Here are 17 cars that’ll do 300,000 miles
Want a car that’ll outlast democracy? These'll see you through the next couple of years until then
In a way, all cars will do 300,000 miles – if you’re prepared to undergo a Ship of Theseus scenario, in which you replace absolutely every part and are then left to wonder if what you have is the car you started with, or if you assembled all the old parts you’ve replaced over the years, if that would be your original car.
But for the purposes of this list, we’re looking at cars that’ll do 300,000 miles without requiring an entire new car’s worth of parts and a first-name-basis relationship with your mechanic. Because we’ve been there. And while Andrew is a wonderful man – with as much talent for fixing finicky Italian cars as he has for fixing up a Friday-afternoon ragu – there’s a very good reason why we no longer own an Alfa 147 GTA.
Obviously, easing a car or pick-up past 300,000 miles takes care, diligence, attention to detail and the tacit agreement to never buy a car that’s been in the hands of the Stig at any point. Without meticulous servicing and sympathetic driving, you’re unlikely to roll past 100,000 miles without major parts – like the entire engine, for instance – needing replacement and kind of annulling the whole ‘did 300,000 miles’ when it gets there.
Now, you already know that this list is going to be pretty chock-full of Japanese manufacturers. But don’t stress; this isn’t just going to be a list of Toyotas and Hondas. We mean, it’s definitely mostly them, but there are showings from Germany, America, France, Sweden and even Great Britain! Obviously we’re kidding about the last one.Advertisement - Page continues below
Toyota Land Cruiser
If we’re going to talk about machines that’ll do 300,000 miles without so much as a mechanised shrug, it’s going to be the Toyota Land Cruiser. You know how people use laps around the equator – ‘300,000 miles is 12 times around the equator!’ and other such overenthusiastic guff – to signify how far something is? The Land Cruiser scoffs at such paltry equivalencies. It’ll do 12 laps of every vaguely terrestrial portion of planet Earth before you sell it on to its next owner, who’ll do another 12.
And if we mention the Land Cruiser, we’re going to have to mention the near-as-dammit indestructible Hilux. As the tall, woolly-haired one proved on an episode of Top Gear TV that’s so old it could order a beer in a pub, Hiluxes aren’t really made with planned obsolescence in mind. Even an old Hilux proved harder than a controlled demolition and even the city of Bristol. Whether it’s harder than someone from Bristol is still unproven, but after an ‘enjoyable’ Friday night in Bristol, we have to say the jury is still thoroughly out.Advertisement - Page continues below
We’re three deep in this list and still haven’t strayed from Toyota. OK, so while the first two really stretched the friendship with the whole ‘car’ thing, there is no mistaking the LS400 for anything but. Four doors, engine up front and boot out the back; it’s the same basic shape of a car a five-year-old would draw.
And, if you ask the LS400’s detractors, it’s the same exact shape. And sure, the styling of the LS is only slightly more conservative than the people who bought the things new. But are you really going to argue with a 4.0-litre, quad-overhead cam V8 with top-tier-Toyota reliability? A friend of ours plucked a 100,000-mile 1UZ from an LS and whacked it in his tubing boat a decade ago and it’s still humming along. And for those not in the know, dragging three or four people on rubber tubes along a lake behind a boat is not a gentle experience for anyone – or anything – involved. So it’s fair to say that it’ll stand up to the 300,000 miles of mooching about you have planned.
As for the rest of the car? Well, it’s a top-tier Toyota, innit.
Ford Crown Victoria
It’s been the mechanical totem of American cities for decades, pounding out countless millions of miles in the liveries of taxis and police cruisers, and in the jet-black anti-livery of private-hire cars that were every bit as identifiable as the cabs and cop cars.
OK, fine, the limos were technically Lincoln Town Cars but, such is the way with American cars of yore, the difference extended as far as some bumpers, badging, and bugger all else. And yes, angry Americans, we know the wheelbase is longer on a Lincoln. We also know that we care more about alliterative sentences than pedantry.
The point we’re dancing around is that these things will take beaucoup punishment before giving up the ghost. If working as a taxi doesn’t kill it, if constant ferrying of plutocrats past the proles doesn’t, if working as a cop car in America doesn’t wreck it, it’s going to keep going longer than you need it to.
It’s not just staid saloons and Terminator-tough off-roaders that’ll cruise past 300,000 miles. Yes, the most endearing car on planet Earth is also one of the most enduring.
