What mileage is too high for a used car?
How Many Miles Will a Car Last on the Road?
A typical car that is taken care of can last anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, depending on several factors. Some used cars have exceeded the 300,000-mile mark, and many new cars could potentially do the same with good routine maintenance.
With costs climbing and both new and used vehicle prices at an all-time high, Americans are holding on to their vehicles for longer than they ever have. The average passenger vehicle on the road is beginning to push the twelve-and-a-half-year mark, ultimately translating to more miles on the road and a longer overall lifespan.
Of course, this does not mean that each vehicle is functioning well. There are several factors that influence a car’s lifespan for better or worse. If you want to maximize your car’s life expectancy, there are several steps you can take to ensure that you can accomplish that.
Why Are Cars Lasting Longer?
It makes sense that people are holding on to their old cars longer than they have in the past. New vehicles are selling for the highest prices in history because of microchip shortages and the resulting low dealership inventory. Even high-mileage vehicles are selling for historically high prices. Couple that with things like inflation and student debt, and many people just have less to spend on a vehicle.
Not all is doom and gloom, though. Another reason that the average lifespan of modern vehicles has increased is that automotive technology has advanced. That translates to better, more efficient materials use within vehicle components.
Additionally, the rise of advanced safety features also prevents more accidents. You can think of this in terms of human life expectancy. Modern medicine has prevented and is able to cure many diseases that were once incurable, increasing our own life expectancy over the years. Likewise, things like advanced safety features keep cars on the road for longer.
How Many Miles is Too Many?
It is easy to look at data and give a specific figure to show the average lifespan of a car, truck, SUV, or minivan. Answering the questions of how many miles can a car last or how many miles is too many miles on the odometer is much more subjective. In reality, anybody willing to put enough money into just about any vehicle can make it last as long as they want, given that it is not involved in a major accident.
Not every vehicle is created equally, and there are plenty of modern vehicles that are not expected to last without any issues much past the 100,000-mile mark. Even with advancements in technology, the increasingly complicated systems that some gasoline engines use can and have proven to be too much for routine maintenance and good driving habits to overcome.
That being said, with the technology we have today, with the proper maintenance, and with good overall treatment, most modern vehicles can reasonably be expected to last for at least 150,000 miles without any major issues. If you consider 15,000 driving miles per year to be about average, that would also mean that a modern vehicle can last for about ten years without major problems.
What Affects a Vehicle’s Lifespan?
There can be all kinds of things that affect how long a car lasts, but there are a few broad categories that summarize these factors the best.
Most things wear out with age. This is especially true with vehicles as they have so many moving parts that are constantly working. Engine and exhaust parts have to deal with the heat produced by combustion. External parts have to deal with road grime and debris. Even electric cars with simpler powertrains and fewer moving pieces are subject to wear and tear.
Things like tires, brake pads, engine oil, differential fluid, transmission fluid, coolant, and headlights will most likely need to be replaced several times during the lifespan of a vehicle. Vehicles with manual transmissions have a clutch, and a few vehicles still have a timing belt. Both of these are considered to be wearable items that deteriorate over time with use.
Your personal driving habits do not just affect the lifespan of your vehicle. It can affect fuel economy and, ultimately, resale value as well. Most people think of speeding or punching the accelerator after the light turns green when they think of poor driving habits. Poor driving habits involve more than just speed, though.
Driving with both feet, taking corners too quickly, loading down your car too much, towing more than you should, and slamming on the brakes at the last minute can all have an adverse effect on your vehicle’s components, bringing down your vehicle’s potential lifespan.
Driving conditions are different than driving habits in that driving habits are more controllable, and driving conditions are the circumstances surrounding how and when you drive. For example, you can usually control your acceleration, but you may not be able to control the fact that you have to drive to and from work for forty-five minutes on the interstate.
Likewise, if you only use your car to get to and from your school in a downtown area, you may have to go through blocks of stop signs to get there. Sure, you could move to a different location or get a different job, but that does not really make as much sense as controlling how you brake and accelerate.
Idling frequently and for a long time is known to bring down the average lifespan of a vehicle, whereas consistent highway driving is usually much easier on your vehicle’s powertrain. Essentially, anytime that you can eliminate the things your vehicle has to do, you can make it last longer. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not preventable.
