What is good mileage for a used car? The answer might surprise you.
Buying a used car is more complicated than buying a new car. Not only must you consider the general qualities of the vehicle, but you must also take into account other factors such as its mileage and the amount of wear and tear it has sustained.
Learn how to buy a used car like a pro.
Now, you’ve likely been advised to avoid ‘high mileage’ vehicles because of the general belief that they have more problems than lower mileage models, but how much of that is true. Better yet, what is considered ‘good’ or ‘high mileage’ for a used car?
This comprehensive guide provides the answers you’re looking for, as it goes over everything you need to know about mileage when buying second-hand.
What Is Car Mileage And Why Is It Important?
Mileage represents the distance a vehicle has been driven over its lifetime. It is one of the most important criteria used to gauge its overall condition and determine its price.
Generally speaking, a vehicle that has higher mileage will usually be more expensive to maintain than an identical or similar vehicle with lower mileage, making it less desirable and cheaper to buy.
That’s because mileage directly impacts the service life of most car components, particularly the engine, transmission, and suspension, which usually require major revamping after tens of thousands of miles have been accumulated.
Of course, some brands of cars are more reliable than others, and how the vehicle was driven has a bearing on its overall condition.
For instance, cars that are mostly driven in urban environments typically exhibit considerably more wear and tear than those used mostly for highway driving. Also, a vehicle with just one dedicated owner will tend to last longer than one that has been owned by multiple people.
There are many factors to consider when determining how much mileage is good for a used car, so a high mileage is not always a deal-breaker.
What Is Good Mileage For A Used Car?
Ask any experienced mechanic and he or she will likely tell you that 12,000 miles (19,312 km) per year is a good estimate as it’s very close to how much the average motorist drives each year.
So, to determine whether the car you’re interested in has good or reasonable mileage, just multiply 12,000 by its age.
For example, good mileage for a five-year-old car would be 60,000 miles (96,561 km), while 120,000 miles (193,121 km) is reasonable for one that’s 10 years old. Significantly higher or lower mileage could indicate serious problems in the future.
But this is just a general rule of thumb. Mileage shouldn’t always be taken at face value, as noted earlier, the condition of a vehicle is affected by a myriad of other factors that can’t be easily determined by the number of miles it has been driven.
Other Factors To Consider When Buying A Used Car
In addition to mileage, there are five other important considerations you should take into account when shopping for a used vehicle: What the car or truck was used for, how well it has been maintained, whether it has sustained any damage, how old it is, and its make and model.
Not all miles driven have the same impact on a vehicle. You will have to consider how and the conditions under which the car or truck was driven.
Stop-and-go traffic, for example, places more stress on the engine, transmission, brakes, and other components than highway driving, so a vehicle that’s mostly used for city driving will likely be in a worse condition than an equal mileage vehicle that was driven predominantly on the highway .
The same goes for driving in adverse weather conditions and on poor roads such as extreme cold and deep snow. Vehicles in cold weather environments tend to wear out faster than those operated in warmer climates.
The better you take care of something, the longer it will last. Never buy a used car without first checking its maintenance history.
Not only must you take into account all future maintenance, but you must also consider any maintenance and repairs that were supposed to be performed by the previous owner(s) but were neglected or ignored.
You also want to know about regular upkeep such as washing, exterior and interior touch-ups, and covering the car during adverse weather conditions. Dirt, dust, and other substances can deteriorate the car’s paintwork and cause rust and headlight fading if unchecked.
Number Of Owners
In the used car world, one-owner vehicles are better than those that have been owned by multiple owners.
The biggest reason is that a car that has been owned by just one person is likely to have had a more consistent driving and maintenance history, which positively affects its long-term dependability.
Another reason has to do with the fact that a person who purchases a car brand new likely has more financial resources to devote to its maintenance and upkeep than, say, a fourth or fifth owner who bought it for cheap when it’s 10 years old and uses it as a beater.
Age Of Car
Automotive engineering and technologies have improved significantly over the decades, allowing manufacturers to make vehicles that are less susceptible to wear and tear than ever before.
That’s to say modern cars are inherently more reliable than older ones, so a newer generation model that has accumulated high mileage over a short period is likely to be in a better condition than an older generation model boasting the same mileage.
For example, Mazdas of the 1990s were notorious for premature rusting, but that’s no longer the case with models made beyond 2005. Similarly, the reliability of American cars such as Fords, Chevrolets, and Buicks have improved dramatically over the past 20 years.
