The interior dome light, the one that confirms after sunset, “Yeah, there’s no ax murderer laying in wait in the backseat,” hadn’t worked for years.
The air conditioner last turned on in 2010. The driver’s window worked sporadically; the driver’s side passenger window regularly slunk down an inch, allowing for just the right amount of snow in the backseat in the winter.
Mice lived in the corners of the hood, but only sometimes. There was rust, missing trim and intermediate-speed wipers that had long since swished a last swish, and yet it was love.
It was amazingly hard to part with my 1997 Volkswagen Jetta last May, like a little loss of self. I’d driven it for 15 years to a proud 256,000 miles before she was no longer meant to be. (And she was a she, of that I am sure. My Jetta got ample “Good girls” after scaling many a steep hill.)
There’s a special bond between driver and high-mileage car.
To drive a car with 200,000-plus miles every day is to be open to adventure; to thumb a nose at payments and peer pressure; to have AAA at the ready; to befriend, as I did, an excellent mechanic.
Mickey Meader can relate.
The Lewiston man bought his Chevy Duramax pickup new in 2002. The first three months, he put on 22,000 miles. You could say that set a tone.
In 11 years, he’s racked up 313,573 miles.
“I’ve taken it to Alaska two or three times,” said Meader. “I’ve been cross-country and back on vacation six or seven times.”
His most expensive repair was $5,000 for new fuel injectors. Otherwise, it’s been smooth roads in the diesel.
“I’d kind of like to get to half-a-million [miles],” he said.
Danelle “Sis” Martel in Auburn bought her way into the high life: She picked up her 2001 Chevy Blazer two years ago when it already had 200,000-plus miles. It had one owner, all the paperwork showing years of routine maintenance and the price was right.
She’s up to 300,600 miles.
“I bought it online, when I was in Arizona,” said Martel. “I want it to go forever — there’s no way for what I paid that I will ever be able [to replace it].”
Ashley Brann’s 1996 Honda Civic recently passed 356,000 miles.
It was a hand-me-down from her mother, and oh, it has quirks.
“The sunroof window would open and not always close on its own on a day that it would be raining out, of course,” said Brann, from Windsor.
She used the Honda to get herself and her twin sister back and forth to school, and hopes it stays on the road at least two more years.
“I love my car,” she said. “I say I’ll drive it to the ground. I get 35 mpg already and that’s in-town driving! So why have a car payment when you have 38 mpg highway miles and don’t have a $300 car payment?”
The exact mileage on Tracie Tooker’s 2001 Nissan Pathfinder is a mystery; the odometer broke six months ago at 309,000. The Phillips woman drives 400 miles a week so it’s got to be at least a few thousand more.
“I’ve never had anything major wrong with it,” said Tooker.
Bum odometer, of course, aside.
Each winter she wonders if it will see spring again, and each spring it does.
“I am always worried I will have to retire it,” she said. “It’s a gorgeous car, and cool, and comfortable. I get lots of comments like, ‘That car is going to die on you soon, then what will you do?’ They are right, of course. But for now it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.”
Kathy Campbell in Auburn is a mobile sight to be seen: Her 2000 VW Golf — “226,400 and counting” — routinely has three passengers in the back. There’s Eugene, the 8-year-old black and white springer spaniel. Maus, the 5-year-old German shepherd. And Murphy, the 2-year-old liver and white springer spaniel.
“People constantly come over to see them when we are parked anywhere, and I have had more than one person take their picture,” said Campbell. “The toll takers on the Turnpike always hand me one or two bones, and then say, ‘Oh, there are THREE!’ Too funny. It’s like the clown car of dogs.”
She credits regular maintenance, oil changes and not letting little problems grow into big ones with keeping her Golf on the road.
Campbell has had issues with the car alarm and she admits to being a little nervous about someday being locked out.
“Also, the controls for the back window don’t work from the front anymore, and the button that should unlock/lock all the doors at once stopped working long ago, along with the 12-volt cigarette lighter in the front,” said Campbell.
All things that, for the love of her wheels, are easily overlooked. She hopes to make it to 300,000 miles.
“I don’t want to try and fix anything for fear something more important will break!” she said.
Odes to old cars
One loooong road trip
“Just this week I rolled 200,000 (eight trips around the world at the equator) in my 1998 Chevrolet Z71 Silverado pickup. Several times in the past few years I thought about selling this gem. I opted not to and now it is a question of what/who will last longest?”
— Richard McGuinness, 69, Hebron
Have spray paint, will travel
“As the vehicle got up in age and mileage, any major work/maintenance that was needed, I got an estimate and figured it as 12 monthly payments. I told myself that when my maintenance payments were more than a newer car payment, then it was time to switch. [It's] had bodywork done over the years, painted with whatever green-colored spray paint I had that was close to the original . . .
“The tailgate is in very sad shape, rusting bad enough that it would be easier to replace the whole tailgate than trying to patch it, but if we just use the rear window to load and unload stuff in the back, we are all set!”
— Rich Hatch, Hebron, who recently passed his 2000 Ford Explorer, with 270,000 miles, onto his son
“I am the proud owner of a 2003 Nissan Maxima with 248,000 miles. I bought it used in 2005, with 40,000 miles, drove it all over New England as a regional sales rep, and put it into semi-retirement 18 months ago as a second car. I’d like to get it to 300,000 miles as a novelty, but my kids only drive it locally.”
— Jeff Johnson, Auburn
300,000 in sight
“I drove around 3,500 miles a month as a sales manager for a pet food distributor. My car is comfortable and I have no repair issues save tires and brakes. My goal for this car is 300,000 mile, which appears to be a nonissue. I will drive this until it starts to cost me money. I think its retirement will be a junkyard.”
— Mike Beaulieu, Litchfield, owner of a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with 278,000 miles
“My current vehicles: 2003 Toyota Corolla (237,000 miles) and 1998 Honda CR-V (267,000 miles). I purchased the Corolla new in college and have put all the miles on myself. The Honda has been in the family, my mother purchased it with about 100,000 miles on it and gave it to us when she bought a new car. I love that I don’t have any car payments.”
— Grant Jewett, Auburn
Keep Sylvester at bay
“I have a 2006 PT Cruiser, which I call ‘Tweedy Bird’ cause she is bright yellow. In 2009, I started working for Community Concepts as a volunteer driver. I worked there a year and then went to work for RTP out of Portland doing the same thing. When I started for Community Concepts my car was 3 years old and only had 19,000 miles on it. Four years later, I now have 227,407 miles. It is a challenge keeping my Tweedy on the road; I go through about four sets of rotors a year, two sets of tires, shocks, brakes.
“I am hoping she goes forever (I know that is impossible) but maybe at least another 100,000 miles. If the motor or tranny go I probably will put a used motor with low miles or new tranny in her. It would be cheaper than buying another used car that I don’t know. Besides losing her would be like losing a great friend.”
— Dolores Gaboury, Lewiston