In recent years, the phrase “Climate Crisis’” seems to have infiltrated itself into our day-to-day lives. In addition, it’s been used by nearly every industry to promote their “sustainable” products. Some of these products are sustainable or significantly better for the environment than their predecessors- take paper cups instead of plastic ones, or better yet metal bottles which can be recycled. However, the auto industry seems to have exploited the term to promote a harmful consumerist lifestyle by shoving into the market what they claim to be the “next step” in the development of the automobile. All done, of course, to make the carbon-conscious think they’re making a difference while lining the pockets of auto executives. The only problem is that the old isn’t quite ready to give way to the new just yet.

A comparison of old versus new. The one on the left needs to be taken to a dealer for repairs, the one on the right can be fixed with basic tools, and is still able to drive down the road with dry-rotted tires, sloppy steering, badly worn suspension and spongy brakes. What had to change?

I asked a few people how long they think a car should last, in years and miles, from the day it leaves the factory. The average answer? 10 years and 132,000 miles. This is relatively close to what the statistic actually is. In the US, the average lifespan of a car is 11.33 years and lasts about 153,000 miles, based on the average driving distance of 13,500 miles per year. Unfortunately, there seems to be a stigma against older, high-mileage cars that haven’t reached the point where they become collectible. However, what we perceive as “high mileage” may be flawed. I conducted a subsequent survey asking people what they believe constitutes a “high mileage” vehicle. 

 

While 125,000 miles on the odometer isn’t anything to scoff at, from a technical standpoint this is “middle age” for the average car or truck. Believe it or not, but a meticulously maintained vehicle may last for decades and rack up 400,000 miles or more. Go to any car show and you’ll see what I mean. 

Despite what is believed by the majority, many cars and trucks made in the past 30 years may last 200,000 miles or more, under normal use, before any major repairs are needed. That last part, “without major repairs”, is very important to my argument. These major repairs usually consist of rebuilding the engine, transmission, or other components with new parts, or replacing them entirely- but a blown engine or transmission doesn’t necessarily mean the end for a car.  

Just like you can purchase new clothes to remain relevant to the trends, the underpinnings of an older car can be swapped out so it remains on par with the speed and efficiency standards of modern day. The previous owner of my 1968 Dodge D300 (pictured above) did just that, by fitting the truck with a diesel engine and a 5-speed transmission from a ’98 Dodge.

Swapping out major car components is and has been a common practice among enthusiasts, which started as early as the 1940s as a cheap and timely means of improved performance. Nowadays, engine and transmission swaps are a great way to make an older car more reliable and competent in modern traffic. Rebuilding and replacing vehicle components is still cheaper than a new car, but even the most well-built car or truck will not last forever. Frames eventually bend from being under constant stress and anything made of metal will rust and rot out as it battles the elements. On the other hand, there can’t be older cars if no new ones are made.

So, it seems that we have a paradox. I think that the best answer to a conundrum such as this, although not perfect, is moderation. So, I believe as a society, we must make a change. The automobile should not be seen as a consumer product, but rather a tool that is kept and taken care of as a reward of it’s utility.

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