300's were a breeze. At 399,750 the original fuel pump went out. That was the only time I've ever had the car towed. Back on the road and into the 400's, I set my sights on 478,000 because that would mark the distance to the moon and back. That brings me to today’s 495,700 mark.

Most of us grew up with the idea that by the time a car hits 100,000, it’s time to think about retiring it. Is that an antiquated idea?

Gone are the days when 100,000 miles was the life expectancy for a vehicle.  My first car, a 1986 Chevy Celebrity, didn't even have a sixth digit where the hundreds of thousands of miles go. Cars back then just weren't expected to run that long. Modern engineering has produced vehicles that are easily surpassing that first 100,000 miles without even needing major scheduled maintenance. People need to get out of the idea that a car at 100K is a ticking time bomb.

How can you be sure that you are actually saving money?

To take the nerd level to the extreme, I've kept a spreadsheet for all my maintenance on the car throughout my ownership.  It's cost about 5.7 cents per mile to operate over the last 400,000 miles that I've personally driven it. This excludes registration, emissions, and insurance - it's strictly maintenance dollars. Still, I think you'd be hard pressed to get that kind of return on investment with a new car, plus a car payment.

Do you have to be mechanically inclined to take on a project like this?

The biggest consideration in operating an old or used car, or any motor vehicle, is to simply be aware of your maintenance. Do your oil changes by the book. Use factory or original manufacturer parts instead of aftermarket or cheaper parts. Drive conservatively. I never take my car to the "redline" on the tachometer. Your fuel economy will thank you, too! Go easy on the brakes; keep a safe following distance to avoid having to slam on the brake pedal. To this day I'm on the original brake rotors!