Driving the family car 200,000 miles -- and more
My father-in-law was getting impatient. We'd been looking at new cars for two weeks and couldn't make up our minds.Skip to next paragraph
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''It isn't really that important, you know,'' he said. ''After all, you're not going to keep it forever.''
Little did he know. That was 14 years and 201,946 miles ago, and the '68 Ford Mustang we finally selected is still a smooth-running, much-loved member of the family.
Such durability isn't unusual any more. A decade of inflation has prompted more and more drivers to hang on to their Detroit buggies. All over the US, people report cars that are chugging along for 200,000, or 300,000, or even 1 million miles.
One such story comes from a man in Houston, Texas, who purchased a Dodge back in December 1940. Dodge - then called the Dodge Brothers Corporation -- sent him a telegram at the time asking for comments about his new auto:
''WOULD LIKE YOUR PERSONAL REACTION WHAT APPEALS TO YOU MOST ABOUT YOUR 41 DODGE. NEW FLUID DRIVE, NEW BODY LINES, IMPROVED HYDRAULIC BRAKES OR WHAT? PLEASE WIRE ANSWER COLLECT.''
The owner, however, didn't reply right away. In fact, he waited until Feb. 9, 1972, when he finally wrote to Dodge:
''In reply to your telegram of December 6, 1940, I wish I could convey to you the repeated unsolicited outpouring of admiration and praise bestowed by mechanics as they worked on the car throughout the years. A common remark of theirs has been, 'Best Car Ever Made.'
''I still own Betsy; she is still licensed and running. After more than 300, 000 miles, the original transmission is still in the car; it has never given the slightest sign of trouble . . . We love Betsy. Sorry to keep you waiting.''
Is such mileage really possible? Can anyone do it? Is it really safe to drive a car that far? Are there any tricks to make a car last that long?
Briefly, the answers are yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Our Mustang, however, shows that there are times when even the most loyal owner thinks of turning in his steed.
It is possible -- but . . .
Back when Ford was selling 1968 Mustangs, the cars came with a five-year/50, 000 mile-warranty. Eventually I was very, very grateful for that guarantee.
It was, as I recall, an August morning in 1971 when the Mustang slowly came to a stop of its own accord just outside Sarasota, Fla. Underneath, a large pool of red-colored oil began to spread across the road. The transmission went kaput -- at 48,500 miles. It took two weeks to get all the parts, but Ford finally fixed it free-of-charge. The transmission has worked perfectly since.
It was around 60,000 miles, however, when just about everything else seemed to fall apart. All at once. Like gnats that you have to keep swatting on a summer's evening.
The shock absorbers began to wheeze.
The arm rests, stuffed with foam rubber, fell off.
The upper ball joints began to wobble.
The idler arms wore out.
The radiator became clogged.
The brakes began leaking.
The left rear axle bearing burned out.
The tires wore out (again).
The plastic steering wheel got two cracks in it.
The rear view mirror kept sagging.
The front joints began to squeak.
The windshield molding began to leak.
We almost bought a new car. But patience won out. Each repair was dutifully made. And when they were all finally done, it was as if we had driven over the crest of a hill. It was easier after that to put away thoughts of dealer showrooms.