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Does car mileage matter at all? We’ll examine when a car with high mileage may present excellent value. Visual checks you should make and questions to ask the seller.

What is car mileage?

Car mileage means the total number of miles a car has covered in its lifetime. 12,000 miles a year is considered average. Still, a vehicle that has been well maintained regularly with higher miles may be better than a poorly serviced car with lower miles. A vehicle with high mileage driven on highways may have less wear than a lesser mileage car used for short trips.

Why Does Car Mileage Matter?

Reliability

Car mileage was a more important factor in a buying decision 20 years ago than it is today.

It’s now commonplace for a well-maintained car to still be on the road after 200,000 miles. This was almost unheard of back then. 

Better constructed precision-made engines, synthetic oils and fluids, and better-maintained roads have extended the average lifespan of a car.

That being said, parts will wear out as the car ages. If well maintained, the components should have a longer life, but they won’t last forever.

Finance

The older the car, the more cautious a lender might be to offer you a loan (especially if they want to use the car as security), and you may find that the interest rate on offer is higher. 

You will generally find a better interest rate if you buy and get finance from an authorized dealership. 

The dealer knows that you are more likely to go back to them for other car purchases in the future if they offer good customer service. 

This is far cheaper for them than continually spending advertising money on attracting new customers.

You’re also more likely to use them for regular maintenance once you have bought your car. They will earn a profit from this too.

A dealership will also offer you an extended warranty from which they will make another source of profit.

A loan provider or finance company can’t add these calculations when offering loans, so they have to make more money from the APR.

Affordability

Of course, the most crucial factor when buying a car is what you can afford to pay either from your savings or monthly in the form of a car loan. 

The more mileage a car has done, the more affordable it is. Bargains can be achieved, but you won’t have the security of a dealership warranty if the car goes bad. 

You might want to factor in the cost of a used car warranty before you work out your budget and start seriously looking at vehicles.

Always take your time when choosing a new car. Spend time visiting different dealerships, and don’t be afraid to walk away.

How Many Miles Is Too Much on a Used Car?

On average, a car drives 12,000 a year, but many do far more than this. 

If a vehicle hasn’t been maintained correctly in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines and has traveled more than 12,000 miles in a year, then consider the mileage too much

If it has been maintained correctly, over 12,000 miles a year should not create any problems, especially if it has been used mainly for longer trips.

Can Cars With Too Little Mileage Be Bad Investements?

A car that has traveled less than 6,000 a year could indicate it has been used mainly for short journeys. This can affect some car components that need to get up to a specific temperature to work effectively. 

A good example is a catalytic converter. It is an expensive part of the car – in fact, one of the most expensive – but will become clogged up if a certain engine temperature isn’t reached and maintained for some time.

Brakes and transmission are also used more in urban conditions and may need to be replaced more often.

Can Cars With High Mileage Ever Be Worth It?

High mileage cars make excellent purchases if they have a fully documented maintenance history. Ideally, the servicing should have been carried out by a dealership, and the miles should have been from driving on highways.

Many people are worried about buying a car with high miles because they feel there are problems just around the corner, but this isn’t always the case. 

If other people are not considering high mileage cars, their prices can be lower than their actual value. 

Sometimes it’s worth delving a little deeper into a car’s history and not just dismissing it because of its mileage. 

Is Buying a Car With 50,000 Miles or More A Good Idea?

Buying a car with 50,000 miles can represent excellent value. Generally, a car with this mileage will be 3-5 years old and have already taken the biggest depreciation hit.

Of course, to ensure you’re getting value, there are certain parts that you’ll want to check are in good order or have been replaced. 

A thorough maintenance record should confirm these parts have been checked or replaced. Always check the car manufacturer’s site for the car you are considering buying to see if it has been maintained according to their recommendations.

Common parts that’ll need replacing at least once by 50,000 miles are :

  • Air filter
  • Brake pads and rotors
  • Tires
  • Spark plugs – if a car is used for shorter trips.
  • Oil filter and oil change
  • Windshield wiper blades.

What Does A Car Tune Up Consist Of? 8 Must Have Checks

Is Buying a Car With 100,000 Miles or More A Good Idea?

Buying a car with 100,000 miles can represent real value as well. Generally, a car with this mileage will be 7-10 years old and, therefore, much cheaper.

However, the pitfalls are more considerable, and you must thoroughly check the car’s history before parting with your cash. 

Get it right, though, and you can get an absolute gem of a car for next to no money. 

