Buying a used vehicle instead of a new car is often a good way to save money and get more car for less money. However, if you're in the market for an older car, you're probably wondering how many miles is too many.
It's possible you'll find your perfect used car for exactly what you're willing to pay only to realize it has tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles on it.
Should you walk away? Is a vehicle with 100,000 miles automatically on its last legs?
Here's a look at just how many miles are too many when it comes to used cars.
How do I tell if a car has too many miles?
When you look at two cars and everything else is equal, except one has 50,000 miles and the other has 150,000 miles, it seems reasonable to assume the low mileage vehicle is worth more and is ultimately more desirable to purchase.
Are fewer miles enough to tip the scales in that vehicle's favor? Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple when it comes to high-mileage cars. Not all miles are equal. For example, a vehicle with 100,000 miles that are almost all from highway driving by a commuter might be in better shape overall than the same vehicle with 50,000 miles that was a former rental car in a city and likely driven hard.
Or perhaps a 70,000-mile car with five owners and incomplete service record is the same price as one with 100,000 miles, a single owner and all of its service records. The latter might be the better buy.
One rule of thumb to keep in mind, especially when looking at reports like Carfax or AutoCheck, is that 15,000 miles per year is considered to be the industry average. Therefore, if you're looking at a vehicle that is ten years old, it's not unreasonable for it to have 100,000 to 150,000 miles on it. If it has a lot more or a lot less, then you might want to do further investigation on why.
Good Condition and Maintenance Records
Mileage isn't the only thing to take into account when looking at a used car. The overall condition of the vehicle and service records are also invaluable indicators on whether a car is a good buy or not.
Start with the condition of a vehicle. A car that was well taken care of should show it in both the interior and the exterior. Badly maintained interiors and exteriors might indicate that the owner didn't put a lot of effort into keeping the vehicle in good shape.
On the other hand, carefully maintained interiors and exteriors might show that the owner was dedicated to keeping the car in good shape and also performed regular maintenance. This type of owner might also keep more thorough maintenance records showing service intervals from oil changes to brake jobs.
One smart habit when you're used car shopping is to research the service intervals for your chosen model to find out what typically needs to be done at certain mileage levels. You can use these as a checklist when you talk to the owner and look over maintenance records.
How Many Miles Are Left?
Another way to look at the high mileage problem is to ask how many miles are left on the vehicle rather than how many miles it currently has. For example, if you're looking at a 100,000-mile vehicle in good condition from a brand whose vehicles often pass the 200,000-mile mark, then you could have as many as 100,000 miles left on that vehicle. If you only drive 10,000 miles per year, that could mean that you have 10 years left to use that vehicle. In that sense, it looks like a pretty good buy.
Even if the average lifespan of the vehicle is 160,000 miles in this scenario, that's still six years if your average driving yields 10,000 miles per year.
Not All High-Mileage Vehicles Are Equal
In the end, some auto brands are more well-known than others for holding their value even with a high number of miles. Toyota and Honda are two of those brands. You can generally assume that a Toyota or Honda with over 100,000 miles on it is going to be worth more than most other vehicles with that same amount of miles.
For example, Toyota still has plenty of Tacoma trucks, 4Runner SUVs and Camry sedans on the road with over 100,000 miles and many over 200,000 miles. Toyota enthusiasts will tell you that 100,000 miles is just getting started.
Similarly, the Honda Civic and Accord still boast plenty of examples still on the road with high mileage.
Used Car Shopping Tips
Ultimately, you can't always take mileage on a used vehicle at face value. There are far too many additional factors to consider than simply the number on the odometer.
Here are some crucial tips when shopping for a used car:
You'll likely get more information and a better deal if you buy from a private party, especially if you have cash.
Always look for as many flaws as possible when you test drive and inspect the car; use them as negotiating points, especially with dealers.
Look into the car's history. Ask questions and try to obtain service records or receipts. Check for recalls on sites like Mopar and get a vehicle history report from a site like CarFax or AutoCheck if you're seriously interested in a certain car, as these will show how many owners the vehicle has had and likely a paper trail of maintenance and repair records.
Make sure to thoroughly research the make and model before shopping, so you know what kind of issues to look for and what services should have been done on it at certain mileages.
Get the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic before you consider purchasing it.
If you're concerned about high mileage, research your chosen vehicle and find out how many miles you can expect to get if it's well-maintained. Furthermore, ask the owner what kind of miles were put on the vehicle, i.e. city or highway miles.