When it comes to automobile purchases, you want your new-to-you used vehicle to provide you with thousands or tens of thousands of miles of trouble-free driving. And logic would suggest that the fewer kilometers a secondhand car has, the longer it will serve you dutifully. However, with used car prices at all-time highs, a vehicle with a larger mileage may be more affordable.
Is it a good idea to buy a car with a high mileage? Is there a hard-and-fast rule that says fewer kilometres means a better car? The true answers to these questions are a little more subtle than they appear on the surface. There are exceptions, and they aren’t always obvious.
All of this begs the question: how many miles should a used automobile have in the first place?
We’ve done the research and gathered the statistics to help you understand what could be the perfect mileage for a used car – and why that’s a difficult metric to quantify – and why a high-mileage automobile might be a better buy. The following points are important to remember the next time you’re inspecting an odometer at your local dealership:
Use and Abuse
Every car gets driven, but the distinction between used and mistreated is thin. Some automobile owners are so meticulous that they save every receipt related to their vehicle, including oil changes, gas fill-ups, and car washes. Others will only notice that their automobile needs to be serviced when warning lights begin to flash on the dashboard.
The majority of people will fall somewhere in between the two extremes. However, if two similar cars have differing mileage, you should choose the one that has been well-maintained over the one with fewer miles. Of course, there is a limit – a car with 30,000 miles is better than one with 300,000. Would you prefer the lower-mile neglected automobile or the higher-mile pampered car if the difference in mileage is only ten or twenty grand?
Actual receipts for services rendered or a journal of repairs completed are the best tools for determining maintenance history. If these service records aren’t available – which isn’t uncommon – a Carfax or Autocheck vehicle history report will provide any known service record history in its report. These reports will also point up any previous incidents, which you should avoid regardless of miles. Confidence in a vehicle’s history may be more essential than any other consideration, even the number of kilometers on the odometer. Many of the used car ads on iSeeCars include links to free Carfax and Autocheck reports. With its free VIN check tool, iSeeCars delivers everything you need to know about a used automobile, including pricing analysis, listings history, and estimated depreciation, in addition to these vehicle history reports.
Also, don’t overlook the simple process of peering behind the hood. If you pull the dipstick out and observe dark, sludgy oil, it’s time for a change. Cracked belts and hoses are also likely to get worn out. The presence of a murky coolant is also a cause for concern. All of these indicators point to poor maintenance and excessive wear and tear, which might lead to additional issues in the future (if you want a more comprehensive guide to inspecting a used vehicle, see what to look for when buying a used car).
On the other hand, there’s the issue of disuse. A car may receive very little use and spend the most of its life accumulating dust in a garage. When this automobile finally hits the market, the seller will almost certainly try to collect top cash due to its unusually low mileage.
On the surface, the premium appears to be justified; after all, how often do you come across a like-new example of an old, discontinued car? Such a find appears to be a blessing for individuals who swear by a particular product – imagine devoted Town Car or diesel truck buyers.
However, there is a catch. Certain aspects of a car will break down if it sits for an extended amount of time. Rubbers, seals, and gaskets are great examples of this: with time, these malleable components will become brittle and ineffectual, regardless of use. Due to these rubber parts degrading, it’s not uncommon for an abnormally low-mileage car to leak after being thrust into daily use.
The irony is that if the car had been driven on a regular basis, this might not have been an issue — the heat expansion and contraction of an engine, as well as the light lubrication of any passing fluids, could have slowed the degeneration of these rubbers.
This problem is only important for older, low-mileage cars – for example, a ten-year-old car with only 30,000 kilometres on it. These are unusual finds that may be worth buying if you have a soft spot for a certain make and model, but be aware of any hidden costs that may be lurking in an underutilised vehicle.
You should also be aware of a newer car with a mileage that exceeds the national average of 12,000-15,000 miles each year. Any car with such high annual mileage indicates that the driver spent a lot of time in the driver’s seat. It’s unavoidable that putting on so many miles implies additional maintenance will be required sooner.
You may save money by buying a car with a greater mileage, but it also means you’ll be closer to major servicing for items like timing belts, cooling systems, and brakes. These systems aren’t inexpensive to maintain, and it’s a cost that may be avoided if you buy a car with fewer miles on it.
How Old of a Used Car Should I Buy?
It’s worth noting that the average annual mileage for a typical commuter is 12,000-15,000 miles. This means that a five-year-old car has 60,000–75,000 miles on the odometer, while a ten-year-old car has 120,000–150,000 miles on the odometer.
Unexpected repairs will begin to occur with greater frequency as a car’s life progresses. This can happen at any age or mileage, but it usually happens around the time the automobile is 8-10 years old and has 100,000-120,000 miles on it. This is unavoidable; engineers can’t make cars that last indefinitely. If there’s one age or mileage to avoid, it’s the ten-year-old car with an odometer reading in the six figures.
Miles and vehicle age are inextricably linked, but there is no single perfect answer for what is a decent age for a used vehicle, just as there is no single right answer for mileage. In general, you want the most up-to-date vehicle you can purchase within your budget. However, the standard used-vehicle considerations apply: a car that is a year or two older than you want but has been properly maintained and has never been in an accident is a better value than a newer car that has been in an accident or has been poorly kept. The overall condition is crucial, as it usually is.
Highway Miles Versus City Miles
Another factor to consider is how much mileage a vehicle has collected. A automobile sold new in a New York City borough, for example, will have a significantly tougher life than one sold new in rural Arizona. Why? In its haste to get from stoplight to stoplight, that New York automobile will slam into potholes and swerve past traffic. The Arizona automobile will most likely be doing some peaceful motoring on the desert’s smooth road.
The automobile in vast Arizona will almost certainly rack up a few more miles than its NYC cousin. Those desert miles, on the other hand, represent good mileage: mileage that may be accumulated with a degree of ease not found in city driving. The rationale for this is the same reason that car dealers love to brag about highway mileage in their ads: an open road with no turns or stoplights to stop for is the least stressful condition for a car. It’s also the scenario that accumulates the most mileage.
City automobiles that aren’t taxis or rideshare vehicles are likely to travel far less than the national average of 12,000 miles per year. However, due to the nature of urban environments, they will wear out faster than cars that are primarily used for long interstate excursions.
The Bottom Line
When purchasing a secondhand car, mileage should be evaluated as one of many essential aspects. You want a car with the fewest miles possible that has been well-maintained, has never been in an accident, and has been driven frequently. This combination may necessitate passing on the car with the lowest mileage. That’s OK. More kilometres will not kill a car; rather, previous negligence would.
If you shop wisely and get the greatest car you can find, you’ll have many thousands of miles of pleasure driving ahead of you.