Transportation Science

How long does a car engine usually last?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. It's hard to predict exactly how long a car's engine will last -- mileage-wise, though, it's not unheard of for engines to run for hundreds of thousands of miles -- but knowing which factors contribute to its longevity can give some clues. Engines can be made from a number of different metals, most commonly aluminum and iron. Engines with iron blocks typically are more durable and thus will likely last longer than engines made of other metals.

    How hard an engine works will also play a role in how long it lasts; in general, the harder and hotter the engine is worked, the shorter its lifespan. For example, if a car is frequently forced to pull heavy loads, repeatedly accelerate and decelerate or maintain top speeds for long periods, its engine won't last as long as it could.

    There are things we can do to get the most life out of our engines. If you want to keep your car's engine healthy for a long time, nothing is more important than proper maintenance. The most important, and easiest, care for an engine is changing its fluids regularly. Motor oil and oil filters wear out over time; dirt and grime in the oil can build up in the engine. Air filters, too, need to be changed regularly. And given that overheating shortens engine life, keeping the cooling system in top shape is key. Another small but important item one should keep tabs on are the spark plugs; changing them at the owner's manual's specified intervals -- or more often if the car is driven under frequent duress -- can help the engine maintain peak performance.

    If your engine does die, it might seem cheaper at first blush to simply replace it with a new one. But the better choice might be buying a new car altogether. Engines are very complicated to replace. Even if a new engine only costs $1,000, for example, the labor costs alone from disconnecting and reconnecting it to the exhaust, cooling system, transmission, electrical system and everything else hooked up to it can add up to several thousand dollars more. You also need to consider whether you can find an engine that will fit in your car, and if your car can support its weight. And, in general, moving to a newer car entirely will help ensure you're driving with the latest engine technology available.

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