How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

September 14, 2021
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Cars on average travel 13,500 miles a year. So a used car should have around 13,500 multiplied by the number of years it has been on the road to come up with an average amount of miles. 


That being said, mileage is actually quite deceptive. A car with high mileage could have spent most of its life on the highway where the constant speed has a low impact on the vehicle; on the other hand, a car that mostly drives in the city - constantly starting, stopping and driving over potholes - might have lower mileage, but could be significantly more worn down.


Why Mileage Matters

Each mile a car drives wears out parts that will need to be replaced at some point. Depending on many factors including the driver, weather and road conditions affect these parts and will wear them faster or slower. The more mileage a car has the more likely it will need these parts replaced.


How Many Miles Is Too Many For a Used Car?

This answer will be different for each person, but as a rule of thumb expect more problems the higher mileage a vehicle is.


But a car having high mileage should not be the only reason to ignore it.


First, look at the Carfax. Ideally you should see regular maintenance being done on the vehicle. If you can see the former owner was meticulous with maintenance and the vehicle has obviously been taken care of it's probably a good choice!


If you see gaps in maintenance or signs of neglect (cigarette burn holes in the seats, dents, worn floor mats) you should probably pass. Check out our used-car buying guide for a full list of inspections to make.


Also make sure that the vehicle wasn't a former work vehicle. That information will be listed on the Carfax. 


Oftentimes higher mileage vehicles - in particular trucks and vans - were company vehicles that are sold at a cheap price due to the hard lives they have had. 


Not every former work vehicle is a bad choice, but look for obvious signs of wear and excessive use like a heavily scratched truck bed or front seats that have been worn down from constantly entering and exiting the vehicle.


Should I Buy a Car With 150k Miles?

If you are looking at a car with 150k miles, there are some special considerations to make when looking at vehicles at this mileage or more.


When cars have more than 100k miles on them, how they have been treated is usually more important than their reputation for reliability. Cars famous for never breaking will only be able to be neglected for so long. 


If the Carfax is bare, ask if they skipped the mechanic or did the work at home. If the latter, can they provide receipts for work they may have done at home?

 

The Carfax can also tell more subtle stories. If the car is hot swapping owners or is going into the mechanic more than you would expect those are some potential red flags of a needy car. 


Also look where the car has spent most of its time. For example, if the car has spent a lot of time in the Rust Belt… I think you can figure out the rest. Here's an article we have on rust if your future car is inflicted with the tin worm. 


When vehicles have been on the road for a while, it gives rust time to potentially cause serious problems.


Necessary Maintenance

Every car owner knows their oil should be changed, but fewer know about the other fluids keeping their car on the road. Ensuring these crucial services have been kept up are critical when buying a car at this mileage. The last thing you want is to purchase a car and have the gearbox go out because the transmission fluid was supposed to be changed 75k miles ago. 


Before you see the car, find a service schedule of the car online (workshop-manuals) and see when (or if) the parts or fluids have been replaced or will need to be.


  • Fluids

  • Brake

  • Power Steering

  • Coolant

  • Differential

  • Transmission

  • Parts

  • Spark Plugs

  • O/2 Sensor

  • Timing Belt change 


If you're lucky all of these have been replaced by now. If your potential car still needs some of the work done it could be a sign it's been neglected, but doesn't mean it's a ticking time bomb - unless it's overdue for a timing belt change.


Timing belt changes tend to cost around the $500 range, but if they break they can do serious damage to the internals of your engine costing thousands of dollars to repair. If you check one thing on a high-mileage car, make sure the timing belt was changed on time.


Automatic transmissions also on average tend to last about 150,000 to 200,000 miles. If you see or feel any reasons to question the transmission's reliability you should probably pass.


Keep in mind we are only covering some of the more common repairs and replacements on cars with 150k miles. The longer a car is on the road, the more potential parts have to fail. Taking it to a trusted third-party mechanic can save a lot of headache down the road.


What If a Car Has Low Mileage?

Low mileage is not always a good thing. Many parts of a car need lubrication that occurs while driving.


That being said, if you are looking to buy a 5-year-old commuter with 10k miles, it's probably fine. Any issues with a car not being driven occur by it sitting for years.


If you don't know the car's history, open the hood and take a look at the hoses and belts. If they look dry or cracked, it's a sign the car has been sitting longer than it should.


If Grandma just used the car to drive to church once a week you shouldn't expect any problems with sitting for extended periods of time.


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