How Many Miles Is Too Much When Buying A Used Car?
By Tom Catuosco
The average car in America gets driven about 15,000 miles per year. If you’re in the market for a used car, mileage is a major consideration. Generally speaking, the typical 5 year old car you look at will have 75,000 miles. Some used cars will have mileage way above average and some will have mileage well below average. Used cars with lower than average miles on the odometer are usually more desirable. Does that mean cars with average, or even high milage, are a bad choice?
While a used car with low mileage may have been driven less than average, how the car was driven and maintained by previous owners is more important.
You could check out two identical used cars - one with only 40K miles, the other with 80K miles. Going by the raw mileage number, you’d think the lower mileage car would be better. However, if the low mileage car was driven in a city over rough, pothole filled roads in stop and go traffic its whole life, a lot of the car’s components and systems may be prematurely worn. Even more so if the owner didn’t have required maintenance done. If the higher mileage car was driven mostly on well maintained highways, at consistent speeds, and the owner kept up with all required maintenance, the higher mileage car would be a better vehicle to buy.
Along with how a used car has been driven & maintained, previous accident history is a major consideration. It’s possible a low mileage used car could have been in a bad accident and the damage repaired before being put up for sale. If the repairs were done correctly, it may not be a big deal, but incorrectly performed repairs could mean trouble down the road. A used car you’re checking out might look like a low mileage creampuff to an untrained eye, but there could be serious problems from a previous accident that have been covered up.
While vehicle history reports and service records may help give you a rough idea of how a used car was driven and maintained, the best way to tell the condition of a particular vehicle is to have a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) performed by a competent mechanic of your choosing. A PPI from a good mechanic may cost you a couple hundred dollars, but it’s worth it. A skilled mechanic will spot worn out parts and poorly repaired accident damage that you might not have noticed.
Years ago, a car that hit 100,000 miles was considered ready for the crusher. Nowadays, thanks to better manufacturing and rust prevention techniques, modern cars can easily go well over 100K miles if they’re properly cared for. While it’s nice to buy a used car with low miles, a car’s overall condition and maintenance history is much more important.