That’s by design, of course – the original idea for the MX-5 was, basically, “wouldn’t it be great if you could have a British roadster that worked?” And so Mazda made sure of just that – the MX-5 was designed to mimic the feel and joy of British sportsters while doing shocking things like starting from cold, starting from warm, running while warm, running in the rain, running on warm sunny days, and keeping all the fluids in the areas they’re supposed to be, rather than mixing them together in new and interesting ways or just dumping them on the road.
In fact, Mazda did such a good job making a reliable roadster that they’ve sold more than a million of them across four generations. And that’s the sort of longevity you can only get with... well, longevity – repeat business is hard to maintain if the car in question lasts as long as a TikTok video.
We’ve seen MX-5s with 500,000 miles on them, still running the original engine. We’ve even heard tales of million-mile Miatas. So 300,000? Just run in.
It probably figures that a large, lifted and ruggedised estate from the company famous for making them – oh, and World Rally Championship-winning race cars – can sail past 300,000 miles. There were a few worrisome issues with head gaskets – a pricey fix when you remember that there’s a head on each end of things, being a boxer engine – but that was down to a dodgy gasket that Subaru has stopped using.
Presumably, the people involved have been banished to the... well, the banishment room (go ahead and discover this er... idiosyncratic practice at your leisure), because modern Subarus are ready to deliver hundreds of thousands of miles’ worth of lugging Portia and her pony to dressage practice.Advertisement - Page continues below
When buying second-hand cars, there’s a fairly hard and fast rule – you either pay the proper money when you buy or you pay it later when everything breaks. Clearly, the bods at Mercedes in the Seventies were thinking along the same lines, because the time, effort and money they pumped into the W123 is just staggering.
Yeah, the W123 series Merc is famous for its overengineering, but even that just scratches the surface of a nearly pathological drive to build a car that wouldn’t just be a point of pride for Mercedes, but a source of constant shame for any other manufacturer that tried to measure up.
There actually used to be a scheme pulled by adventurous young things in the Nineties – pick up an old W123 for a song, drive it down to Africa, do a few weeks or months of sightseeing, then sell it when it’s time to go home. Apparently, it wasn’t hard to recoup the cost of the car and pay for – or at least pretty heavily subsidise – the rest of their trip. The Mercs in question? Still refusing to die, of course.
Now, this may come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a Corolla, but everything Toyota lets out of the gate is conservative to the nth degree. And it goes deeper than you think. Toyota’s engines can take more tuning and make more power than they do without any issue, but Toyota is incredibly conservative with its tunes and engine setup so there’s next to Buckley’s chance of anything breaking under strain.
That’s why Toyota outputs seem kind of humdrum compared to its European rivals – they could make more power, but Toyota’s more keen on them lasting for hundreds of thousands of miles.
And yeah, reliability is hardly the most-interesting virtue in the world, but, as an ex-owner of an Alfa 147 GTA, we can say that reliability is kind of like oxygen: it’s easy to forget how important it is until you go without it.Advertisement - Page continues below
Aha yes, it’s funny because Peugeots fall apart and so on. If that fruit were to hang any lower, it’d be a watermelon.
Let’s just get something out of the way: Peugeot – and for that matter Alfa Romeo – were not gently caressed by the 1990s, held in the small of its hand and conveyed safely to the 21st century. The general Scrooge McDuckianism of the accountants and bosses at Euro companies is absolutely legendary; Alfa went from the purveyor of a swathe of rear-drive sports saloons to a modern-day Sisyphus, trying to maintain its legitimacy with front-drive Fiat platforms and penny-pinching money men who decided a suspension wishbone should only cost 12 lira. So then the inevitable would happen – i.e. that the wishbones of roasted chickens are generally more robust – and Alfa would find itself back down the bottom of the hill.
But Alfas have a long history of working brilliantly... briefly. Take a moment to consider Peugeot. The 404 and 504 survived not just decades of use in Africa, but decades of being used as taxis in Africa. Not even M1 Abrams tanks would survive that.
And then the 1990s happened. Yeah, thanks, bean counters.
Be still, our quaking pension cards.
Look, you know the deal here. Toyota. Reliability. Conservative tuning to ensure longevity usually reserved for giant tortoises and cedar trees. All of the excitement and danger of a bowl of oats.
But if you absolutely must get from where you are to where you’re going, and continue in such a fashion for the next half a million miles, you could do far worse than the Toyota Bowl of Oats. Er, Camry. Yeah, that’s the one.
