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At What Mileage Should You "Stay Away" From a Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

Hello readers of Oversteer and welcome to your latest round of Ask Doug, where you Ask Doug a question -- such as "Dear Doug, what is a car?" -- and Doug responds with an answer -- such as "Please stop asking me questions."

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just email me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com or send me a note on my Facebook page. Although I can't promise I will feature your question here on Oversteer, I can promise I will read it and then probably discard it because your email address is stupid.

Today's question comes to us from a reader I've named Oliver, even though I think his real name was George. Oliver doesn't put where he's from anywhere in his email, so I am forced to assume he lives in suburban Reno, Nevada, because that's where I picture someone named Oliver living. Oliver writes:

Dear Doug,

It used to be that cars in excess of 100k miles were to be avoided, but with new technology and all the advances made to cars, at what mileage would you say " stay away" from cars?

Oliver

Now, usually the question-askers here on Ask Doug go on for like 20 sentences using examples, and adjectives, and inserting all sorts of commentary, but it seems that Oliver is a man of few words. He just wants to know what mileage number he should use to start avoiding cars. This is a reasonable question, Oliver, and it's one I get all the time.

First, let's discuss that 100,000-mile cutoff. It used to be, back in the 1960s and 70s, that cars weren't really expected to get past 100,000 miles. This is evidenced by the fact that many automakers didn't even start installing 6-digit odometers in their vehicles until the 1980s. You know your car probably won't last all that long when the very people who built it didn't see a point in recording a mileage figure past 99,999.

Even as cars started to improve in the 1980s and 1990s, many car shoppers still had this 100,000-mile cutoff forever emblazoned in their minds. So for years, people thought 100,000 miles was still a reasonable figure at which to ditch a car and get a new one -- even if, in reality, it could last for much longer than that.

Only in the last decade or so have people finally started to realize that when properly maintained, many cars can hit 200,000 miles. Some can hit 300,000 miles. I once posted an article about a Ford Escape Hybrid New York City taxi that had 560,000 miles on it. And not just 560,000 miles: 560,000 New York City miles!

And that leads us back to Oliver's question, which is: At what mileage should you now "stay away" from a vehicle? In other words: What is the "new" 100,000-mile point, the figure you don't want to cross, fearing that you might be purchasing a car at the end of its life?

And my answer is -- just like it usually is when I write these columns -- it depends.

Although many cars in the past couldn't be trusted to cross the 100,000-mile threshold without serious issues, things are a lot more nuanced today. Many cars will have no trouble passing 200,000 miles without any significant issues -- while many others still adhere to the 100,000-mile cutoff. For instance: I recently posted a story about a 2011 Ferrari 458 Italia with 61,000 miles, which caused a minor stir on our Facebook page as commenters tried to decipher all the things that might be wrong with it. At the same time, we posted a story yesterday that featured a few diesel pickups that have already crossed the 100,000-mile mark after only a year on the road.

And so, Oliver, while previous generations could simply look at a car's odometer and figure out how close it was to death -- sort of like a health-level indicator in a video game -- today's situation is a lot more complicated. Which, of course, brings us to the next question: How do you know which cars will last a long time and which ones won't?

This, of course, is a lot more difficult to answer. Talk to mechanics. Talk to other car owners. Talk to car enthusiasts. Read Internet forums. Read guides from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. See which cars often have high mileage when they're listed for sale. And most importantly: Stay away from anything with a 5-digit odometer.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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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.
At What Mileage Should You "Stay Away" From a Car? - Autotrader