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What's the life expectancy of my car?

How long will my car last and should I use a cashier's check to pay for something I bought online? Herb Weisbaum answers these and other questions in his weekly 'Ask the ConsumerMan' column on
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Need repairs? “When a vehicle exceeds 200,000 miles you are riding on borrowed time and the car is paying you back,” says John Ibbotson at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. Tim Boyle / Getty Images file
/ Source: contributor

Automakers would just love it if we went out and bought a new car every few years. But not all of us are hitting the showrooms with that frequency. Mike in Maine, for example, wants to know how long his car will keep going.

I’m driving a 1993 Toyota Camry with over 235,000 miles. I have spent about $2,000 in maintenance on the car since 1996, when I bought it with 64k on the odometer. The car runs fine and drives fine. What’s the useful life of a car these days? No one can tell me the average life I should expect from this engine or transmission.
Mike T., Portland, Maine

You should be driving down the road with a big smile on your face, because you certainly got your money’s worth from that Camry. Consumer Reports ( says the average life expectancy of a new vehicle these days is around 8 years or 150,000 miles. Of course, some well-built vehicles can go 15 years and 300,000, if properly maintained.

There’s no way to tell how much longer your car will stay trouble-free, but somewhere down the road, even with the best maintenance, a major part is going to fail. “When a vehicle exceeds 200,000 miles you are riding on borrowed time and the car is paying you back,” says John Ibbotson at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center.

In its April issue, Consumer Reports released the results of its annual car reliability survey. “Asian vehicles are by far the most reliable,” the editors say. Japanese and Korean vehicles had, on average 12 problems per 100 vehicles.  U.S. makers “have been edging closer to the Asians in reliability,” the magazines reports, with an average of 18 problems per 100 vehicles. European manufacturers are still “the most unreliable overall,” with 21 problems per 100 vehicles.

By the way, even if you don’t have any mechanical problems any time soon, you might consider getting a new car, if you can afford it, for another reason.  A new or even slightly-used vehicle would have a number of important safety features that are not on your 1993 Camry.

I have several accounts with Washington Mutual. The bank tells me that I must limit the number of online transfers in a statement cycle. If I go over the limit they will charge me $5 and I could have my account shut down. The bank tells me I can make unlimited transfers if I go to any branch or use any of their ATMs. I don’t understand the difference?
Gregory S., Renton, WA

I checked with Washington Mutual and the bank does have monthly limits – as required by federal regulation – for certain types of transfers or withdrawals for savings and money market deposit accounts.

The Federal Reserve Board’s Regulation D states that a bank cannot allow more than six of what it calls “convenient transfers” per month from a savings or money market account.  The regulation defines convenient transfers as “preauthorized, automatic, or telephone transfers (including transfers initiated by home computer or over the Internet)” to another person or to another account you have at the same institution. Transactions that are less convenient – made in person at the bank, by mail, or by using an ATM – do not count toward the six-per-month limit.

If a bank permits more than six convenient transfers per month, a “savings account” (which is not subject to reserve requirements) must be called a “transaction account” (which is subject to reserve requirements) so the bank must treat it differently.

Under Regulation D, banks have two ways to enforce the transfer limits. They can set up the account so that it is impossible to make more than those six transfers, or they can monitor the account and contact customers who go over the limit on more than an occasional basis.  Banks are allowed – but not required - to charge customers a fee if they go over the six-per-month limit to encourage them to reduce their transactions.

Regulation D also states that if a customer continues to violate the transfer limits after being  contacted by the bank, “the depository institution must either close the account and place the funds in another account that the depositor is eligible to maintain, or take away the transfer and draft capacities of the account."

Isn't it true that even after you “disconnect” your landline that 911 service will still operate?  In my mind it is possible to disconnect the landline and keep your landline phone in case of a 911 emergency.
Greg D.

A number of people asked me that question after reading last week’s article “Should I Ditch My Land-Based Phone?” In some parts of the country, if you disconnect your phone service you will still get a dial tone. According to Bob Oenning, vice president of the National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators, this “soft dial tone” will let you dial 911.

“But because your phone service has been disconnected,” Oenning explains, “the dispatch center won’t automatically get your address.” In some cases, such as when your old phone number is reassigned, the emergency operator may even get an incorrect address.

In a situation where you can’t speak or pass out, Oenning says, “that could mean the difference between life and death.” He also points out that if you make a 911 call using a “soft dial tone” then get disconnected, the dispatch center won’t be able to call you back.

I bought some items online for a bit over $300. I paid with a cashier’s check.  The check was cashed right away, but I haven’t gotten my order yet. It’s been about 30 days. My repeated e-mails to the merchant have gone unanswered. Do I have any recourse?
Dave J, Germantown, MD

Thank goodness you didn’t order something more expensive! A cashier’s check is not a safe way to buy things online, over-the-phone, or through the mail. It’s like sending an envelope filled with money.

Let’s hope your merchandise is on its way. Remember, federal rules say a merchant has at least 30 days to ship the order, longer if that is stated upfront. So there’s no need to panic quite yet.

Read the Federal Mail Order Rule:

Here’s what you should do. Write the company a letter. Ask what’s up with your order and state that if you don’t have the goods or hear back within two weeks, you are going to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau (, the Federal Trade Commission (which enforces the Mail Order Rule) ( and your state Attorney General. Send your letter certified. Be sure to keep a copy. If you don’t hear back or nothing arrives, make those complaints.

I hope this story has a happy ending, but it might not. If you’re dealing with a con artist or disreputable company, you may never see your goods or get your money back. That’s why I always use a credit card for making online purchases. A credit card has built-in fraud protection. If you had charged this purchase, you could contact your bank and challenge the charge.

Some people are leery about using a credit card to buy things online; they worry what might happen if their card number gets into the wrong hands. The fact is using your credit card is probably the safest way to shop on the Web. If you charge it, you’re protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50. If you report the loss quickly, you normally would not be responsible for anything.

You can read more about the Fair Credit Billing Act on the FTC's Web site.