The Secret To Reaching One Million Miles - SUV VEHICLE

The Secret To Reaching One Million Miles

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Summary

  • Achieving 1 million miles in a car is achievable with proper maintenance and consistent long-distance trips.
  • Maintenance is key – changing oil frequently, regular checkups and preventative work can extend a car’s lifespan.
  • Cars from various manufacturers have reached the million-mile mark, not just specific models, emphasizing proper care and maintenance.



Hitting a million miles in a car seems like an impossible dream; seeing the odometer finally max itself out is something that only a very few people have ever had the fortune of witnessing, but how they achieve it isn’t some mystery or otherworldly luck. It doesn’t take a specific model of car to achieve the unthinkable; hitting such high mileage can be achievable if squeezing as much life out of your car is your ultimate goal. With million-mile cars from across all classes of vehicles and from a wide range of manufacturers, it isn’t just a case of certain cars being stronger than others.


Be it a sedan, a pickup, or an SUV, while there are some models that have been engineered above and beyond the average car, that doesn’t stop drivers from pushing through to the seven figures with cars that may surprise you. It’s a bit like the setup to a bad joke; what do a Mercedes-Benz 240D, a Ford F-350 Superduty, and a Toyota Highlander Hybrid have in common? Hitting one million miles, and this can be achieved by a very diverse range of cars so the logical step is to break down how exactly these drivers managed the feat and whether they were doing anything special to get there.

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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including iSeeCars, MechanicBase, Pickup Truck+SUV Talk, Toyota, and Volvo.


The Legends Of The Million Mile World

Can Anyone Reach One Million Or Is It All The Car


Getting to such a large milestone as one million miles in any car is an achievement, but some people have been critical in the past of cars that have had “too much” work done to them to reach the number. There is a fair point there; hitting one million miles with multiple engines and gearboxes isn’t quite as impressive as a single engine reaching into the hundreds of thousands of miles. However, some drivers have managed the feat not only with minor repairs but some getting to one million with stock engines and gearboxes.

Drivers like Irv Gordon in his Volvo 1800S, Joel Cram in his Honda CR-V, or Mike Neal in his Toyota Tacoma made one million miles seem almost trivial. One common factor with the drivers of million-mile cars, whether it’s SUVs, trucks, or small cars, is consistent long-distance trips and in particular plenty of highway driving.


This is ideal for most cars because it keeps the car running at low load and consistent temperatures, reducing the wear and tear from frequent stop-starts. You’ll find that the highest-mileage cars are often completing interstate trips, or at the very least hitting more than 200 miles a day on the road. Is it a case of their cars being unicorns and therefore unrepeatable, or are the drivers doing something special to reach so many miles?

Massive Mileage Doesn’t Discriminate

Before we dig into the specifics of reaching the big numbers, we have to point out that no matter how careful a driver you are, accidents can happen; especially accidents that are at the fault of others. Drivers like Victor Sheppard are the perfect example of how you can keep driving and driving if you’re doing the right things along the way; his million-mile Tundra was given to Toyota to display proudly and the 2016 Tundra they gifted him is now closing in on its own million miles, over 900,000 at last count.


Clearly, it isn’t just about the car you buy, with a wide range of models hitting the million like Irv Gordon and his legendary 3.2 million-mile 1966 Volvo P1800S, ‘Million-Mile Joe’ and his stock 1990 Honda Accord or Ben Welch’s 1994 Chevrolet Suburban. There are zero similarities between these three cars, so there has to be something else going on here and that is the dreaded maintenance.

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One Million Miles Of Maintenance

2008_toyota_tacoma_999999_miles
Jeff Teague via Youtube

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and likewise, a car doesn’t reach a million miles without plenty of hard work and proper maintenance. That doesn’t mean just dropping the car off at the mechanic or dealer for scheduled services, although that’s definitely a good starting point. Let’s be clear; pushing to a million miles is extreme, to say the least. Manufacturers will typically expect a car to make it to the 200,000-mile mark and iSeeCars found that over the last 20 years, the potential lifespan of a new car is between 230,000 and 297,000 miles.


