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Realistically, how long will a car run reasonably well? How many problems are actually caused by age instead of mileage?

With regular maintenance, a car will run reasonably well regardless of age. Most age related car problems are cosmetic. Paint fades, plastic cracks, etc. Some exceptions include batteries, belts and hoses, but these should be detected with the regular maintenance. Keeping the car out of the sun when parked helps tremendously. Keeping the car warm and dry at night and through winter also helps. Seasonal extremes prematurely age a car regardless of mileage. Rubber in hoses, fan belts, seals and boots can fail from age regardless of miles and the problems could be serious. Many people replace all belts when one looks bad or breaks and all hoses when one leaks. A high tolerance for inconvenience and unreliability can help you to save money by running each of these parts until they fail.

The smartest advice I ever heard with autos was to calculate cost per mile over the expected life of the car. If you're going to put lots of miles on, your cost per mile will be low even if you buy an expensive car with expensive maintenance and high insurance (rejoice all you Jaguar owners). If you're not, then your cost per mile will be high unless you buy cheap cars that are cheap to insure and cheap to maintain. The old metric was that 40 cents per mile over the life of the car was considered medium to high. This has probably changed with inflation, but cars seem to need less maintenance now.

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