Riverton Woman Has Rolled Past 611,000 Miles In Her Toyota Corolla

Melissa Gardner says maintenance is the key to piling up 611,000 miles on her 2007 Toyota Corolla. The Riverton, Wyoming woman plans to keep driving Corolla until the “engine falls out on the highway.”

Renée Jean

April 23, 20236 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Here’s a car that’s really going the distance. 

Melissa Gardner’s 2007 Toyota Corolla has rolled past the 611,000-mile mark on her odometer, and says the car is still going strong.

“I drive from home to home to home all week long seeing my patients, and the miles just add up,” Gardner told Cowboy State Daily. “I’d never owned a Toyota before, but I’ll tell you what, this little ride’s pretty well sold me.”

Gardner lives 10 miles north of Riverton and does physical therapy for Enhabit Home Health and Hospice patients.

Gardner believes her car would Blue Book to about $1,500 at this point — not even a down payment for something new — so she plans to keep driving Corolla until the “engine falls out on the highway.”

Gardner bought the 2007 vehicle new at the end of 2006, mainly because it was something she could afford that reviewers suggested would have both good gas mileage and reliability.

“It’s still got the original transmission and the original engine,” Gardner said. “I had to replace the alternator a bunch of years ago because I was coming home from Dubois after seeing patients up there and it was 27 below zero and that apparently fried it.”

She also replaced the starter a couple of summers ago.

“I mean, I start the car eight times a day, so I think that’s not unreasonable,” she said.

The Places You’ll Go

With 611,000 miles on her Toyota Corolla, Gardner could have traveled 24.5 times around the earth’s Equator or across Wyoming’s widest point 1,673.9 times.

She could also have taken 540 trips to San Jose, assuming she knows the way, or 604 trips to winter in Phoenix, Arizona, if she preferred.

She could have done the New York to San Diego run, meanwhile, which according to Aunt Google is 2,760 miles and 42 hours by car, 220.9 times.

Or forget all that; she could’ve traveled to the moon and back — and still have 133,290 miles left to go somewhere else.

Good Maintenance

While the Corolla has a reputation for being reliable, any car that manages to pass the 500,000-mile mark with its original engine and transmission intact is something of a unicorn, said Cowboy State Daily car expert Aaron Turpen.

Turpen said good maintenance is always a key variable in cars that go the distance like Gardner’s.

Gardner told Cowboy State Daily she’s always been faithful about oil changes, never missing it by more than 1,000 miles, and that she always takes care of any maintenance it needs promptly. 

“It really comes down to your willingness to do the maintenance,” Turpen said. “And don’t beat it up, you know. Don’t drive too fast.”

Launching out of stoplights like a rocket ship, for example, is the opposite of what drivers who want their car to make it past 100,000 miles should do.

“It feels good right?” Turpen said. “But those kinds of things are actually kind of hard on your car. You need to go a little bit easy on it, and you definitely need to do all of the maintenance.

Usual Retirement Is 100,000

Most owners retire their cars at the 100,000-mile marker and buy a new car. There’s a practical reason for that. This is when most vehicles hit that first major maintenance interval, the dreaded timing belt change.

“If you have a car that has a timing belt, your timing belt change is not a cheap thing,” Turpen said. “Somewhere between 70,00 and 100,000 is when that usually is going to happen, right at that point.”

Timing belts cost upward of $2,000, Turpen said.

“They literally take the whole front of the engine off,” he said. “So, it’s not cheap.” 

That’s when most owners start doing calculus in their head, trying to decide whether the math suggests the vehicle is worth keeping.

A well-maintained car that’s relatively trouble free probably won’t nickel-and dime the owner to death, but if the car has already had several issues, many an owner’s answer to that internal figuring will pencil out to just buy a new and cooler vehicle. 

Used cars, meanwhile, typically drop out of the market once they’ve passed 200,000 miles. Most people won’t want to take a chance on anything higher than that. 

“The average used car on the market for sale right now is about 11 years old,” Turpen said, and right at 200,000 miles.

True Unicorn Territory Ahead

Cars that make it past 500,000 miles have reached an unusual milestone, Turpen told Cowboy State Daily, particularly if they haven’t had either a new engine or transmission.

Gardner’s achievement is even more unusual, Turpen added, given Wyoming’s size.

“Given how few other vehicles are in Wyoming compared to other places, it’s a pretty rare vehicle,” Tureen said. “We have a small population.”

But there’s a level beyond even that, which is true unicorn territory. That’s when a car hits 1 million miles.

“In fact, car companies have purchased people’s vehicles that hit a million miles,” Turpen said. “I know that a few years ago, a guy who owned a Toyota Tundra and had never done a major overhaul on engine, no rebuilds or anything, when he hit 1 million miles, Toyota traded him a brand new truck for that so they could tear it apart.”

New cars for old may seem like the original Aladdin-style deal, but the car manufacturer was looking for clues as to why that particular engine had done so well.

Other car manufacturers have made similar purchases over the years, Turpen added, which could really give Gardner something to strive for, as she’s already more than halfway there at 611,000 miles.

It might be time for everyone to cross their collective fingers in Wyoming for Gardner. If she can just keep on trucking, Toyota might just gift a new car for her old. 

Renee Jean can be reached at: Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter