Still driving after all of these years

Dave Yochum

Junior mathematics major Jessica Gran owns a 1986 Nissan 300zx Turbo car with 177, 771 miles (see odometer on left). She got the car in June from her dad who owns Gran Motors. Gran said the 20-year-old car has only spun out once.

Credit: Ben Breier

Mike Mandich’s lady gets around.

Though it’s easy to see why his girl’s behavior has led to some minor disagreements over their six years, he’s chosen to stick it out with her until the very end. Some might question his judgment, but this biology and psychology major believes whenever he needs her to perform, his lady will fire on all cylinders like the first day he took her for a ride.

After all, 221,000 miles is no reason to give up on a perfectly good car.

Usually when a vehicle’s odometer hits six digits, people start thinking about upgrading their car to something quicker, better built and, of course, younger. But for Mandich, along with countless others on campus who can’t afford to drop thousands of dollars on a brand new car, hand-me-downs and late-model, high-mile cruisers are the only option when it comes to personal transportation. These students’ cars might be well past their prime, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing left to give.

Mandich’s “million-mile” warrior, a maroon 1991 Toyota Camry, has been dutifully cared for. As a result, he has been able to coerce his car into acting half its age.

Not only does the Camry get Mandich safely from “point A” to “point B,” he claims it has some serious bite to back up that early-90’s, family-sedan bark.

“About five years ago the car beat my friend Shruba’s Camaro RS in a race, but it was just a V6 Camaro – that really doesn’t count,” Mandach admitted.

2 Fast 2 Furious or not, it seems older foreign cars like Mandich’s Camry seem to be lasting forever.

As the driver of a gold, 1986 Nissan 300ZX, junior mathematics major Jessica Gran knows that owning a high mileage car isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She’s been driving her “Z,” optioned out with a cassette player, leather interior, 1986 car phone and female-voiced warning system, for roughly the last 20,000 of the car’s 177,000 miles.

Luckily for Gran, problems with the car have been minimal, as her dad looks after the “Z” and performs regular maintenance to keep it running.

“The car hasn’t had any major problems,” said Gran. “It needs water (for the coolant) every now and then, and my dad takes care of that too. I don’t even think of watering a plant, but he has been on top of things.”

Gran’s relationship with her car isn’t hassle-free all the time. She says she could do without the “80’s girl” voice warnings always reminding her to turn off the lights and put gas in the car.

“At least she doesn’t yell at me about my seat belt! I wear one, so maybe she hasn’t had the chance, but I remember to turn off my lights, and she still yells at me about that.”

Annoying voices and all, Gran believes her 20-year-old, high-mile wonder reflects her personality beautifully. Similar to the “Z,” she is also thrifty, messy and always running on empty from being burned out on school.

“Oh, and hard to turn on, I forgot to mention that,” Gran said. “Sometimes you have to start the car twice or it will stall out.”

In contrast to Mandich and Gran’s vehicles that have nobly withstood the test of time, junior computer science major Chris Schulz’s 1991 Honda Prelude is nearing the end of its 179,000 mile existence.

Schulz performs regular oil changes, fluid replacement and brake pad replacement on the Honda himself, but after having to replace a head gasket, alternator, suspension and now a cracked radiator, the Prelude’s days appear numbered.

“I think if I am careful I could let it live for another year, but I will need to scrounge up some cash to fix it fast,” Schulz said.

If he does get some extra money to fix up his ride, Schulz has quite a long list of items he said need to be addressed.

“The rust, the bumper that is starting to fall off, the dent in the front-end, where does it stop?” he cried.

Though his Prelude might not be much now, Schulz also claims his car had her day in the sun – and in the streets.

“My car has the character of an old hooker,” he said. “It used to be fast.”

Jim Arbenzik of Tires and More auto service in Kent has serviced hundreds of cars with high mileage, including Hondas with over 300,000 miles on them. In general, he’s found that if students want their cars to be part of the “mile-high club,” a few things need to be taken care of on a regular basis.

“The best way to keep a car going is to change the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles and change the transmission fluid when appropriate,” Arbenzik said .

He recommended that besides changing the oil, a car’s timing belt also should be taken care of according to manufacturer recommendations – usually needing changed every 60,000 to 80,000 miles.

“I once had a guy bring his Honda in with some 300,000 miles, and it was just for the timing belt – the car needed nothing else.”

Changing transmission fluid on a high-mileage car can be risky business, though.

Some mechanics subscribe to the theory that if nothing is wrong with the transmission, why change the fluid and risk loosening engine deposits? Others think fresh fluid is the way to roll.

“With high-mileage cars, it’s all personal opinion,” Arbenzik said. “I’ve heard that the worst thing to do is to change the transmission fluid if it hasn’t been done regularly, but others swear by it.”

Proper preventative maintenance can lengthen the lifespan of any car for a certain period of time, but cars don’t last forever. Until they do, the owners of the high-mile legends will never know “how much is just too much” when it comes to piling on the miles – each waiting to mutter the final “not again!”s to the love of their life.

Contact features reporter Dave Yochum at [email protected].