This doesn’t mean every car will travel that far, as these numbers are from 2.5 percent of the models sold, but it is more of an indicator of the difficulty in reaching the million without a focus on proper maintenance. The difference between a car that travels into the hundreds of thousands of miles vs one that reaches one million is like a guy who goes to the gym a few days a week versus a Mr. Olympia winner.

Proper Maintenance, Not An Option For Million Milers

“NEVER forget to change your oil!”

Toyota Highlander Mark Miller
Toyota


Mark Miller, whose Toyota Highlander Hybrid reached one million miles in 17 years before being destroyed by flood, put it best. Changing your oil frequently is the best way to prevent wear and tear, especially if you’re changing more often than recommended and replacing your filters often too. To even dream about one day hitting one million miles means you’ll need to be very familiar with your owner’s manual, as keeping up with regular maintenance isn’t just a good idea; with a high mileage car, it’s the difference between scrap parts and record-setting.

No matter which way you look at it, reaching one million miles is going to have some fairly intimidating or even confronting numbers. We’re talking over $150,000 worth of gasoline and potentially hundreds of oil changes, dozens of tire and filter replacements, the list goes on.


Maintenance By The Numbers

Taking a look at some of the raw numbers you can expect out of a million miles really puts into perspective how much hard work the owners have put in, and how much money it takes over the life of the car; often far more than the value of the car at retail. Victor Sheppard estimated that in the nine years he drove his million-mile Tundra, he took it to the dealer 117 times for scheduled servicing.

I had never had a single repair on the car. Maintenance, yes, but I never had to have a water pump removed or anything like that –
Irv Gordon said about his legendary P1800S

This shows just how vital maintenance can be as you would be hard-pressed to find many other cars that lasted 52 years without repairs, let alone one driven so often. Looking at the numbers behind the highest-mileage car of all time, the Volvo 1800S is almost unbelievable.


52 Years And 3.2 Million Miles Of Driving

Miles Per Year

60,000

Laps Of Earth

120

Round Trips To The Moon

7

Gallons Of Gasoline

130,000

Quarts Of Oil

3,714

Oil Filters

928

Spark Plugs

520

Tires

180

Fan Belts

35

For a car that cost $4,150 when Irv bought it in 1966, he would have spent just shy of $190,000 across the life of the car just on gasoline. So if you’re hoping to reach the one million miles, you’d better be prepared to spend the big bucks getting there.


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Prevention The Key To Durability

Maintenance is one of those unavoidable things with high-mileage cars, but the further you travel the more vital it becomes as parts start to suffer age-related issues and serious wear-and-tear. The way you avoid these issues is by going above and beyond the usual maintenance with preventative work on your car. This could mean simply changing oil more frequently than recommended, or it could mean making more significant repairs to parts to make sure they don’t fail down the track.


If you aren’t on top of issues you could experience what Ben Welch did with his 1994 Chevrolet Suburban when the serpentine belt (which powers the water pump among other things) fell off at the start of a 110-mile drive, and he didn’t notice. That this didn’t cause a blown engine comes down to luck and likely the prior effort put into maintaining the engine up to that point.

Prevent Problems, Don’t Wait Until Disaster

The best example of preventative maintenance was when Mike Neal gave his 2008 Toyota Tacoma cylinder heads a full refresh because he wasn’t able to just replace the head gasket at the dealership – why not do all the work in one hit rather than risk issues later on? This is the kind of mentality required to hit the big numbers, especially when you’re talking about major services and the impact they can have on engine durability if they aren’t done correctly.


