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Car and Driver: Really Long Haulin': What It’s Like to Drive 200,000 Miles Per Year

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2011 Ford FiestaYou might feel like you spend a lot of your life, perhaps even too much of your life, in your car. Me? I commute every day from the second floor of my house to the first floor. Then we have the other extreme. In conducting TrueDelta’s car-reliability survey, I confirm odometer readings that are either unusually low or unusually high, in case there’s an extra or missing zero (it happens). About one percent of the cars in the survey clock more than 3000 miles per month, roughly triple the average. That’s not many. So I figured it had to be a mistake when, back in June 2012, someone reported 151,000 miles on a 2011 Ford Fiesta. As it turned out, the owner, a user named Mike, was just getting started.

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Mike, once a long-haul truck driver, is now a medical courier who drives 16 hours each day, five days a week. Many people say they like to drive, but few have this level of love (or even tolerance) for the activity. From June 2012 to June 2013, Mike drove the Fiesta another 196,000 miles. From June 2013 to June 2014, he topped that at 198,000 miles, driving six days a week for much of the period. Then he scaled back to five days per week, and drove merely 153,000 miles from June 2014 to June 2015. Last September, the odometer on his little Ford rolled over 740,000 miles.

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What’s it like to drive 80-plus hours a week? “Peaceful,” apparently. Mike spends most of these hours at night on the open two-lane roads of southeastern New Mexico. The day, in contrast, “brings out the worst
-in people.” He fills the time with “old radio stations, talk shows, a wide variety of music on satellite radio, and lots of coffee.” Traveling through some very scenic country, he keeps his eyes peeled for wildlife (partly to avoid hitting it, having once receiving a scratch on his mirror from the antlers of an elk) and far more meteors than most people will ever see. He much prefers his work as a courier to the desk job he held between truck driving and his current gig.

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2011 Ford Fiesta odometer

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The weather isn’t always favorable. Back in June 2013 while driving through a “very nasty storm,” Mike was “blindsided by what appeared to be a small tornado.” The mini-twister shoved the Fiesta 40 feet off the road and “blew out both my driver side windows so hard that glass was embedded into the inside of the passenger door.” Some glass was also embedded into his face. He drove the car back to the road and then 55 miles to a hospital to get the glass removed. Someone else had to complete the deliveries that night, but the next day Mike was back on the road in a Focus rented until the Fiesta could be repaired.

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Mike’s longest “day” occurred during a massive snowstorm in January 2015. Two hours in, with the temperature well below freezing, the blower motor for the Fiesta’s heater decided that it had lived long enough. Mike drove for another 19 hours while water bottles froze inside the car. Then he swapped the Fiesta for his wife’s 1998 Toyota RAV4 (which had a working heater) and drove for another 20 hours. In the middle of a snowstorm, he drove 1600 miles in 41 hours.

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Mike seems to have handled the miles pretty well. What about the car? He reports that the engine has never been cracked open yet uses only about a quart of oil every 8000 miles. The dual-clutch automatic
-transmission (DCT) hasn’t been nearly as maintenance-free. Its clutch packs were replaced twice, at 347,000 and 545,000 miles. (Actually, the second time, it proved much quicker and no more expensive to go ahead and replace the entire transmission with a nearly new, $600 unit.) Other repairs included the main computer, fuel pump (it was making noises, Mike didn’t wait for it to fail), throttle body motor, starter, alternator, coolant recovery tank, radiator cooling fan, HVAC blower motor, body control module, and the A/C compressor (“it was getting a little noisy”). The horn also was replaced, with a four-note unit from a 1971 Cadillac.

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2011 Ford Fiesta loaded for courier run

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Mike’s 2011 Ford Fiesta all loaded up for a courier run.
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Do you wish you could repair your car yourself but lack the time? Well, Mike not only spends 80 hours driving each week, but also performs his own maintenance and tackled nearly all of the aforementioned repairs. Of the above fixes, only the computer and module were repaired by the dealer. The DCT’s clutches require special tools to install, but Mike didn’t want to buy a set, so he fabricated them. But that job wasn’t as tough as the front wheel bearings (replaced after one started singing in the mountains at 641,000 miles), which Mike describes as “not a job for the squeamish.” The aforementioned blower motor also wasn’t easy. “You have to remove the steering shaft and complete pedal assembly” to access it, he says. Plus, if your hand slips during the process, you might drop onto the door sill and crack a couple of ribs, like Mike. Time to take a medical leave? No, although the next eight weeks weren’t pleasant.

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As for maintenance, Mike lists the following as the annual toll:

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• 6000 gallons of gasoline
-• 26 oil changes and tire rotations
-• 2 sets of tires
-• 1 set of struts and shocks
-• Timing belt and water pump (really every 9 months, Mike got the job down to four hours)

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Mike keeps thorough records. He has to. It tends to raise a red flag with the IRS when you deduct 50-plus cents per mile for 200,000 miles. It doesn’t hurt that the Fiesta has cost far less to operate than the average vehicle, and Mike says it achieved 41 miles per gallon of gas and up to 116,000 miles per set of Pirelli P4 tires—preferred for their all-weather traction and longevity until Pirelli stopped offering them in the Fiesta’s size. Also, the IRS’s standard mileage rate applies to all vehicles regardless of size, which makes it clear why Mike didn’t opt for a larger car.

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To maximize the cargo capacity of the small sedan, Mike replaced the front passenger seat and rear bench with a carpeted sheet of 3/8-inch plywood. He also fabricated a platform that attaches to the rear bumper. “I do custom welding as a hobby, in my spare time.” Other spare time activities have included his daughter’s track meets and a few hours off for each wedding anniversary.

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Sadly, we’ll probably never learn if a Ford Fiesta can hit 1,000,000 miles. Mike semi-retired his car a couple of months before he made the final payment. His wife now drives it a mere 100 miles per week. Last October, he moved on to a 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek, which already is approaching the 70,000-mile mark. He decided that he did need a little more cargo capacity, and figures that the Subaru’s all-weather capability during the occasional blizzard will be worth somewhat inferior fuel efficiency. He hopes to keep the Subaru at least five years, so this one could get to seven figures.

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Excellent news—we’ll soon learn how well Subaru’s CVT holds up! Not so fast. Mike decided that he’d rather replace a few $300 clutch kits (which looks to be a much easier job than than the clutch packs in the Fiesta) than a single $4000 CVT, and got a manual this time.

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