RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Challenge Part 1

I’m not talking about an engine or chassis making it to 100,000 miles. The days when it was a major accomplishment for vehicles reach 100k without an engine overhaul or major repairs are in the history books. For decades now vehicles have been built to higher standards, are more reliable, and it’s no great achievement nor are bragging rights attached to driving to six digits.

Tune Ups and Maintenance 

Most modern gasoline-powered engines no longer need tune-ups, largely because tune-ups had much to do with the ignition system, and the ignition system as we knew it has been consolidated. The distributor cap, rotor, plug wires, and the ignition coil are mostly missing on modern systems. In their place are coil-on-plug, electronically-controlled systems that work amazingly well and need very little, if any, attention. Some cars and trucks have spark plugs that last more than 100,000 miles!

Engine and ignition system on a 1974 Ford Bronco

Fuel and air filters were part of our old tune-ups, but with gas-powered, fuel-injected vehicles the filter is in the tank and not easily changed. Air filters are still accessible, and should be serviced regularly, but are sometimes forgotten and neglected. Air filter maintenance is more important for off-pavement travelers or those that live in particulate environs. Few vehicles, even 4WDs that might benefit, have serviceable wheel bearings, U-joints, or driveline zerks. Still, these parts also routinely last for 100,000 miles and beyond.

It’s easy to understand why routine maintenance is oft forgotten, there’s so little of it required that non-enthusiasts drivers forget about caring for their mechanical investment. Their cars still run well for years on little more than fuel and periodic oil changes. (Of course, readers and most gear-heads don’t ignore the mechanical stuff on their rides.) So if new vehicles are so reliable, where’s the 100k challenge? Let’s look a little deeper…

First generation Toyota 4Runner getting a lift out of a ‘tub’ on Moab’s Hell’s Revenge trail.

Drive It Like You Paid For It. You did or possibly still are.

My nickname, Redline, can be interpreted a few ways, however my normal method of driving does not include the top of the rpm range. Occasionally I open the throttle and bounce the tachometer needle against governor without fear. These rare visits to the stratosphere are within the design parameters of modern engines, and have yet to prove detrimental to their longevity.

Care and maintenance do matter, but so does driving style. The British have a term, Vehicle Sympathy or Mechanical Sympathy, which accurately explains a key ingredient. Driving proficiently, with an eye on vehicle care, maybe even taking pride in doing it well while not being needlessly rough on the mechanicals.

A 2005 Rubicon Unlimited with Dean SXT Mud Terrain 255/85R16D tires. This is use, not abuse.

Make Your Brakes Last 100k

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Longevity Challenge is to make your brake pads and/or shoes last for 100,000 miles, or more. It’s not as difficult as you might think, but it may require an attitude adjustment when you’re behind the wheel. To succeed you don’t have to drive slow, I typically drive at or slightly above the speed limit, like most people. You will have to release the accelerator earlier, coast a little (which helps MPG) and use the linear momentum of your vehicle when you need to reduce your speed. This is in contrast to the folks who move almost immediately from the go-pedal to the slow-pedal, converting the fuel they just burned for forward progress into heat wasted heat energy through the braking system.

It doesn’t take only long-distance highway driving to meet this 100k challenge, though I will concede that folks who routinely drive in very heavy city traffic—the kind they have in San Francisco and New York, and many other places—may have a difficult time reaching 100,000 miles. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, maybe reaching 50,000 or 75,000 miles before new brake pads are needed. But for many who travel in moderate city, suburban, or mixed conditions, 100,000 miles on OE brakes is very attainable, even easy.

Driving conditions do matter, and those at both poles may have vastly different results, but most of us are in the middle, and the driver matters much more than the conditions. My real-world examples have been driven in heavy city and freeway traffic, off-highway, and on long-distance road trips. I do a fair amount of towing too.

Off-highway towing can be hard on your brakes, particularly when traveling downhill. Use your gears, including low-range, to preserve your brakes.

How Can We Get There?

While offering many secondary safety benefits, some techniques that will help us accomplish this 100,000 mile brake longevity is to practice some fundamental driving safe techniques. A few of them are:

Look several seconds ahead for changes in traffic conditions, road hazards, traffic signals, and signs, and absorb and evaluate the data from the constantly changing conditions.

Focus on, and consciously think about how you are operating your machine. It’s fun to do something supremely well, even something we often take for granted, like driving. Focusing will allow for smoother, safer lane changes and turns, better transmission shifts, less fuel consumption, and less brake use.

Don’t follow closely. There are many reasons to avoid following-too-closely (FTC), but needing to use brakes early, often, and firmly is toward the top and directly related to all the safety reasons one should not FTC. Following no closer than a few seconds—longer is better—will offer better sightlines, and the ability to slow down by simply releasing the accelerator instead of immediately going for the brakes.

Release the accelerator earlier when needing to slow or stop. This is the premier principle for reducing brake wear and is connected to looking several seconds ahead and not following-too-closely. Once conditions dictate we need to cease accelerating or cruising at a steady speed, the sooner we reduce pressure or completely release the skinny pedal, the further we can travel on the fuel already consumed and the less brake wear we’ll incur while slowing or stopping. Unless you are on a very steep hill, once the accelerator is released you will start to loose momentum, reducing speed without the brakes. So simple, but I don’t see much of this from the automotive masses. In fact, the opposite is true, there’s a bunch of needless pedal bashing.

I like to think of slow declaration while coasting as free travel, or as my Tundra’s dash computer readout sometimes says, 99 miles-per-gallon, the opposite of idling. When we start coasting to slow down, even short distances, we are traveling with the throttle closed and consuming very little fuel. Every mile-per-hour we are able to slow without using our brakes is friction material we have conserved.

In addition to saving brake system wear you are also keeping your brakes cool by not using them early, often, or hard. Modern braking systems are generally very good, and can convert large amounts of energy to heat, but eventually all brakes will fade if used aggressively. The less you use them the more they will be there for you when you need them. Low gears and/or manual transmissions can help, but are not required to meet the 100k brake challenge.


Real World Examples 

In the Next Post

Copyright © 2012 James Langan