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Buying a Used Car: Is It Bad to Buy a Car With Unusually Low Mileage?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

If you're interested in buying a used car, then you're probably well aware of the fact that you typically want one with the fewest possible miles on the odometer. But when does low mileage become too low? For instance, if you find a 10-year-old car with only a few thousand miles on the odometer, are you running a risk of reliability issues because the car hasn't been driven enough? We have the answer.

Generally OK

In general, we think that low-mile used cars are a great decision, even if mileage seems unusually low. In other words, find a 10-year-old car with only 10,000 miles on the odometer, and you're probably looking at a great buy rather than a wide range of potential problems down the line. With that said, we have a few tips to make sure that your low-mileage find doesn't turn out to be a major headache.

Verify Odometer Reading

Before purchasing the car, we strongly suggest making sure that the given odometer reading is correct. Although there's no way to prove this with complete certainty, we can suggest a few tools to help you out.

One is a vehicle history report from a well-known company such as Carfax or AutoCheck. If you get a history report for a vehicle that you're considering, you can usually find out whether the odometer has been tampered with, since most Carfax reports will show a progression of vehicle mileage throughout a car's life. For instance, on that 10-year-old car with 10,000 miles, you might see that the car had 5,000 miles when it was 5 years old -- likely proof that the odometer is correct.

Another way you can try to verify a car's odometer reading is by examining the overall condition of the car. A 10,000-mile car should have a fairly pristine exterior with few dents or scratches, and the interior shouldn't be very worn. If the car looks too beat-up for a vehicle with very low miles, it could be a sign of odometer tampering.

Mechanical Inspection: A Must

Even if you verify the odometer reading and discover that the car you're considering is indeed a very low-mileage example, you'll probably want to have the car checked out by a mechanic. This is advice we give to nearly everyone who's buying a used car, but there's an even bigger reason for it here: If a car has been sitting for a while, various parts could require immediate replacement simply because they've dried out over time. A mechanical inspection is the only way to know for sure whether the car you're considering has any trouble spots -- and whether it could require big bills in the future.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Used Car: Is It Bad to Buy a Car With Unusually Low Mileage?