It is a bit of a running joke that Subaru boxer engines have issues with their head gaskets (to say the least), however, if you replace the stock gasket with an aftermarket one at the major service at 100,000 miles (this varies so check your owner’s manual), mileage will be extended far beyond expectations. This holds true for many parts across many models, with seemingly major issues being resolved by getting ahead of the problem before it becomes a failure and damages things permanently. Knowing what the potential problems with engines can be will ensure you can get on top of them before disaster strikes.

Parts To Keep An Eye On

Common areas to keep an eye on if you’re aiming to drive towards the one million miles mark are typically to do with the engine and cooling system, but even something like wheel alignment can result in major problems down the road (literally) if they aren’t corrected early. Issues to look out for include;

  • Engine spluttering
  • Shaking steering wheel
  • Heavy oil consumption
  • Coolant, oil, or fuel leaks
  • Starting issues
  • Smoke from the exhaust
  • Overheating


Many of these problems can start off small and may seem like something you can put off or ignore, but that’s why such a small number of cars have managed to reach one million – getting on top of issues immediately is the only way to ensure they don’t become worse over time, and one million miles is a very long time for most drivers.

You may not like it, but the check engine light needs to be treated as though it’s an emergency alarm; see it once and get it straight to a mechanic to make sure it isn’t something that could lead to a dead car in weeks, months, or even years down the line. The preventative work you do now will be the difference between a 200,000-mile car and a million-mile car.

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The Most Likely Cars To Go The Distance

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Toyota Logo on a steering wheel


There are some cars to stay well away from, with the most unreliable cars including models such as the Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder, and Hyundai Elantra (although one 2013 Elantra managed one million miles in just five years), but even with solid preventative maintenance, you can often make the most of some lemons.

If you’re on top of maintenance, you’re ensuring everything that can be done to prevent issues is being taken care of, and you’re putting in the hard yards with long trips (ideally on highways), there are still a few cars that stand out from the rest with engines that are so well engineered that they’re near indestructible if you look after them. But ‘just buy a Toyota’ isn’t the whole story.


Million Mile Candidates; Past, Present, And Future

Research from iSeeCars found that Toyota overwhelmingly builds the best cars to eat up the miles, with the Sequoia and Land Cruiser sitting at the top of the list of potential mileage in the last 20 years, with the Tundra not far behind – the 2007 Toyota Tundra specifically has two million-mile examples! Honda has also managed the million-mile feat with an impressive range of models over the years.

Just because a model reaches the milestone doesn’t mean others will; Irv Gordon’s Volvo is the perfect example. While he managed the incredible record-setting 3.2 million miles, the P1800S is not renowned for its durability or reliability; his meticulous care was the factor that pushed it so far beyond the capability of other models from the same factory.


If you’re looking at which car has managed the most million-mile feats, then there’s a clear leader in the Honda Accord, with at least four reaching the million over the years, including models from 1990, 1993, 1994, and 2003 hitting the milestone. In terms of engines, if you narrow it down to which engine manages the furthest distance, the Honda K24 is clearly a solid choice, not only powering the Accord but the million-mile CR-V as well as the famously durable Civic. As for future mileage options, Honda has committed to the K24 going forward so that is a great place to start, as are many of Toyota’s legendary engines.

How To Find The Next Million-Mile Car

It’s easy to look at previous million-mile models and decide to buy one and chase the numbers yourself, but is there a way to tell whether a car will manage the distance, and are there things to look out for when purchasing a car if you plan on racking up the miles?

This is where a little bit of research and know-how comes into play; knowing which engines are sturdy enough to keep running without major issues to account for (like the Subaru boxer’s head gaskets), narrowing it down to models that haven’t had major recalls, and if buying used, ensuring that the previous owner hasn’t skipped on maintenance or caused any problems through neglect or accidents.


Sticking to a manufacturer with a long history of building reliable cars is vital, and often you may have to sacrifice ‘cool’ for the sake of practicality; there’s nothing more practical than driving long distances over many years. Whichever car you choose in your search for the elusive 999,999 odometer limit, you’ll want to get to know your local mechanic pretty well or become very familiar with changing your oil at the very least!

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