Can a mechanic tell me how much time my car has left?

I drive a '94 Toyota Camry with 200,000+ miles on it. Right now there aren’t any problems I’m aware of. This summer I am planning on driving from Ohio to California. I’m a bit worried about making a trip that long with a car this old. If I brought it in to a mechanic for a checkup, would they be able to give me an accurate appraisal of whether the car will make it?

I am not a professional mechanic. I am a fairly good amateur mechanic (working mostly on motorcycles) and have taken courses and studied a lot.

No mechanic can or will tell you if your car will make a particular trip without trouble (unless your car is such an obvious heap of junk that it’s clear that it won’t make a trip around the block, let alone across the country). Even a new car may have a breakdown that will interrupt your trip.

A mechanic can tell you if your car is basically sound – if compression is within spec (a good indication of engine wear), if the body isn’t rusted out, if there’s life left in your brakes, and if the electrical system appears to be functioning (of course, with black box electronics, anything could fail tomorrow. It probably won’t, but it could). He won’t be able to tell you this for free – testing will be required.

He might not *want *to tell you this, because he will fear that you will hold him responsible if the car does break down.

Do you have AAA? If not, you should think about getting it.

Not just for the roadside service, but AAA can give your car an impartial inspection.

Some forthcoming problems are detectable. Some are not.

200K miles on a '94 Camry is not particularly scary. My suggestion is to have a trip readiness inspection done about a month before heading out. The condition of belts, hoses, brake linings, steering and suspension components, state of tune, fluids, etc. can be assessed and addressed if needed. This will cover the most common causes of highway breakdowns.

Some things will have to be taken on faith, though. If, for example, the transmission shifts funny, that could be a sign of imminent doom. But if it works perfectly well with no indication of problems that doesn’t mean it can’t go south 500 miles – or even 50 miles – later. It’s the old “prove a negative” situation: if I see evidence of a problem, I can make a reasonable prediction of time to failure, but if I see no such evidence, I cannot accurately predict there will be no failure.