Basically, the older the car, the more design issues and problems it will likely have.
Collisions and damage resulting from a fire, flood, or other hazards can severely undermine the appearance, performance, and safety of a vehicle, even if it has hardly been driven. As such, you need to learn about any damage the car has sustained.
Even if you don’t notice any signs of damage, it’s always a good idea to obtain an accident history report. Such a document provides the Vehicle Identification Number and shows if the vehicle has sustained any significant damage and has undergone repairs.
Vehicle Make And Model
Like it or not, some vehicles are simply more reliable than others.
Brands such as Toyota and Honda have an enduring reputation for reliability. Not only do their vehicles typically outlast their competitors, but they are also inexpensive to maintain and repair and carry higher resale values.
Even within an automaker’s lineup, certain models have better durability than others. A Toyota Corolla, for example, has traditionally been more reliable than a Toyota RAV4.
High Mileage Car Vs Low Mileage Car – Which Is Better?
Don’t be so quick to dismiss high mileage used cars because of their perceived drawbacks. You might be surprised to know that they have several advantages over low mileage used cars.
Here are the pros and cons of buying a high mileage car versus a low mileage car.
Mileage and price are negatively correlated. The higher mileage, the lower the car’s price.
Put another way, cars and trucks with higher mileage tend to be cheaper than those with lower mileage, possibly making them better for those on a tight budget.
Like the human body, cars require movement to achieve and maintain a state of optimal performance, so high mileage indicates that the car has been used often and, if properly maintained, well broken-in.
Conversely, a low mileage could indicate that the vehicle hasn’t been used often enough to be well lubricated for optimal performance, possibly making them more prone to damage.
Wear and Tear
On the flip side, a car with very high mileage is likely to have more wear and tear than one with much lower mileage. Its materials and mechanical components such as the engine and transmission may be more worn and closer to their expiration.
However, it’s worth repeating that, regardless of mileage, the condition of every car is highly dependent on how well it has been maintained.
A heavily used car will typically have a much lower resale value than a lightly used one, meaning you get less money if you decide to sell or trade it in.
This is mostly because the higher the mileage, the more deterioration the engine, transmission, and other key components are likely to have sustained and the fewer miles the car has left.
Common Problems With High-Mileage Cars
Major advancements in engineering and manufacturing have made cars more reliable than ever, but all cars inevitably develop problems down the line, especially after racking up thousands upon thousands of miles.
We’re going to highlight some of the most common issues with high mileage used cars, particularly those with an internal combustion engine.
Engine Burning Oil
This is one of the most common issues with high-mileage gas vehicles, especially ones that haven’t been properly maintained.
The piston rings that seal the gases in the engine wear out as a result of high mileage, causing engine oil to be burnt at an abnormally fast rate.
Timing Belt Breakage
The timing belt is responsible for controlling the camshafts in an engine, opening and closing valves at just the right time to help ensure smooth operation.
Timing belts usually start to fail at the 60,000 — 100,000-mile mark, and symptoms include engine misfires, engine oil leakage, and ticking noises while driving. If you suspect that your timing has developed issues, get it replaced before it breaks and causes serious damage to your engine.
Water Pump Leakage
Water pumps help cool the engine and keep it at a constant temperature so that it operates optimally. While they don’t break easily, their seals and gaskets can deteriorate over time, causing leakage and engine overheating.
Make sure to have the water pump checked for any potential issues.
Many vehicles experience transmission issues after they reach 100,000 miles. Seeing as the transmission is one of the most expensive parts of an internal combustion vehicle, it’s imperative that you prevent premature failure by keeping up with its maintenance.
Oftentimes, the problem has to do with low or old transmission fluid.
Any car or truck that has been driven for over 100,000 miles is bound to have some rust, doubly so if it was frequently driven in a rainy or snowy environment. Rust will spread and eat away at the metals if left untreated, making the vehicle look unsightly and possibly compromising its performance.
Too much rust is often a deal-breaker, so have the vehicle checked for excessive rust and corrosion.
Most Reliable High Mileage Cars
As noted earlier, most cars made in the 2000s are very well designed and manufactured and can last a very long time if properly maintained. Even so, some makes and models have an industry-leading reputation for dependability and stand above the rest.