Regular Maintenance Habits:
Regular maintenance is the key to your vehicle’s health. Most people are at least aware that regular oil changes are good for your vehicle, even if some people do not perform them. Other things like transmission fluid changes, tire rotations, transfer case fluid changes, differential fluid changes, and other maintenance items are critical to making your car last as long as it can.
Make sure that you follow the maintenance schedule outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. It is always helpful to read up on the car you want to purchase as well. It will help you understand if something like differential fluid, transfer case service, or some other miscellaneous item is necessary for a particular vehicle.
We have already said that not every vehicle is created equally. Not everyone uses the same parts, some are more complicated than others, some use components that have been carried over from the previous generation vehicle, and some have been proven to be more reliable than others.
Usually, the more complex a vehicle is or the more features it has, the greater its potential for major repairs down the road when those components break or wear out. This is not always the case, especially since most modern vehicles are much more complex than older vehicles, even from just ten years ago.
Climate is a hidden vehicle life expectancy killer. Many people are aware of rust that can form on vehicles from colder climates where the roads are treated with salt. Extreme temperature fluctuations and residual road grim can contribute just as much to wear and tear as road salt.
It may not be as obvious as rust, but temperatures can cause components to expand and contract, creating all sorts of leaking and fitment issues. It can also have an adverse effect on any fluids within a car. Road grime can cause corrosion other than rust on the underside of your vehicle and on its paint.
Of course, you cannot control the climate, but if possible, you should seek to control what you can around your vehicle. Put it in a garage overnight if you have that option. If not, you can buy a car cover. To save your fuel pump, make sure to keep your fuel levels above a quarter-of-a-tank to help protect your fuel pump when temperatures plummet.
How to Get the Most out of Your Vehicle
To combat some of the factors listed above, there are quite a few steps that you can take to make sure your car lasts as long as possible.
Stick to the Regular Maintenance Schedule:
We have already touched on the topic of regular maintenance, but we cannot stress enough how important it is. Some vehicles require more maintenance than others, but regardless, each automaker will have a recommended maintenance schedule outlined in the owner’s manual you get with your car.
Understand which vehicles require more maintenance than others. Two good examples of this are the 2022 Honda Pilot and the 2022 Toyota Prius. Sure, they are very different vehicles, but they both have several key maintenance differences.
If you are in the market for an all-wheel drive Honda Pilot, you will certainly have to change the oil, transmission fluid, and tires. You should also be mindful that you will need to service the transfer case, service the rear differential, adjust the valves in the engine, and change the timing belt.
The base 2022 Toyota Prius does not have a transfer case or a rear differential. Additionally, its engine uses a timing chain like most other modern cars, and its valves do not need to be adjusted. Even though you will most likely not be cross-shopping a Honda Pilot and a Toyota Prius, they demonstrate how different vehicles can be when it comes to car maintenance.
Diagnose and Fix the Non-Routine Maintenance Items:
In addition to the regular maintenance items we have already mentioned, you should not ignore smaller items that pop up outside of regular car maintenance. Many drivers often ignore the check engine light, many think the slight pull to the right on the highway is just not that big of a deal, and many are not totally sure that their car running roughly is that abnormal.
Make sure that you have these items checked out to avoid major repairs that could result from intentionally letting things slide. You know your vehicle best, and if something does not feel or sound right, it probably is not right.
Do Your Research:
We all know that research can be boring and time-consuming, but the more about a vehicle you know, the more you will be able to prepare to take care of it. Just because your parents and all of your friends tell you that a Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, or Subaru Impreza are the three most reliable cars on the road does not mean that they are.
Consumer Reports is a great resource for car shopping guides, automotive articles, reliability guides, and vehicle ratings, but there are many more websites where you can find information about engines, vehicle recalls, consumer reviews, and other informational articles.
These can all give you insights into problematic models, but they can also give you information on any maintenance items that may need extra special attention. If you have to look for a high-mileage car rather than a new one, you can find plenty of historical information and vehicle reliability records to aid in your decision-making.
Do Not Drive It Like You Stole It:
Driving habits affect vehicle longevity, so when you drive, control the things that you can control, and treat your vehicle with the care that it needs. It will reward you if you do.
How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?
At a Glance: As a rule of thumb, a used car should have no more than 12,000 miles for each year since the car was originally bought. For instance, a five year old car should have 60,000 or less miles on it.
