Downside of Low Mileage When Buying a Used Car

| January 3, 2013

used cars with low mileage Car dealerships aren’t just for new car buyers. The good ones, like those you can find on DexKnows, like to have a few good preowned cars on the lot for people who don’t want a new vehicle. These tend to have traveled well, with typically fewer than 15,000 miles per year, so they seem like a good deal. Or are they?

Or consider this scenario: a 10-year-old sedan owned by only one person, a sweet old lady who drove 2,000 miles a year. It’s practically a new car for a fraction of the price, sure to give years of trouble-free service. Or is it?

Low mileage isn’t always a good thing. Here’s a look at some of the problems to watch out for.

Engine and transmission

Most engine wear happens in the first few seconds after starting the car, before the oil has reached every surface. So a vehicle that does many short journeys can suffer a disproportionate amount of engine wear. Compounding the problem, short trips don’t allow the mechanical parts to reach their normal operating temperature, resulting in condensation in the cylinders and exhaust, putting moisture in the oil and corroding the mufflers. If the oil isn’t changed frequently, sludge can build up, blocking passageways and causing expensive damage.

Short trips are hard on the starter motor and battery, too, because hey get a lot of use and the battery may not get fully recharged.

Belts and tires

Rubber tends to crack and age, which is why tires have a date of manufacture on the side. (The last four digits after the DOT marking on the sidewall tell you the week and year it was made.) The same goes for hoses, like those running to the radiator and heater as well as flexible brake lines. Belts, too, such as the serpentine belt that drives the accessories and even the timing belt, can age and fail much earlier than the mileage would lead you to expect.

Bottom line? It’s time that ages rubber, not miles.

Braking system

Short trips mean lots of stops, which is why brake pads and discs can be worn down to a surprising extent in a low-mileage vehicle. But there’s a second and more insidious brake problem that can happen with low-mileage cars: Brake fluid slowly absorbs moisture, which leads to corrosion, damaged seals and potentially brake failure. This can be avoided by changing the fluid every three or four years, but it’s this kind of maintenance that gets overlooked when a vehicle is little used.

Buyer beware

There was a time when low mileage had to be treated with suspicion: A few rogue sellers, both private parties and traders, weren’t above winding back the “clock” to lose a few thousand miles. Fortunately, modern electronic odometers and history-checking services like CarFax have largely eliminated that problem, but it still pays to be cautious. One simple safety measure is to see if the condition of the floor mats, carpets and pedals matches the advertised mileage.

A low-mileage car can be a great deal if you know what to look out for. Ask about the service history, and be prepared for a few visits to the repair shop, parts store or tire retailer. Use the DexKnows to find those services close to home.

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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.