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What is More Important When Buying a Car: Miles or Age?

When buying a used car, you will need to weigh two things: miles on the vehicle and age.

Newer vehicles typically cost more than similar older ones, as they typically have less wear and tear. And cars with lower mileage usually cost more than similar ones with higher mileage.

It makes sense, right? But let’s explore what’s more important. Is it miles or age?

Car Miles: What You Need to Know

In some cases, a newer car can have more miles than a comparable vehicle that is significantly older. Additionally, some miles weigh harder on an automobile than others.

For example, if a vehicle has been through a lot of city driving (stop and go), the car likely has more wear and tear on components such as brakes and transmission than vehicles that have seen mostly highway driving.

Read on to find out what else is essential to consider.

What is Good Miles for a Used Car?

What determines whether a vehicle would be deemed “high-mileage” for its age? While there’s no hard and fast rule, it’s fair to say that the average car owner puts about 12,000 miles annually on their vehicle.

So for a car that’s four years old, you might reasonably expect it to have around 48,000 miles. But once again, it’s essential to consider what type of miles the car was driven (city, highway, or a mix) and how well it was cared for.

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Are Some Cars Better than Others with a Lot of Miles?

Some auto brands (such as Honda and Toyota) earned a reputation for being more reliable over the long haul than others. While not always scoring near the top of reliability ratings, Jeeps garnered a loyal following among motorists who keep them for extended periods.

But that doesn’t mean every model from the higher-rated brands will always outperform those from its competitors.

Again, a vehicle with a lot of less-taxing highway mileage will likely have more life left in it than one with heavy city miles that age a car more quickly.

Age of a Car: What You Need to Know 

When buying a car, the age of the vehicle under consideration merits serious consideration, too. Used cars that are newer with low mileage (at or below the 12,000 miles per year gauge mentioned above) might be well-positioned to provide long-lasting, reliable service.

When you review a vehicle’s service history and get a clear picture of how the car got used in its past, it will help you understand how the car will perform as it ages.

A vehicle used for short- to medium-length commutes in stop-and-go traffic is bound to have taken on more wear than one that accumulated most of its miles on long highway trips. A vehicle with detailed service records showing that the used car seller routinely maintained it offers an advantage over those that don’t deliver such care.

Safety Features to Consider 

When buying a car, you will need to consider the number of the vehicle’s safety features. In recent years, safety features and advanced technology offerings improved on cars and trucks. Older models may not offer as many. Keep that in mind.

Here’s a list of top safety features and advanced technology offerings, including:

  • Adaptive headlights: Headlights that adapt can come in two forms. One form rotates the headlights to light the area in the direction in which the steering wheel gets turned. The other form uses cornering lights mounted to the side of the headlights. They snap on to illuminate the appropriate direction when you turn the steering wheel to the left or right. These headlights offer excellent safety features, especially when driving in bad weather, including rain, fog, ice and snow.
  • Anti-lock brakes and stability control: These work together to detect when a car slides sideways and then applies brakes to the wheel or wheels to help bring the slide under control.
  • Automatic high beams: Sensor cameras detect the light sources ahead of the vehicle and, depending on the situation, will automatically switch on and off the high beams depending on the situation.
  • Back-up cameras with rear cross-traffic alert: The back-up camera helps drivers by providing views of a driveway or parking spot when backing out. The rear cross-traffic alert warns of approaching traffic from either side when backing up.
  • Blind-spot monitoring: Sensors detect blind spots and alert you to vehicles around you that you might not see in your mirrors.
  • Forward collision warning and emergency braking: The car detects hazards when using its cameras, sensors and lasers, such as stopped vehicles on the road. The anti-lock braking system will stop the vehicle.
  • LED headlights and taillights: The lights offer brighter illumination than the standard halogen ones.
  • Rain-sensing wipers: The windshield wipers automatically engage when the system detects moisture on the windshield.

Maintenance Considerations 

When shopping for a used car, how well a vehicle has been taken care of is essential to its longevity. Just as humans tend to live longer when they eat right, exercise and get good medical care, cars usually last longer when they get proper routine maintenance.

Ask to see the service records on any used vehicle you think you want to buy. Essential maintenance on a vehicle includes:

  • Changing the oil regularly
  • Replacing the air filter according to the vehicle manual
  • Checking fluid levels
  • Examining belts and hoses

What We Think 

While it’s a good idea to consider the age of a vehicle and the number on its odometer, it’s more important to look at how well the owner maintained the car.

A 10-year-old car with 100,000 miles may have received more TLC than a five-year-old model with 50,000 miles. Another consideration is how the previous owner used the vehicle (less demanding highway mileage vs. stop-and-go city driving) and the vehicle type (how a model stacks up in reliability rankings). Certified pre-owned cars may be another option as dealers typically put them through rigorous inspections before selling.

So before buying a car, it’s always a good idea to have a vehicle checked out by your local automobile repair shop as thoroughly as possible to ensure it’s in good condition.

Regardless of miles or age when buying a car, check the car’s fair market value to know if it’s a good deal.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Rob Douthit contributed to this report.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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51 COMMENTS

  1. I’m looking at two BMW cars today .. one is just 21 months old with 4000 miles . And the other is 6 years old with 32000 miles .. in your opinions which would be the Best Buy.. both are in good condition 

  2. Need help. I am thing about buying a 2 owner well maintained 10 year old Honda accord with 73,000 miles on it from a good rated Toyota dealership. what do you guys think. it has some paint issues and very tiny rust spots. the dealership said they would fix all these things and said when they looked it over it had no other issues. what are your thoughts should I buy it or not. 

  3. I need help I am thinking about buying a 2010 Honda Accord with 73 thousand mile on it. it has been well maintained. The Accord has service records. there have been two owners. should I buy it.

  4. I need help I am thinking about buying a 2010 Honda Accord with 73 thousand mile on it. it has been well maintained. The Accord has service records. there have been two owners. should I buy it.

  5. 2017 Honda Civic with 30,00  miles for $14,800 certified pre-owned.  Is this a decent price even with 30K?  Thanks.

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