Currently reading: How to make an old car last for life
Making your car last longer is the ultimate in sustainable motoring. We show you how to do it

New cars aren’t just for the lease period. No, for buyers of used bangers, that’s where a car’s life begins. But how long will it last? 

That can be down to you, because it genuinely is possible to future-proof a car and make it last at least until you find yourself in a care home. You’ll save a fortune in the meantime, too. 

Obsolescence can come courtesy of legislation (see ULEZ and 2035 ban) as much as an inability to find spares or mechanics with the skills to fix them, but there’s usually a way. Here, then, is how to make your car last longer – and how to pick the right one in the first place. 

Which cars are future-proof?

The truth is your future-proofed motor won’t have to be a fusty old classic or riotously expensive bespoke creation that runs on carrot juice.

There is plenty of info out there. Take a good, hard look at reliability stats, such as the annual What Car? Reliability Survey; freedom of information requests aimed at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency reveal which cars routinely fail MOTs and why.

Talk to friends and family about their motoring experiences. Ideally you want a popular model in a low specification, and easy on the DIY. 

Which engine is future-proof? 

These days, the proliferation of low-emission zones can dictate which EU-rated engine you choose (6 diesel, 4 petrol).

If you’re playing the long game, it’s a close-run thing whether petrol or diesel is more reliable: both, if looked after, can do huge mileages. Certainly the view is that a petrol engine is less complex and simpler to fix than a modern diesel, and it more easily complies with later emissions regulations.

Alternative fuels

Synthetic duels are expensive and supply is never guaranteed in out inevitable dystopian future. 

Older diesels, or compression engines, can run on used chip oil, and there are lots of ethanol and other alternative bio alternatives. 

You could distil alcohol and make petrol, but you’ll need a licence and to pay duty on it. Small details…

Should you use fuel additives?

Boosting fuel economy is a potential long-term benefit, but for the most part additives work as a preventative measure by reducing the crud built up in your engine.

That includes clogged fuel injectors, carbon build-up and reduced wear and tear. They can also tackle corrosion, boost catalytic converter efficiency, reduce oil sludge and prevent overheating. 

All you have to lose is a bit of money.


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How to maintain a car properly

Quite simply, oil is the lifeblood of your car, and it needs to be changed regularly for the best health.

Also, any regular maintancen you do is a great way of spotting problems early, which means less downtime so your future-proofed car will be more useful. Cleaning it once a week also helps to spot issues early.

Use your garage

That room in your house with an up-and-over door filled with junk is actually designed as a bedroom for your car, so use it as such.

It’s one of the best long-term ways of making your car easier to start and less prone to corrosion.

How to stop the rot

Cars don’t rust any more - except that eventually they do, and a rotting underside is the single most expensive part of your car to repair. 

Preventative action is key, so steam-cleaning underneath before winter and applying a preservative with a brush or spray will save a fortune.

10 future-proof cars to buy right now

Ford Mondeo

Good to drive, parts are everywhere and there’s the option of a massively capacious estate. Comprehensive specs, but best go for a relatively straightforward Mk3 powered by a strong petrol unit. A classy 2007 3.0 Ghia X V6 is £2995.

Volkswagen Golf

Still impressive, and the Mk5, 6 and 7s give old-fashioned ultra-reliability in petrol and diesel form. Performance-chipped TDIs get the best of all worlds, apart from ULEZ access: thrash it all day and get 60mpg. A 2007 1.6 FSI with 60,000 miles is £5295.

Mazda MX-5

Mazda has a fine record for build quality and reliability, but the MX-5 is in a class of its own. It’s the bestselling roadster of all time for several reasons, but good driving vibes and value are two of them. Pay £12,400 for a 2015 2.0 SE with a Euro 6 engine.

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Audi TT

These are Golfs in a frock, which may explain why they rack up huge mileages. Distinctive styling will never go out of fashion, and a four-wheel-drive Quattro on winters is surprisingly effective. A 2009 2.0 TSI with 100k miles is yours for £5700.

Toyota Hilux

Okay, it’s a commercial, but a Hilux will get you to the apocalypse and back with minimal fuss and worry. A 2014 3.0 D4D showing 70,000 miles will cost you £15,999.

Rover 75

Odd, yes, but the stats say 75s do huge mileages. BMW diesels are excellent, but beware petrol head gasket woes. The 2.5 V6 is interesting, and a 2003 Connoisseur is £2500.

Suzuki Vitara

This underrated family-friendly four-wheel drive gets on with the job and has almost indestructible mechanicals. A 1.6 SZS from 2016 is £10,500 and Euro 6-compliant.

Honda Civic

The Civic is a private-buyer favourite that refuses to expire and will soldier on unblinkingly doing solid commutes and other family duties. A 2015 1.8 VTEC Sport is £8990.

Mitsubishi Colt

A cheap, solidly built and reliable thing that can thrive on neglect. Ideal as a spare car or town-centre assault vehicle. A 2010 1.1 CZ1 is around £2k.

Skoda Superb

These will do absurd mileages, and rural mini-cabbers love them. Diesel may compromise future use, so try a petrol, like a 2016 1.4 TSI SE for £12k.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
HiPo 289 8 January 2024

I find it hard to relate to the idea that a combustion car is future proof.  If you were suggesting converting a Land-Rover to electric, as many people are now doing, I would agree that this would future-proof it.   But combustion technology is declining rapidly, with most R&D now going into electrification.   Combustion is just not a long-term bet.

jason_recliner 8 January 2024
Possibly the only publication in the world claiming a Golf is "ultra reliable"!!! LMAO
russ13b 7 January 2024

Recommending an MX5 when they've a reputation for outstanding rust is questionable. An old car with a large following and established parts supply - classic Mini, 2cv, Caterham, for example - is the way to go, along with Lotus or Audi A8 for rust resistant construction.