Every few years, automotive outlets such as Consumer Reports, Carfax, and iSeeCars publish a list of the longest-lasting cars and trucks in North America, usually focusing on the ones most likely to hit 200,000 miles (321,869 km) and beyond. The following models can often be found on these lists.
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- Honda Accord
- Honda Civic
- Toyota Camry
- Toyota Avalon
- Chevrolet Impala
- Honda Odyssey
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- Toyota Highlander Hybrid
- Subaru Forester
- Honda CR-V
- Toyota RAV4
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- Toyota Land Cruiser
- Toyota Sequoia
- Chevrolet Suburban
- Ford Expedition
- Toyota 4Runner
- Chevrolet Tahoe
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- Toyota Tacoma
- Chevrolet Silverado
- Ford F-150
- GMC Sierra
Used Car Mileage FAQs
Discussions on the desirable mileage for a used car can be contentious, so here are answers to several other popular questions that will help make you a more enlightened car buyer.
How Many Miles On A Used Car Is Too Much?
A lower mileage car should theoretically be more trouble-free than a higher mileage car of the same make and model; however, as we pointed out in the previous section, various factors can actually make them less dependable.
Mileage can be misleading if variables such as how the vehicle was driven, its maintenance history, the number of owners it has had, damage history, and even brand and make are not factored into the equation.
That being said, you can use the 12,000 miles per year rule to make a preliminary assessment. If the car has racked up significantly more than 12,000 miles (19,312 km) per year and you know little else about it, consider going with a different vehicle.
How Many Miles On A Used Car Is Too Little?
While a used car with low or even very little mileage is generally a good choice, too little mileage could be an indication that the car has not been driven enough or the odometer reading is not accurate.
You need to review the vehicle history report and assess the overall appearance to better ascertain the accuracy of the odometer reading.
For example, if the vehicle reads only 5,000 miles (8,047 km) but has noticeable rusting, many dents, or an excessively worn interior, there is a good chance the odometer reading is inaccurate.
It’s always a good idea to have an experienced mechanic inspect the car to get a good idea of the parts that need to be repaired or replaced.
Should I Buy A Car With High Mileage?
High mileage is not always a deal-breaker when buying a used car, especially for vehicles made in the 2000s. As noted multiple times throughout this guide, there are other important factors besides mileage that affect a vehicle’s condition.
Also, cars and trucks today are designed and manufactured to last a lot longer than they did before the 1990s, so people are holding onto them for longer than ever before. It’s not uncommon for modern vehicles to be in good working condition even after raking up 248,548 miles (400,000 km) or more.
Finally, cars are made to be driven and not parked in a garage, so vehicles that have high mileage tend to be well-lubricated, well broken-in, and burn carbon buildup better than those with very low mileage, helping optimize engine performance and longevity.
Just make sure to research the vehicle thoroughly to ensure it’s been properly maintained and doesn’t have any serious issues.
What Is More Important: Car Mileage Or Age?
Is it better to buy a newer car with high mileage or an older car with low mileage? The answer is that it depends.
We don’t recommend relying only on the vehicle’s age or mileage when making a decision. You have to consider the overall condition of the car or truck, the manner and condition under which it was driven, and its maintenance and repair history.
However, buying a higher mileage newer car may be better than buying an older car with lower mileage because some car parts, particularly the rubber components, wear out over time regardless of mileage.
Also, cars are designed to be driven, not parked for extended periods. Movement is necessary for the effective lubrication of parts and, in the case of internal combustion engine cars, the reduction of carbon deposits. Higher mileage cars, therefore, tend to be better broken-in than those with very low mileage, making them less prone to breaking.
So, what is good mileage for a used car? Most people think that high-mileage used cars are unreliable and impracticable, but as our guide has shown, they can be quite dependable. That’s because there are other factors you should consider in addition to a vehicle’s mileage.
How and where was the vehicle driven? How well has it been maintained? How many people have owned it? Has it sustained any damage? How old is it? What’s its brand and make? These are questions you need to ask before even thinking about buying any used car.
It’s important to also have the vehicle inspected by an experienced mechanic to determine any potential problems that can compromise its performance, jeopardize your safety, and/or break the bank. The more thorough you are with the seller, the fewer headaches you will have down the line.
If you found this guide useful, make sure to check some of our other ones. Learn the best time to buy a car or truck, how much you should spend on your first car, why pickup trucks are so expensive, and the pros and cons of electric cars.