In addition to the car parts listed above, these are the others that should have been replaced -always check the manufacturer’s website – as the car gets up to and over 100,000 miles.

  • Serpentine belt
  • Spark plugs – almost definitely at this stage of a car’s life.
  • Battery
  • Brake calipers
  • Alternator
  • Fuel pump
  • Water pump
  • Exhaust and muffler

How Has a Car Been Driven? Long Distances or Short Trips?

If a car has one owner – the current one- it’s very easy to view how the vehicle has been driven. A comprehensive study found drivers aged 30-60 are less likely to be involved in accidents than drivers in the 16-29 group and over 60 years old group.

Drivers in the younger group are more likely to drive a car hard. At the same time, older people in the 60+ age category are statistically more likely to drive shorter distances and more cautiously. 

Of course, this is a generalization, but it can be a good starting point when figuring out how a driver has treated a car throughout its life.

If the car has had two owners, ask conversationally about the previous owner – you might get a great nugget of information – to see if they might fall outside the golden 30-60 range.

Have a look in the car interior to get other clues on whether the car may have been driven on shorter trips.

Has the steering wheel worn over what you consider normal for a car of its age? This can indicate that the car steering wheel has turned many times, indicative of a city or urban driver.

high mileage steering wheel worn

Has the seat belt been rubbing against the cloth or leather seat? Shorter journeys will result in more times the seat belt has been put on and taken off.

Are there more minor dings on the car than you would expect for a vehicle that age?

Perhaps it has spent many hours driving around mall car parks and been hit by other people opening their car doors beside it.

This is not a definitive list, but you get the idea. A little investigation can mean the difference between buying a lemon and a real bargain.

Advantages of A High Mileage Car v A Low Mileage Car

It may be a well-maintained company car – A business will look to maintain their vehicles for several reasons. Firstly, a set maintenance agreement will ensure the car warranty is valid should a major repair be needed.

Secondly, any accident an employee has in a poorly maintained car could leave them liable to litigation from the injured employee. In addition, should it become a news story, it could damage the company’s reputation.

Cheaper Price – Car depreciation depends on a few factors. One is the make and model of the car.

Most cars depreciate by 50%+ over the first three years of their life.

Add high mileage to this, and you could own a three-year-old well-maintained car with high miles for 30% of its original cost.

Disadvantages of A High Mileage Car v A Low Mileage Car

Although a high-mileage ex-company car can be an advantage, it can also have a downside. People generally take better care of objects they own and are responsible for.

A company car, although maintained, may not have been shown much love. It may have been driven hard – as fuel economy isn’t a problem if the company pays for the gas- and have more scrapes and dings due to being less careful in tight spaces.

Your potential new car may be due a major service or may have expensive parts to replace. 

Fuel pumps, water pumps, brake calipers, exhaust, and mufflers are just a few of the parts that may need replacing as the car gets towards 100,000 miles.

These parts are not replaced as standard and will need replacing if they fail. If they have been replaced as if they haven’t, then chances are they will soon have to pay the bill as the new owner.

Can I Go To a Car Dealership and Just Look Around?

Get a Mechanic To Inspect The Car Before Buying

You’ve probably got a budget and may not want to go to the additional expense of getting a mechanic to look over the car for you. I would urge you to reconsider before committing to buying. If the current owner doesn’t like the idea or refuses, then walk away. It’s not worth taking the risk.

There could be a whole host of faults that a mechanic would pick up upon during an inspection.

high mileage cars need an inspection before buying

You’ve been able to visually check the interior and exterior, but there may be mechanical issues you could never have identified without training and experience. Perhaps the car has been driven for more miles than the odometer says. It does happen.

You are happy to buy a higher mileage car but don’t want one that has been driven for many miles than what the odometer reads.

Do I Need To Check A Used Cars History?

Once you have satisfied yourself that the car ticks all the boxes for you and is, in fact, a bargain, there is one more check to do.

Some checks can’t be done without the help of online vehicle check services.

For a few dollars, they’ll produce a report that’ll allow you to part with your cash with a far better degree of certainty that you’re making a good decision.

They’ll check for

  • If the car is or has been stolen,
  • If the airbag has been deployed
  • Serious accidents
  • If the car has been totaled
  • If the odometer reading may be false
  • Any manufacturer recall notices 

A free service that will give you some car history information is https://www.nicb.org/vincheck . You’ll need the VIN to run a check.

In conclusion

A car’s mileage is only one indicator of its condition. Other car condition indicators are full maintenance history and whether the car has been driven predominantly in urban or rural areas.

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