At a Glance: Car owners drive around 12,000 per year on average, which is a good rule of thumb for deciding how many miles a used car should have. For example, if the car is 5 years old, it should have 60,000 miles or less.
When buying a used car, people tend to have difficulty gauging the value of the vehicle. Sure, a secondhand car will be easier on your wallet than a brand-new car, but how do you judge whether the used car is worth the money you pay?
After all, there’s not much you can see on a used car other than the car’s appearance and the mileage on the odometer. It’s not possible to tell what kind of repairs and maintenance it has gone through or the places it has been.
So, how do you judge whether a used car is the right one for you? How many miles should it have?
Table of Contents
What’s a Good Mileage on a Used Car?
The general rule of thumb to calculate a reasonable mileage is to assume that car owners drive at least 12,000 miles each year on average. That is:
12,000 x Age of the car = Reasonable mileage
This means that if you are getting a car that has been used for eight years, the reasonable mileage on the car should ideally be:
12,000 x 8 = 96,000
This means that if the car has considerably fewer or higher miles than 96,000, it is highly likely that the car will face some problems. However, it is essential to remember that mileage is just one factor in this equation.
You need to keep in mind several other factors before buying a used car that might change the way you look at the mileage. For instance, has the car been with a single owner or many owners? Is the car a highway car, or has it been driven mainly in the city? Are you getting a rental car as a secondhand car? Answering these questions might help you gauge whether the mileage that you see on the odometer is a good reading or not.
Some specific examples
Let’s take a look at some examples of how many miles a used car should have assuming it is December 1, 2022, and all cars were bought on the same date in the corresponding year:
- How many miles should a 2016 car have in 2022? A used 2016 car should have around 72,000 miles.
- How many miles should a 2017 car have in 2022? A used 2017 car should have around 60,000 miles.
- How many miles should a 2018 car have in 2022? A used 2018 car should have around 48,000 miles.
- How many miles should a 2019 car have in 2022? A used 2019 car should have around 36,000 miles.
- How many miles should a 2020 car have in 2022? A used 2020 car should have around 24,000 miles.
How Many Miles on a Used Car Are Too Much?
As we have already mentioned, mileage is not the only factor that comes into play when judging a used car’s tax value. This is why it becomes challenging to get an exact figure of what would be “too many” miles on a used car.
For example, think about a 10-year-old sedan that has 90,000 miles under its belt. Going by the mileage, it seems like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? However, if this sedan has been driven by four or five owners previously, it’s advisable to stay away from it. This is because it is implausible that all previous owners would have maintained the car with the same rigor and diligence that a single owner might have put in. This means that even if it has a lesser mileage under its belt, this sedan is likely ready for scrap.
How Many Miles on a Used Car Is Too Little?
Just as we can’t tell how many miles on a car is “too much,” we can’t really say how many miles is “too little.”
Take, for instance, a used car that has been with the previous owner for 10 years. Now, the average mileage it should have gone through is 120,000 miles, but the odometer shows 30,000, and the car looks to be in excellent condition. In this case, it wouldn’t be wise to pass up on this car merely based on the mileage. This is because such a car is likely to have been regularly maintained in a garage, which means that it’s actually a brilliant deal.
Is It Wise To Buy a Car With High Mileage?
A lot of people shopping for used cars tend to pass up on cars that have higher mileage. However, this might not be such a great idea. There are several reasons behind this. Technology has advanced over the years, which means that cars today last much longer than they used to. A used car is also not likely to depreciate as much as a brand-new car would, which means that the car’s high mileage has flattened the depreciation curve.
It’s also important to remember that a car with a higher mileage means that it has been driven enough for regular fluid changes and the burning of carbon build-up to have taken place — something which you will not see in a car with low mileage.
Is Buying a Car With Over 50,000 Miles Bad?
Not necessarily. When looking at the mileage of a used car, it would be better to see how much mileage you are more likely to get out of the car than how much mileage the car has already gone through. To do this, you would need to consider the age of the car.
The average life of a car in the U.S. is 12 years. This means that if you buy a used car that is five years old with 50,000 miles under its belt, you are left with nearly seven years of driving. If, like the average car owner, you tend to put in 12,000 miles a year, you are left with 7 x 12,000 miles which is 84,000 miles. As such, despite the 50,000 miles on the car, it is likely to be a decent buy, especially if it has been maintained regularly.
What’s More Important: Mileage or Age?