The brilliant news here is that there’s a secret boon for second-hand Accord buyers – or Accord Euro buyers, for all you Australians that had to contend with massive Yank-spec Accords and regular-sized Euro-spec Accord... um, Euros. If you look with a bit of purpose, you can find the manual-equipped versions. The six-speed in the Accord (Euro) is, to say the very least, about 100 per cent better than you could possibly need in a four-door saloon. It’s actually one of the best manual gear changes in any car we’ve driven.
And you’ll get to enjoy the combination of an impossibly slick six-speed, attached to a VTEC-equipped 2.4-litre four, in a body style that could only attract less attention if it were wrapped in a ghillie suit and parked in a paddock. A secret dad toy, then? Well, not now that we’ve let the cat out of the bag. Sorry about that one.
Remember Irv Gordon? He bought a brand-new P1800 after his Chevrolet Corvair broke down the day he bought it. After trading in the Corvair, he never looked back. His lengthy commute from Long Island to Manhattan meant another 125 miles on the odometer every day. Not a problem for the P1800 – it rolled past 250,000 miles without issue, then 500,000 miles, then a million. At one million miles, Volvo gave him a new 780 – a Bertone-designed and built luxury coupe with acres of left-field cool. He put a cool 450,000 miles on that before he sold it. As for the P1800? Irv racked up another 2.2 million miles before he passed away in 2018.
Now, a lot of this is obviously down to Irv’s driving style and abundance of mechanical sympathy, but we’re talking about a car from the 1960s that didn’t have its first engine rebuild until well past 600,000 miles. Oh, and once the engine was torn down, the Volvo techs at Irv’s dealership found it didn’t need a rebuild. But it was apart, so it got one. The second rebuild? A million miles later.
Sure, the whole ‘Built Ford Tough’ seems like an invitation for an Icarus-like lesson in the consequences of hubris. And the whole ‘F-150’ thing feels like an invitation for an elementary lesson in what actually constitutes a car.
But if you sit these sources of unease aside, there’s the very real possibility of running the same truck for half a million miles without investing much more than regular maintenance and service parts. And fuel. So much fuel.
Air-cooled Porsche 911
OK, fine, they’re only slightly less expensive than going to space, they’re as forgiving of bad drivers as a dashcam compilation and the clutch is heavier than the average episode of Black Mirror, but that’s about where the problems with an air-cooled 911 end.
These things will routinely roll past 200,000 miles without anything more than routine servicing and have been known to go past 300,000 without rebuilding or other such interference. We’ve seen examples with four and five hundred thousand miles – oh, and a limited-run Speedster that saw 283,000 miles before it went up for auction for a bargain £70,000. OK, sure, it got an engine rebuild – at 206,000 miles – which just means that the new owner has 120,000 more to do before it needs another refresh. Hey, uh, new owner? We’re on hand to help out in that regard.
The fact that three-door Civics from a quarter-century ago are still pounding around both streets and track-day circuits probably says all it needs to in terms of the reliability of your average Honda Civic. But, as we’re not in the habit of letting an idea go by without overegging it more than Rocky Balboa’s breakfast, let’s keep on.
But if everything’s been said already, why exactly are we insisting on talking like a politician with an unmuted microphone? Well, two reasons – 1) it’s what we’re paid to do, and 2) modern Civics famously traipse past 500,000 and even 1,000,000 miles in the hands of regular drivers.
Volkswagen Type 2
Say what you will about air-cooled engines, the origins of Volkwagen or the insistence of some people on Instagram that living in a van by the river is somehow a life goal, the Type 2 endures – and is enduringly endearing.
And again, we find the story of an American gent who’s travelled a nearly obscene number of miles in the same set of wheels. This time, the Type 2 was just a hair short of 1.35 million miles when its owner of more than four decades sold it on.
You won’t get there quickly, nor quietly, but for a 300,000-mile trek with space enough for two people to eat, sleep and repeat? Get your hashtags ready, because we’ve found your van.
You might laugh at the idea of a 300,000-mile Saab, but try telling that to Peter Gilbert, who drove his little Swedish oddball for 17 years, rolling through 1,000,000 miles and, apparently, eight separate deers before he donated the still-running car to a museum.
OK, sure, any post-1994 Saab electrics (by which we mean General Motors electrics) are to longevity what the chainsaw is to conservationism, but if you just pretend that you’re always using the Night Panel button, you can rack up 300,000 miles without any intrusion from pesky lights or music.