Would You Rather Have This 400,000-Mile Volvo 850 Wagon Or This 300,000-Mile Ford F-150?

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On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re looking at two cars with lots of miles. How many? A hundred thousand? Two hundred? Nope. Our two contestants have covered more than seven hundred thousand miles between them. Have they got enough life left to give to be worth it? We’ll see in a minute.

First, let’s see how yesterday turned out.

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Well, color me surprised. I honestly expected the little Civic to walk away with this one. I know I’d really rather have the Buick, but I didn’t expect most of you would agree. But there it is. Just barely.

Now: I’m no stranger to cars with high miles. My Toyota is just about to hit 260,000 miles, and my truck is sitting at 208,000. I’ve had a Miata that was over 250,000, and a Nissan Pathfinder whose odometer broke and was replaced with a junkyard unit, but was somewhere north of 360,000 when we gave up and sold it (but it still ran and drove). High mileage, to me, just means a car has been good at its job, so it has been asked to do it a lot.

But at some point, you have to start to question how many more trips around the world a car has got left in it. And it’s not just engines and drivetrains, or body rust: My Toyota’s high-beam headlight switch is worn out, and the driver’s seat has almost no padding left. I’ve had plenty of cars whose keys could be taken out of the ignition with it running. These things may “run forever” if you take care of them, but at some point they stop being nice enough to bother fixing. Are these two cars at that point? Let’s take a look and see what you think.

1996 Volvo 850 Wagon – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter DOHC inline 5, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Lakewood, CO

Odometer reading: 405,855 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but runs rough and failed emissions

Volvos of a certain age have a reputation for durability. It’s not uncommon to see old 240s and 740s with a 2 or a 3 as the first digit of the odometer (when the odometer works). The old red-block engines just run and run, and the rest of the car wears like iron as well. I hadn’t heard the same reports of durability from the later front-wheel-drive 850 models, but it seems they are capable of racking up the miles as well.

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Yep, that’s right: Four hundred thousand miles. And frankly, for that many miles, it looks pretty damn good. There isn’t much visible wear inside, and the exterior looks clean and rust-free. If it has been a Colorado car all along, that makes sense; Colorado doesn’t use road salt.

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The seller says the car drives fine, but runs a bit rough. There is a list of recently-replaced parts in the ad, many of which should have cured rough running. But the one thing I don’t see listed is the catalytic converter. If the converter is plugged up, that could cause the rough running, and also make it fail emissions. New converters are available for around $400 from Rock Auto, which, if that cures the problem, makes this a pretty good bargain.

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Of course, all those miles do take their toll on every part of the car. A good thorough inspection is a good idea, to uncover any hidden surprises. But it’s a cheap stickshift Volvo wagon, which is nearly universally a good thing.

1999 Ford F150 Lariat 4×4 – $1,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.4 liter SOHC V8, 4 speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Forest Lake, MN

Odometer reading: 303,838 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but needs brake and front end work

Here it is, the best-selling vehicle in America since, what, the Civil War? Ford sells a couple thousand of these things per day, and has for years. This tenth-generation F150 was a major redesign after sixteen years, to a softer look and a smoother, more car-like ride, as well as a more car-like interior.

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This is a 4 door truck, but the rear doors are “suicide” doors, opening at the front, with no center post between them and the front doors, similar to the Saturn Ion and SC coupes, and the Honda Element. These doors give a ton of access to the back seat, but are kind of a pain in the ass in parking lots, since the rear doors can’t be opened unless the fronts are open, so the doors themselves get in your way.

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The Ford F-series has a good reputation for durability as well, as long as it has been well-maintained. This one has been in the same family since new, and has been worked hard, but well cared-for. The seller says it currently could use ball joints and brakes, but it runs and drives well as-is.

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The “Minnesota weight reduction program” has been hard at work on this truck; the seller says the rocker panels are rusted away. But it’s cheap enough to not care about such things; you could use it as a winter beater with 4WD for a couple years yet.

Generally, I feel like high-mileage cars are a safer bet than low-mileage ones. Cars are meant to be driven, not left to sit around, and exercise is as good for them as it is for us. But at what point does “worn” become “worn out”? Both of these cars need a little work. Which one is more worth the effort?

 

 

 

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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75 Responses

  1. Give me that sweet 10th-generation F150 all day over any piece of Eurotrash.

    Those 10th-gen F150s just… don’t… die…

    Sure, they’ve got a bulbous jellybean-like nose.

    Yes, the power and torque is abysmal compared to a modern truck.

    I get it, the interior was already dated when the damned things were new.

    None of that matters. That truck is simple to work on, easy to source parts for, affordable to operate, and WILL NEVER DIE.

    Somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000, most of those 4.6 and 5.4 2v engines will develop a slight head gasket leak. A day of work has new gaskets in and ready to keep going. That 4R70W? Either NEVER change the fluid or change it religiously and you’ll see a long life out of it as well. They’re slower to rust than the Asian, Ram, and GM trucks, and they just… won’t… die…

  2. In this case, I’ll go with the F150. A 400,000 mile Vulva 850 that’s running rough and failed emissions could likely mean it needs a complete engine rebuild. But even if it doesn’t, I suspect the cost to make it usable will be a lot higher than doing ball joints and brakes on an F150.

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