Is High Mileage on a Used Car a Bad Thing?

| January 10, 2013

used cars high mileage Not everyone hankers after a brand-new, fresh-off-the-lot car. Many buyers see more value in something with a few miles “on the clock.” That’s why most car dealerships, the kind you’ll find through the DexKnows local listings, like to stock preowned vehicles as well as new. Most used cars tend to be recent models with low mileage, but sometimes you’ll come across one that’s done far more than the average of 13,000 per year. (That number was put out by the Federal Highway Administration in April 2011.) High mileage tends to lower the price. Is such a vehicle a shrewd buy or something to be avoided?

Is low mileage better?

What matters more than the number of miles is how those miles got on the car — some miles are harder on a vehicle than others. Most engine wear happens in the first few seconds after turning the key. Once the oil has been pumped around, all the surfaces are lubricated and there’s no metal-to-metal contact. So a car that’s had a lot of starts in its life probably has more wear and tear on the engine.

Likewise, a car that makes a lot of stops has probably given its brakes a good workout. And one driven only in the city may well have turned more corners than one that spent its life on the highway. See where this is going? A city car can lead a harder life than one that spends its years cruising the interstates. In short, low mileage is not necessarily a good thing, but there are some caveats.

Do you know the history?

Just looking at the mileage tells you nothing about how those miles were acquired or how the car was looked after. This is why a service history is so important. That pile of receipts the last owner stuffed in the glove box will reveal how often the oil was changed, when the brakes were last serviced and when, if ever, the transmission was flushed.

The other aspect of a car’s history is the owner. If you know who drove it, you’ll know what use it saw.

Mileage is not the only problem

Not all wear and tear is mileage-related. Some parts, particularly those made from rubber, just age. This means that even a low-mileage car can have problems, such as leaking hoses, worn suspension bushings and cracked belts.

Fluids are another issue, especially brake fluid. Brake fluid degrades after a few years and needs to be replaced, regardless of how much the car has been used. The same goes for engine coolant.

Then there’s condensation that occurs in cold engines and exhausts. When an engine doesn’t get time to warm up properly, moisture can attack interior surfaces, causing corrosion and leading to problems down the road.

Beware high mileage?

The truth is, high mileage can be good or bad, depending on how the vehicle was looked after. If the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule was followed without fail, an above-average-mileage car or truck can be a good buy. Remember, though: There’s no substitute for a thorough inspection!

If you are considering a preowned vehicle, make sure to see what your local car dealerships have to offer. Find them through the DexKnows site and keep an open mind when it comes to high mileage. You can also find mechanics who can perform a thorough inspection before you buy a vehicle.

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Category: Auto Buying, Autos

About the Author ()

After twenty years in the automobile industry the craft of wordsmith called. Putting down the wrench, Nigel picked up a keyboard on which to express his passion for all things automotive.