How Long Do Cars Last: Maximizing Your Car’s Useful Lifespan

“How long do cars last?” This is a key question to keep in mind when car shopping” Because the last thing you want to do is shell out a ton of cash for a new or used car and find out that it was near the end of its life. 

Fortunately, you have a lot more to do with a car’s longevity than you may think.

Below, we outline how long you can expect the average car to last, as well as what you can do to maximize its lifespan.

How Long Do Cars Last?

Many years ago, when a vehicle reached 160,000 km, it was a big deal. Today‘s cars, however, with all their enhancements in safety and reliability, have an average lifespan of 322,000 km, or roughly 12 years, provided it’s given proper maintenance and care.

An electric vehicle‘s life expectancy is even longer, at 483,000 km, due to electric cars‘ powertrains having fewer moving parts.

Remember that this isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. Many variables come into play regarding your car’s lifespan. Let’s look at these variables and discuss how to maximize your car’s useful life.

Initial Build Quality

The first variable when considering how long a vehicle will last is its initial build quality. In years past, brands like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan developed reputations of being some of the most reliable cars, while Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler lagged behind. That gap has since narrowed, however, with modern advancements in manufacturing and more electronic controls spreading across the automotive landscape.

That said, companies like J.D. Power still release initial quality studies that point out problem areas for new cars within the first 90 days of ownership. In 2021, the top 5 most reliable brands were:

  • RAM
  • Dodge
  • Lexus
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan

While these surveys are great for playing the averages, cars are still subject to manufacturing flaws and defects that could wait until after the car’s warranty has expired. So, that RAM 1500 with a high-reliability rating could still develop a one-off problem due to a manufacturing defect at 100,000 km that significantly shortens its lifespan through no fault of your own.

Driving style

Another variable in a car’s longevity is your driving style. Cars can endure a lot of wear in normal driving conditions, but if you abuse your vehicle, you’re multiplying this stress and potentially shortening its lifespan.

If you constantly accelerate hard and maintain high engine speeds for long periods, for example, you may be abusing your vehicle. These high engine speeds create excessive heat and stress inside the engine and driveline, potentially wearing the internal engine drivetrain components quickly — even in vehicles intended for this kind of driving.

Even normal braking and acceleration and maintaining the speed limit can go a long way in maximizing your car’s life span. The occasional quick sprint in that sports car isn’t going to cause any issues — just don’t make it a habit.

Driving Conditions

Yes, the conditions you drive in can impact your car’s longevity. If you live in a mountainous area with a lot of steep inclines, you may put more stress on the powertrain. Also, living in a city with a lot of traffic will result in longer-than-normal idling. Idling still causes wear to the engine without adding kilometres to the odometer, potentially shortening the distance you drive before it’s time to put the car to pasture.

Also, during the winter in Canada, the icy roads are generally treated with salt and other chemicals. These can get stuck in the undercarriage and accelerate corrosion. This rust can eventually affect the vehicle’s structural integrity, forcing it to an early grave. There are ways to prevent this, which we’ll get to next.

Regular Maintenance

A critical way to keep your car running the longest is performing the manufacturer’s recommended regular maintenance and other preventative maintenance, as needed. In the owner’s manual, you’ll find all the routine maintenance items the automaker recommends and the recommended maintenance schedule, including:

  • Oil changes
  • Transmission fluid changes
  • Brake fluid flushes
  • Coolant exchanges
  • Tire rotations
  • Timing belt replacement
  • Tune-ups (spark plugs and ignition wires)
  • Various inspections (brake pads, hoses, belts, etc)

Other maintenance items not listed in most owners’ manuals can further enhance your car’s lifespan, including undercarriage cleaning and undercoating, alignments, regular washing and waxing, interior stain preventative treatments, and more.

It’s also important to use the automaker’s recommended fluids, including engine oil, transmission fluid, and more. The engineers spent countless hours designing these components for specific fluids. Using the wrong fluid can at minimum impact fuel economy and at worst cause excessive wear in extreme conditions. And as your car ages, you may want to switch to high-mileage fluids, as they have additives that can help prolong aging components that are starting to wear out.

Your Mechanic

The mechanic you choose to work on your vehicle is also critical to the average car’s lifespan. You want to choose the best mechanic and repair shop to handle your vehicle.

With the right mechanic, you’ll learn about small problems before they become larger, potentially catastrophic issues. For example, that check engine light may be due to a sensor malfunction. A good mechanic can properly diagnose, estimate, and repair it for you before it becomes a bigger problem.

On the other hand, a poor mechanic may simply pull the codes causing the check engine light and start changing random parts until the light goes out, costing you more money and potentially missing the root of the issue. Alternatively, they may not even recommend checking the codes, letting you think everything is fine.

Also, a good mechanic will deliver consistent quality work, so you can rest assured even major repairs are done right the first time. Poor mechanics can sometimes do more harm than good.

Modern Safety Features

As cars continue to become more advanced, so do their safety features. Once, the leading-edge safety tech only kept you safe during an accident. Today, new vehicles‘ advanced driver assistance features like automatic emergency braking, blind-spot collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control can actually help prevent an accident that can result in a premature trip to the junkyard.


And lest we forget the one variable you simply can’t control, luck. Sometimes you just hit an unlucky patch and something severe happens to your vehicle that significantly shortens its lifespan.

Perhaps you hit an object in the road that caused a small crack to start in the transmission case. After 120,000 km, that crack opens up into a full-on leak in the middle of a long road trip. Next thing you know, your vehicle’s broken down on the side of the road with a dead transmission far earlier than it ever should have.

This type of damage can cost you thousands of dollars, making you seriously consider scrapping the vehicle instead of shelling out the cash to repair it.

Get a Reliable Pre-Owned Car at Clutch

You can also ensure you get the longest-lasting vehicle by buying it from a reputable source. Clutch, Canada’s largest online used car retailer, ensures it sells only the most reliable vehicles by putting each one through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process. Plus, every used car, truck, SUV, or van we sell gets our 90-Day Protection Plan to give you extra peace of mind.

On top of that, all our cars come with a 10-Day Money-Back Guarantee, which means that if you don’t like it, we’ll come pick it up for free. No questions asked.

Plus, when shopping at Clutch, there’s no need to set foot in a dealership. You can shop for a quality pre-owned vehicle, secure financing, and even get value for your trade-in vehicle, all 100% online. Check out our massive inventory of quality pre-owned vehicles in Canada today.