How many miles are too much for a used car?

Should I buy a car with high mileage? How many miles are too much?

high mileage carsWe frequently hear these questions from people looking for used cars for sale.

Generally, 15,000 miles a year is considered an “average” number of miles per year. So a car that is 5 years old would have about 75,000 miles to be considered “average.” Anything significantly more, and a car is considered to be “high mileage.” Anything significantly less, and it’s a “low mileage” car.

What does it mean if a car has high mileage?

Does it mean you should avoid cars with “high” mileage? Or that low mileage is always better?

Are cars with high mileage a bigger risk? Will they break down sooner?

Not necessarily, to all these questions.

In the last decade or so cars have become much more reliable than years ago when a car was looked at as junk when it reached 100,000 miles. Not so anymore.

Many modern cars with 100K-150K miles are in great condition and will easily go another 100K.

However, if a car has not been maintained properly and has been driven hard or previously wrecked, it can be junk with only 30K miles on the odometer.

Only a professional mechanic can tell the difference between a low mileage junker and a high mileage jewel when they might essentially seem the same.

All used car buyers are advised to have a qualified mechanic inspect any vehicle being considered for purchase.

Are some car brands better than others with high mileage?

Some people have asked us, “Which car brands are more reliable with high mileage?” Or “Which brand is likely to last longer.”

Although brands such as Honda and Toyota have great reliability, any such car with high mileage always has the possibility of problems like any other car.

Therefore you can’t judge a car’s condition or its risk for future problems by simply looking at its mileage or brand. It’s an old rule-of-thumb that doesn’t work well anymore. We simply can’t say that a certain mileage is “too many” for modern vehicles.

A car’s actual condition is more important than mileage

There is only one way to determine a car’s actual condition, regardless of mileage. Hint: It is NOT that the seller says the car “has no problems” or “runs fine.” It is by having a professional mechanic inspect the car BEFORE you buy it.

A professional mechanic has the experience and equipment to not only determine a car’s current condition and how well it has been cared for, but he can also judge if it is likely to have problems in the near future.

If you are considering buying a used car, an inspection might cost $75-$125 but it can help you avoid a much more costly mistake and give you peace-of-mind that you’ve made a good decision.

If you are buying a very old car or antique with a mechanical odometer, ask your mechanic to examine the odometer to see if it has been “rolled back” to a lesser amount of miles. Modern electronic odometers are not as easily tampered with.

Where to find good used cars online

Edmunds.com is one of the largest and best online sites for used car shopping. They have over 4 millions cars listed and it’s easy to find a car in your area. Check prices and locations quickly.

Used Cars to Avoid

Consumer Reports magazine (and web site), in their annual Auto Issue (April), contains a list of used cars to avoid based on owners’ reports of excessive problems.  Many newer cars are on this list.

Used cars don’t come with money-back guarantees or return rights

Remember, used cars are sold “as-is” which means you can’t take them back if you find problems later — even if the seller lied or misrepresented the car.

In many cases, a seller may not be fully aware of his car’s problems or potential problems and can’t tell you about them if he doesn’t know himself. You should not completely rely on a seller’s statement about the condition of the car he is selling.

When buying any used car, low mileage or high mileage, get a CarFax Vehicle History report which not only tells you if the car has been wrecked but also how it’s been serviced. The vehicle’s mileage will be shown at various points in the report. Make sure the mileage shown on the odometer of the car you’re buying makes sense given the mileage points in the report.


Summary

Don’t assume a car is in good condition because it has “low” or “average” miles — or that it is in bad condition if it has “high” miles. It is just not that simple. A wrecked and poorly repaired car with low mileage is no bargain at any price.


Therefore, the time to learn about a car’s actual condition and risk of future problems is before you buy, not after.

One way to reduce your risk of expensive problems and breakdowns is to get an Used Car Warranty when you buy a used car. It’s relatively cheap and can protect you from unexpected expenses.