How Many Miles Can a Car Last?
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How Many Miles Can a Car Last?

By Josh Noel | September 10, 2021

Most modern cars on the road can easily reach the 200,000-mile mark without experiencing any significant problems. However, that predicted longevity assumes vehicles are well maintained and serviced regularly.

That said, you can find a used car in your budget only to realize it has well over 100,000 miles. Is a vehicle with 100,000 miles automatically on its last legs? When it comes to high-mileage cars, there are a few things to consider.

Here's a look at how many miles a car can last — and why:

General Guidelines

Compare two similar cars with a mileage difference of as much as 100,000 between the two, and it seems reasonable to assume the low mileage vehicle is worth more and in better condition. That makes the lower-mileage car look more desirable.

But all miles are equal. For example, a well-maintained vehicle with 100,000 miles might be in better shape overall than the same kind of car or truck with 50,000 miles that was a prior rental car or had many owners and led a rough life.

Maintenance Cycles Matter

Vehicles exist in a constant state of depreciation and degradation. However, just like humans need to visit the doctor regularly, vehicles require regular service to stay on the road.

Automotive manufacturers today build engines intended to last hundreds of thousands of miles. But that only happens if the components of the engine are in good working order. If the scheduled maintenance schedule is followed, mileage has less profound importance on the viability of a vehicle.

A 70,000-mile car with five owners and incomplete maintenance history may be the same price as one with 100,000 miles and a single owner with all its service records. The latter is probably the better choice, and you'll likely spend less money on repairs over the vehicle's remaining lifespan.

One absolute prerequisite with a higher-mileage car is a vehicle history report, such as those offered by Carfax and AutoCheck. Many dealerships provide those for free. Those companies consider 15,000 miles per year to be the national average for a car.

Therefore, if you're looking at a vehicle about 10 years old, it's not unreasonable for it to have 100,000 to 150,000 miles on it.

Good Condition and Maintenance Records

Mileage isn't the only thing to take into account when looking at a used car. The car's condition and how comprehensive the service records are can be invaluable indicators of whether a vehicle is a good purchase or not.

Start with the overall condition of a vehicle. A car that has been well taken care of should show it in both the interior and the exterior. On the other hand, poorly maintained interiors and exteriors might indicate that the owner didn't put much effort into keeping the vehicle in good shape. Carefully maintained interiors and exteriors might show that the owner kept the car in good condition and probably also performed maintenance on schedule.

This type of owner might also retain more thorough maintenance records, including what repairs were completed and when. Also, research the service intervals for your chosen model to determine what each service includes at a specific time.

Finally, see if the vehicle has an existing warranty that may be transferable to you. For example, Hyundai offers the new car owner an extensive new car warranty, but specific terms for subsequent owners may cut coverage.

You can use these as a checklist when you talk to the owner and look over maintenance records. Internet sites and forums may also have a list of common problems for that specific vehicle, so be sure to ask the owner about these common problems.

Top Things to Look For in a Car's Maintenance History

  • Brakes. Pads should be changed every 30,000 to 70,000 miles. The brake discs may last up to 120,000 miles.

  • Timing chain and belt. Cars typically need new ones every 100,000 to 150,000 miles.

  • Transmission. While expected to last from 150,000 to 200,000 miles, regular service can largely determine whether a car hits this milestone. That includes automatic transmission fluid sometimes labeled as "sealed for life."

  • Oil change. Oil is the lifeblood of any vehicle, and dirty oil can wreak havoc on an engine's components. Service records should always indicate oil changes at the manufacturer's recommended intervals.

  • Fluids maintained. Proper maintenance should include topping off — and changing when necessary — all fluids, including the car's coolant and engine oil.

  • Check Engine light. A check engine light being on is cause for raising an eyebrow, too. While it could be triggered for a wide range of reasons, it's worth figuring out the cause.

How Many Miles Are Left?

Another consideration when looking at a high-mileage vehicle is to figure out how many miles are left. For example, if you're looking at a car with 100,000 miles that's in good condition and from a brand known for vehicles passing the 200,000-mile mark, the vehicle could easily have a life expectancy of 100,000 more miles. And if you drive fewer than 10,000 miles per year, that could mean at least 10 years of driving.

Not All High-Mileage Vehicles Are Equal

Some auto brands are more well-known than others for holding their value even with a high number of miles. For example, Toyota, Lexus, Volvo, and Honda are known as brands with models that can go 200,000 or more miles with regular maintenance. High scores from studies conducted by publications such as Consumer Reports and J.D. Power usually conclude Toyota or Honda owners with over 100,000 miles have several trouble-free years. That's also why those brands generally command more money on the used market than others with similar mileage.

Toyota has plenty of Tacoma trucks, 4Runner SUVs, and Camry sedans on the road with over 100,000 miles and many over 200,000 miles, and enthusiasts might say that 100,000 miles on one of those is just getting started.

In a recent study, Toyota had six of the ten models most likely to see the 200,000-mile mark, while General Motors had three and Ford had one. Models like the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, and Subaru Outback have an extremely high percentage of vehicles still on the road.