Mileage and age don’t often go hand in hand. That being said, when purchasing a used car, it’s better to make a judgment based on the mileage that the car has already put in, rather than just looking at how old the car is. This is because the car’s mileage affects the suspension and the engine the most, which means that the service life of a used car is highly dependent on it. This is why you might notice a six-year-old car with a mileage of 100,000 going for a higher price than a car that’s 10 years old with a similar mileage under its belt.
Not All High-Mileage Vehicles Are Equal
It wouldn’t be wise to compare two vehicles with the same mileage reading on the odometers without first knowing the kind of mileage the cars have gone through. For example, if one of the cars has been driven on highways or less congested areas, it is likely to be in better condition than one driven mostly in congested areas with slow-moving traffic.
Another essential factor that you need to consider is how dedicated the previous owner was when it came to repairs and maintenance. It goes without saying that a well-maintained car with regular servicing would be in better condition than one with the same mileage that hasn’t been regularly maintained.
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As you can see, it wouldn’t be wise to go by the mileage alone when purchasing a secondhand car. This is why it’s a good idea to have a detailed vehicle history drawn up for the car or have a used car technician take a look at it before you make the decision.
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How Many Miles Are Too Many Miles for a Used Car?
- Why mileage matters
- Break it down by year
- Go beyond the odometer
- Mileage thresholds for used cars
If you’re in the market for a car, you’ve probably considered buying something used to save a little cash. A used vehicle’s mileage is an important number to consider—it can have a significant impact on price and value.
But how many miles are too many miles for a used car? It’s a tricky question to answer, and it depends on a number of factors.
Why Mileage Matters
Technological advancements have increased the average life of a modern vehicle from around eight years in the mid-1990s to nearly 12 years today, according to the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Transportation.
Although a car’s parts might be longer-lived these days, mileage can be a key indicator of used-vehicle health. At higher mileage, it’s more likely parts will need repair or replacement—some of those components, if not properly maintained by an earlier owner, can be expensive and difficult to fix.
Break It Down by Year
A good rule of thumb for gauging how much mileage is too much for a used car is to determine if the vehicle you’re considering appears to have about the average number of miles driven each year.
The Department of Transportation estimates that on average (as of 2019, the most recent year with available data), Americans drive about 14,000 miles annually. Additionally, most new-car leases have a 10,000-, 12,000- or 15,000-mile-per-year limit.
Regardless of mileage, a wise shopper will want a mechanical inspection before signing the dotted line. That said, a high odometer number alone isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.
Go Beyond the Odometer
If you were to compare two vehicles of the same year, make, and model, and Car A had 80,000 miles while Car B had 60,000 miles, it might seem that the car with the lower mileage would be a better buy. Because there are fewer miles on Car B, that probably means less wear and tear, right? Well, kind of.
The vehicle’s history and maintenance records, as well as where it was driven are nearly as important as the actual mileage numbers.
Using the example above, pretend Car B was part of a rental fleet in Detroit, where frigid winters lead to rough roads. It sat outside often, blasted by the weather and caustic treatments the city uses to keep ice and snow off the roadways. While the mileage is low, those miles may have been difficult and harsh ones, which can put additional wear on suspension, engine, and transmission components. Imagine, in comparison, that Car A belonged to a single owner who had a long highway commute in the same area and garaged their car during the day. This disciplined owner kept up on oil changes and other services, too. Car A might be the better buy, even though it has more miles, because it was treated better than Car B.
Mileage Thresholds for Used Cars
Buying a used car has historically made good financial sense. But in the current market, used cars are nearly as expensive as new cars. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of used cars is up nearly 16.1% from last year, while new cars are up 12%, thanks in large part to the chip and supply shortage. It’s typically true that new cars lose about 10% of their value the moment you drive them off the lot (and continue to lose value during the first year of ownership), but used cars can be costly if major components fail. According to J.D. Power, watch out for certain things at specific mileage thresholds, including:
- 30,000 to 70,000 miles: Brake pads need to be changed in this interval. Depending on the car, discs may also need replacement
- 60,000 to 100,000 miles: Timing belts and chains may need replacement
- 100,000 to 150,000 miles: Transmissions can begin to fail and need repair or replacement
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Abigail Bassett is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. There, she covers everything from automotive and business to travel and luxury. She has a passion for 1980s-era Volvo wagons, microcars, and dogs. She is also a World Car Juror.