by Paul Williams
Recently my neighbourhood garage owner offered me a used Honda at a great price.
“How many kilometres?” I asked.
“Well, it’s been around the block,” he said, patting its roof affectionately.
We talked a bit more about the car’s overall condition, then I steered the conversation back to mileage. “Just how big is that block, anyway,” I asked.
“287,000 kilometres,” he said sheepishly.
Now that’s a block.
But then again, lots of people are selling and driving cars with well over 100,000 km on the clock. Look in the classifieds and you’ll find plenty of cars over 200,000 km. My brother persists in driving a Nissan Sentra that’s approaching 400,000 km (but granted, he is weird and generally avoided by the rest of the family).
According to Castrol, makers of many types and grades of motor oil, over three-quarters of the vehicles on the road have more than 120,000 kilometres on the odometer. This qualifies them as high-mileage vehicles. Furthermore, over 60% of cars are more than seven years old.
Castrol technicians point out that as a vehicle gets older, its mechanical performance decreases. They explain that the oil’s viscosity is more rapidly compromised, making it too thick when cold, and too thin when hot.
The oil molecules break down more quickly in an older engine, rendering them less able to lubricate. Over time, engine seals deteriorate, gaskets lose their effectiveness and oil consumption increases. The end result is an engine that is no longer capable of functioning at peak efficiency.
The fact that things wear out is nothing new. The change is the number of high mileage vehicles on the road, and the introduction of products targeted to them. Consequently, you’ll see a new class of engine oils available specifically for the older car. Most of the motor oil companies are bringing such products to market.
Castrol GTX High Mileage, for instance, is formulated using a combination of premium base oils and semi-synthetic components to offer some protection against oil burn-off. This oil also contains seal conditioners that reduce leakage, and additives that provide protection against engine wear and deposits that reduce compression. The idea is that such an oil can revive and maintain performance, both of which you’d like in an older car.
Valvoline MaxLife is a similar product, recently introduced to market. The manufacturer claims it conditions engine seals, maximizes horsepower, cleans internal engine components, reduces oil consumption, improves cold starts and protects against wear.
These echo the claims made by Castrol, Quaker State and other companies for their products, and cover the same range of problems associated with older engines.
Check out the Valvoline website at valvoline.com,and you’ll find a useful two-minute video that explains the issues with older engines in more detail.
By the way, Valvoline says don’t mix their MaxLife oil with conventional oil. Apparently it’s better to use one or the other.
High mileage motor oils cost more than conventional oils, but less than synthetics. Expect to pay $3.99 per litre for Castrol, Valvoline and Quaker State products. This compares to $2.99 or less for conventional oils and up to $6.99 for synthetics.
The high mileage oils available in Canada tend to be either 5-W-30 or 10-W-30, the two most popular grades. Higher performance grades are available in the US.
And just in case you think my weird brother’s being a bit optimistic with his high-mileage Nissan, well think again. For some people, high-mileage is a badge of honour.
Volvo has long touted their cars’ longevity, and actually has a 100,000-mile club that owners can join.
Current results can be found at volvoclub.org.uk, where you’ll see an Official and Unofficial list. On the official list, New Yorker Irv Gordon is still the king of high milers in his 1966 Volvo P1800S with 4.16 million kilometres (2.6 million miles) on the odometer (see note from Mr. Gordon below)
Romanian Moisi Dumitri-Marius is a long way behind Mr. Gordon in second place, driving a 1973 Volvo 142 DL with 1.19 million kilometers, and Welshman Ron Scott is in third place with 1.15 million kilometers on his 1980 Volvo 244 DL. On the unofficial list, Canadian Brett Sutherland has an impressive 2.5 million kilometers on his 1965 Volvo 122S.
Maybe the used Honda at my local garage is a bargain after all. Heck, it’s got over 700,000 km until the odometer resets.
Of course, if your vehicle has serious mechanical problems, no oil will solve them. But for the well-maintained older car, you can’t really go wrong by trying a high-mileage oil at your next oil change.
Message from Irv Gordon:
I thought I would take this opportunity to clear up a possible misunderstanding concerning my relationship with Volvo. Some have written that I receive a lot of help from Volvo, but this statement could be not further from the truth. I pay for all my parts and service at the same dealership I purchased my car from in 1966, using only OEM parts, and this is true for all my Volvos.
I often kid the folks from Volvo about sending me a case of oil or air filters as a present once in awhile, but I always get the same answer. “If Volvo were paying for my parts and service with unlimited funds, anyone could drive their car forever.” They prefer ( hope they are not just trying to avoid me calling them “thrifty” in the process) to have me support my own car and driving habits to see just what one individual can do with his own car. Perhaps by giving me a car every million miles, they feel that makes up for all the expense and hard work I put into my cars. The only support I get from Volvo Cars of North America is for the times I travel for them to put my car on display — such as the trip I am now on — heading to Las Vegas for the SEMA and NACE shows there. They pay for my hotels and meals, plus gas and tolls. I get no other remuneration, not even a free tee shirt!! I just thought you’d like to know and set the story straight! I do this just for the fun of it and the enjoyment I get out of having an excuse to drive cross country again and again, no matter what the weather. I enjoy the people I meet and the bit of excitement that being a minor celebrity brings. If that is what is meant by “a lot of help from Volvo,”…then you have that right!
Irv Gordon, (owner of the highest mileage car in the world…now coming up on 2.6 million miles.)