Two Hundred Thousand

200,000 baby!The odometer on my 1993 Eclipse recently ticked past the 200,000 mile mark while driving back from Las Vegas.

Well, I guess “recently” is a subjective term. That was in 2006. Since then, I’ve piled on another 30,000 miles.

Everyone teases me about how long I’ve had the vehicle (it was purchased new for just over $10,000), but I’ve never cared enough about automobiles to spend the time or money on a new one every few years. So I just laugh along with them, knowing that many people spend more on their car payment than I do on my mortgage. It doesn’t hurt that I get to bypass an exasperating dealership experience.

Speaking of mortgages, the subprime meltdown has led to a dramatic change in the content of many financial rags. Instead of “Top Ten Exotic Vacations”, we find things like this tome from CNN:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — By keeping your car for 15 years, or 225,000 miles of driving, you could save nearly $31,000, according to Consumer Reports magazine. That’s compared to the cost of buying an identical model every five years, which is roughly the rate at which most car owners trade in their vehicles.

Calculating the costs involved in buying a new Honda Civic EX every five years for 15 years – including depreciation, taxes, fees and insurance – the magazine estimated it would cost $20,500 more than it would have cost to simply maintain one car for the same period.

Added to that, the magazine factored in $10,300 in interest that could have been earned on that money, assuming a five percent interest rate and a three percent inflation rate, over that time.

If you were to stash that $20,500 in a Roth IRA and never add another cent to it, in 30 years you’d have $357,712 (assuming an annualized return of 10%). That’s from driving one car for 15 years. Do it twice and you’d end up with more than half a million dollars in 30 years.

And that’s from driving a Honda Civic. If you’re thinking about a Lexus — even an entry level model like an IS250 — you could easily double the savings. The depreciation alone on the cheapest Lexus is estimated at $13,000 over five years. A Mercedes C-class has a five year ownership cost of more than $46,000!

Hey, if you’ve got the money to burn, fantastic. But there are so many people around Orange County who are stressed about paying their mortgage while they drive around in a late model Benz. The first time an expensive repair comes along which will cost “more than the car is worth”, they dump it in favor of a new ride. Talk about false economy — what they should really be comparing it to is the cost of a new car. The true cost of a new car.

Enough about that. My Eclipse won’t last forever… I think. I basically stopped doing any maintenance on it a few years ago, yet it continues to run. I attribute that longevity to the car’s extreme simplicity. No power steering, power brakes, power seats, power windows, or power doors. Unless the engine blows up, there’s really not much that can go wrong with it. ¡Viva la Eclipse!.

My 93 Eclipse

I’ve been debating what to replace it with when the time comes. Despite my happy experience with the Mitsubishi Eclipse, I’m not considering another one. The car was a major bargain when I bought it in 1993, but the prices have ballooned since that time, and I don’t really care for the styling of the new models. They lack the impressive cargo capacity of my current Eclipse.

An even larger issue is longevity of the brand. Many of the Mitsubishi dealers in Orange County seem to have closed their doors over the past few years.

The Consumer Reports story mirrors something I’ve noticed: there aren’t that many American cars from the early-mid 90s on the roads anymore. But there are plenty of old Japanese cars. I’m thinking something like a Honda LX coupe might be just the ticket. The styling of the 2008s isn’t as impressive as I’d hoped. The original concept car Honda shopped around to all the major auto shows last year was far more exotic than the final product.

When I spent the night in Midland, TX recently, I noticed that virtually every car on the road sported an American badge. I’m sure some of you might wonder why I wouldn’t support domestic auto production by “buying American”. My philosophy has always been that the very best thing I can do for our auto industry is to buy the vehicle I truly feel is best for me. If that turns out to be a Japanese or German model, then so be it.

Buying American for its own sake is penny wise and pound foolish. If American companies are not making the best cars, I am actually helping them by not buying it. Sales will be lower. If they’re smart, they’ll ask why, seek out the market leaders and make changes to their own product line. If they’re not smart, then they’ll fall by the wayside and leave market share to those who can produce a superior vehicle.

I’m not even sure what qualifies as “domestic” anymore. Take the Honda Accord: it’s assembled in the U.S. by Americans, many of the parts are from the U.S., and Honda stock is held by countless mutual funds, institutions, and individuals in this country.

9 comments

  1. I’m driving ’96 Jeep Cherokee to 300k and beyond. It’s at 250k right now. I agree with your point on forcing the market with your purchase. If we all gave the “american” makers the finger for making crap cars, they might (and I mean MIGHT) wise up.

  2. You are my hero, Jason. Long live the Cherokee!

    I think they might be starting to wise up. I’ve heard good things about some American cars lately. The Saturn Aura, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Corvette, Ford Fusion, Mazda RX-8 (Mazda is a Ford company), and others have been getting good press.

    Regardless, it will take years for American manufacturers to shed the poor reputation they cultivated in the 80s and 90s. Remember when we were kids? “Made in Japan” meant it was a cheap piece of junk. How times have changed… I test drove a Nissan Altima today, and even the base model was pretty darn nice! They have an Altima coupe which looks like an Infiniti G35.

  3. Hey, I wanna join the 200,000 mile (high) club :-). My ’98 saturn is currently at 140,000 and going strong. Here’s to no car payments! Those folks who buy a new car every two years are chooches!

    BTW – Did you take the picture of your odometer while you were driving?! The speedometer reads 42mph??

  4. No, I cracked open the speedometer glass and manually moved the needle so that it wasn’t blocking the odometer.

    Just kidding. I actually took the car to a repair shop, put it on a dyno, and ran the wheels up to 42 mph so I could get the picture.

    Or, the most outrageous version yet: I took a photo while driving.

  5. I traded in my ’94 Toyota Corolla 2 years ago after putting on 224,000 miles. That car had a tree fall on it (through the carport–it was a very large tree) I backed it into a pole one night, and it was the victim of a hit and run. But it just kept on going! I would probably still be driving it and be around 255,000 if we didn’t want a larger vehicle because we now need to lug around our 2 year old and all of his stuff. Of course we bought an Odyssey which I plan on my son driving when he gets his liscence.

  6. I have a 94 eclipse myself with about 255,000 on the body (engine in it now only has about 60,00 but its still been through hell and back.

  7. Go Eclipse!
    I recently hit 202,000 miles on my 2000 RS Eclipse. I have to keep a close eye on the fluid levels (oil/transmission) and replace a door handle every once in a while…but she’s a gem otherwise, truly truly amazing!!

  8. My 1997 Mercury mountaineer 5.0 v-8 with 248,733 miles is still running strong. It burns maybe a quart of oil every 4000 miles so I just change the oil then. The only major repair has been a radiator at 180,000 miles. Still has origanal motor, trans etc, even ball joints which are getting to there limits. But I still get around 80,000 to 110,00 on a set of michelins tires. All equipment still in good working order. No plans of letting this truck go. Go USA

  9. “I attribute that longevity to the car’s extreme simplicity. No power steering, power brakes, power seats, power windows, or power doors. Unless the engine blows up, there’s really not much that can go wrong with it”

    Just minor correction – eclipse has power brakes :)
    Every car younger than 30 or maybe 40 years has it :)

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