Car longevity is of interest to many car owners and concerns several things: maximum service life in either miles or time (duration), relationship of components to this lifespan, identification of factors that might afford control in extending the lifespan. Barring an accidental end to the lifespan, a car would have a life constrained by the earliest part to fail. Some have argued that rust and other factors related to the body of a car are the prime limits to extended longevity.
An automobile is a highly engineered collection of complex components, each of which has its own lifespan and longevity characteristics. The MTBF of some components is expected to be small, as the easy replacement of these is considered part of maintenance. Other components, many of which have high replacement costs, are expected to have a longer life; however, a large longevity may very well require replacement of several of these, raising issues of economics.
The motivation for pursuing longevity can vary. The economic trade-off of purchase versus repair will be part of the equation. Of course, many factors, such as whether the car is classic, outweigh pure economics. The desire to extend the life of an auto that is paid off, by fighting "planned obsolescence", is often important for drivers.
The life of the auto, as the collection, follows, according to a very common model, a bathtub-like pattern. After an initial phase where failure may be likely (hence the offering of the warranties by the dealer), there may be a long period of unlikely failure, as the probabilities will be low. Given that the auto has been around for over 100 years, what cars become, and remain, classic and the maximal lifespan for any car are open-ended questions. Interest in longevity beyond that related to purchasing used vehicles will improve the science of predicting car life, with such things as a life table for cars.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency assumes the typical car is driven 15,000 miles per year. According to the New York Times, in the 1960s and 1970s, the typical car reached its end of life around 100,000 miles, but due to manufacturing improvements such as tighter tolerances and better anti-corrosion coatings, in the 2000s the typical car lasts closer to 200,000 miles.
Some car manufacturers support a "high mileage" club. For example, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have a "High Mileage Award" program in which owners who drive 250,000, 500,000, 750,000, and 1 million kilometers are awarded with a certificate and a radiator grille badge.
Many non-commercial vehicles (both auto and truck) have exceeded one million miles. For instance, in 2013, Irv Gordon had accumulated 3 million miles in his 1966 Volvo P1800.  In 2006, a 1995 Dodge Ram was reported to Chrysler as having gone 1 million miles.
A 1989 Saab 900 SPG belonging to Peter Gilbert of Wisconsin had put in 1,001,385 miles before it was donated to the Wisconsin Automotive Museum.
AARP Magazine featured several long-running cars (over 200K miles) in its July 2009 Issue.
Sikorsky, and others, have developed lists that itemize steps that a car owner can take, or identified operating and maintenance rules, to ensure maximal longevity.
- 1. Regular oil changes
- 2. Monitor the key fluids
- 3. Maintain the transmission
- 4. Change the spark plugs as needed
- 5. Replace the timing belt as recommended (if applicable)
- 6. Replace air filter as required
- 7. Know and use your maintenance manual
- 8. No sudden starts and stops
- 9. Plentiful low cost replacement parts being available
In a public economics sense, Kasmer argues that retrofitting autos with a newer transmission would extend the lifespan while at the same time increase fuel efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and prevent the sudden influx of discarded vehicles into the waste bin as cars are junked to be replaced by a modern vehicle. However, with replacement parts for modern cars becoming ever more high tech, expensive and proprietary and therefore difficult to obtain (due to OEM copyright), many critical components are no longer available at low cost from third party aftermarket suppliers. Due to this fact, most modern cars can no longer be maintained once repair cost of the car exceed resale value. This trend has led to the modern cars being labeled as the first ever "disposable" cars.
- Hoffman, Gary (2010) Is 200,000 Miles the New 100,000 Miles? (via Aol Auto)
- "Report: Cars, trucks racking up more miles" USA Today 28 January 2006
- Bob Sikorsky "Family Car can last 1,500,000 Miles or a Lifetime The Auto Channel
- Dexter Ford (16 March 2012). "As Cars Are Kept Longer, 200,000 Is New 100,000". New York Times.
- - The First Car to 3 Million Miles?
- 1 million mile, Dodge Ram
- 2.8 million mile, Mercedes
- A Keeper is Cheaper - several cars featured by AARP Magazine
- "10 cars most likely to go 200,000 miles". Consumer Reports. Retrieved Mar 3, 2014.