Commuter cars may have high mileage, but they often have less wear and tear than similar vehicles with similar miles but are used primarily for city driving. On the other hand, cars that started as rental cars will likely have had a much rougher life than the average car that's been owned privately. Aside from routine maintenance, driving habits have the most significant effect on how long vehicles last.

Not All Low Mileage Vehicles Are Equal

There can be too few miles on a car as well. A vehicle driven only a couple thousand miles per year is different from a car moved a couple of thousand miles in its entire existence.

Proper lubrication of engine and transmission components requires movement. Therefore, even a car that has been started and run every week and had regular oil changes, but parked for a long time, may have seals and other parts that have been compromised or need a total replacement immediately.

Likewise, if a car hasn't been driven enough with fuel still in the system, it can lead to costly repairs. Like a so-called "barn find," an extremely low-mileage vehicle will likely have more problems than a well-maintained vehicle with 100,000 miles.

What Kills Cars?

There are a few things that prevent cars from reaching high levels of mileage. Rust, accidents, and breakdowns can all end the life of a vehicle prematurely.

But these issues all boil down to the exact root cause. When the cost of maintaining or repairing a car approaches that vehicle's resale value, it no longer makes financial sense to pay more to keep a car running than to buy a newer, more reliable vehicle.

Used Car Shopping Tips

Ultimately, car buyers can't always take mileage on a used vehicle at face value. There are far too many additional factors to consider than simply the numbers on the odometer.

Following are some crucial tips when shopping for a used car:

  • Get more bang for your buck. You'll likely get more information and a better deal if you buy from a private seller, especially if you have cash.
  • Nit-pick your way to savings. Always look for as many flaws as possible when you test drive and inspect a high-mileage car. You can use them as negotiating points, especially with dealers. Lower prices based on these flaws limit your risk and reserve a little money for possible repairs.
  • Look into the car's history. Ask questions and try to obtain service records or receipts. Check for recalls on sites like safercar.gov, and get a vehicle history report. If you're seriously interested in a specific car, these will show how many owners the vehicle has had and likely a paper trail of maintenance and repair records.
  • Put in a little legwork. Ensure to research the make and model before shopping thoroughly, so you know what kind of issues to look for and what services anyone has performed on it at specific mileages. The timing belt replacement, required around 100,000 miles for some vehicles, is a commonly neglected service. It's a relatively expensive job, so replacement included in the service history is a good sign.
  • Take a cue from the pros. Get the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic before you consider purchasing it.
  • Ask for service records. If you're concerned about high mileage, research your chosen vehicle and determine how many miles you can expect to get if it's well-maintained. Further, ask the owner what kind of miles are on the car, such as city or highway miles. Remember, a well-maintained vehicle will generally require less service and may offer improved fuel economy over a vehicle with a questionable service history.

How to Make Cars Last Longer

Once you've purchased a vehicle, there are a few ways to ensure you get the most mileage under your ownership and that the car doesn't wear out prematurely. Deliberately selecting a well-cared-for car means nothing if you don't continue the same proper care and maintenance into the future. In addition, there are a few easy things you can do to extend the trouble-free life of your vehicle.

Avoiding crashes is a significant component of keeping your car on the road. Modern vehicles with active driver assistance features, like automated braking, can help avoid and prevent accidents. Eliminating distractions while driving, such as putting away your phone, can also limit crashes.

But it's also vital to look at the history of repairs done by reputable shops. Systems like airbags, seatbelts, and those advanced driver assistance features need to be correctly reinstalled to work as intended again.

In certain parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, harsh winter conditions require chemical ice melt to be applied to road surfaces. These chemicals can cause significant rust, taking cars off the road in what should be prime years. Keep some corrosion away by washing the vehicle regularly, including thoroughly rinsing the undercarriage and suspension components. Washing a car is part of regular maintenance.

Stick to the maintenance schedule as described in the owner's manual for your vehicle. Change the oil, inspect and change consumable parts like brake pads, and complete major maintenance like timing belt services on time. These tasks cost money, but it is much cheaper to maintain a vehicle than to pay repair bills caused by neglect. In addition, one worn component causes a cascading effect of damage to other parts, resulting in higher repair bills.

Generally, take it easy on your vehicle. When possible, avoid hitting potholes or curbs. Allow the vehicle to get up to operating temperature before any hard acceleration. Towing and other hard driving can accelerate the maintenance schedule, particularly transmission maintenance, so check your owner's manual for information. Today's cars are capable, but they're still not indestructible. Take all dashboard warning lights seriously. Don't assume that because the vehicle is operating normally, it does not need a repair.

Develop a relationship with a mechanic. It is hard to find a good mechanic, so ask around before needing major service or repair. Find out where your friends or family take their vehicles and how their experience has been. Test a mechanic with a minor repair or maintenance service to validate your research. When your car is out of commission, it is far less stressful to take it to your regular garage than to hunt for a mechanic after the fact.

The Bottom Line

When shopping for used cars, high mileage doesn't necessarily make a vehicle a deal-breaker. With due diligence, you can find high-mileage cars with lots of life left in them.