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How One Woman Made 3 Cars Last 50 Years

Gerri Detweiler

It used to be that when the odometer hit 100,000 miles, people started thinking that maybe it was time to replace the old car with a newer, more reliable model. That’s no longer true, and for Marion Claire, it has never been. Claire, a speaker, coach and author of “Secrets of a Unique & Sexy Speaker,” replaces a car once she decides “it’s costing me too much to keep it running.”

But before that, she drives it, depending on it to get her to networking events or speaking engagements near her Los Angeles home, and sometimes on the open road. A senior citizen, Claire drives the third car she has ever owned — and it’s a 2008.  In all, she’s had three cars over the span of nearly 50 years.

Her cars haven’t been the kinds normally associated with extreme endurance. Her first, a 1966 Pontiac LeMans, was ordered from the factory — it had a green body and black top, and was exactly the car she wanted. She still speaks of it wistfully. After 20 years or so, she said that about once a month, “somebody would yell ‘What do you want for that car, lady?’” But she wasn’t looking to sell.

She babied it, as she has her two cars since. But by 1993, her beloved LeMans was beginning to show its age despite the TLC. She reluctantly parted with it, actually going to her mechanic’s garage for a last goodbye. She replaced it with a red Ford Probe — she’s uncertain of the model year — purchased with cash from a friend. That car lasted nearly 20 years.

By late 2010, she decided it was time to go car shopping again. She knew she wanted a luxury car, and she was looking for pre-owned. She test-drove several and liked Cadillac best, but didn’t think she could abide the colors she was seeing — sedate silver, gray or black with dark interiors. Checking online, she found a 2008 CTS. Red with a beige interior and just 16,000 miles on the odometer. “It was like a message from God,” she recalls. She quickly called to be sure it was still on the lot. As soon as she could make arrangements, it was hers.

How She Treats Her Cars

What are Claire’s secrets to making her cars last so long?

  • First, she’s religious about maintenance and she makes sure she has an excellent mechanic. “I try to keep my car as mechanically perfect as possible.”
  • She has her car’s oil changed every six months and uses synthetic.
  • She has her car washed twice a month. And she keeps the interior as clean as the exterior, maybe even cleaner. “I don’t eat in it, and I don’t use it for storage,” she explains. The only items you might find in her car are an umbrella and sun shade. (The trunk is another story, she says.)
  • She doesn’t take “freeway vacations” without first having her car checked. She’s never been stranded, and says “I’m a fanatic about not running out of gas.” She’s had a flat tire or two, but AAA has come through for her.
  • She drives only about 8,000 miles a year.

But she’s hardly perfect. She’s been in a couple of fender-benders, and “I like to drive fast, I sometimes tailgate, and I’ve been known to scoot through a yellow light after it might have turned red… but I don’t do really stupid things to attract attention.” She also doesn’t always do exactly what the owner’s manual says. She often puts midgrade gasoline in her Cadillac (though never for a vacation). Otherwise, if premium is more than $4 a gallon, she buys midgrade. If it drops below, she buys premium. And she’s not sure how large the gas tank is, because she stops the pump when the total reaches $35.

It’s actually not unlike maintaining credit — and for most of us, financing is part of the car-buying experience. Credit maintenance involves routinely checking credit reports, which you can get for free from each of the credit bureaus. If you spot an inaccuracy, you can clean it up by disputing it. Your record doesn’t have to be completely unblemished, though. And you can know where you stand by checking your credit score, which you may purchase or check online (you can check two credit scores per month for free with a Credit.com account, as well as get advice on how to maintain or raise your scores). If you do, your credit should be ready to go, if you should, say, decide to finance a car.

Though Claire’s cars have had tremendous longevity, her payments have not. Her first car cost $3,600, and she put down $2,000, financing the rest. She estimates that took a year or two to pay off. She paid cash for the Probe, and she took out a loan for her Cadillac in January 2011.

Fortune has smiled on her, too. After she sold her beloved LeMans, it ended up in the hands of a collector, who has since restored it. Last she heard, it was winning prizes in Chicago-area car shows.

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