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

When buying a used car, it comes down to two things — the miles on the vehicle and its age.

Newer used vehicles typically cost more than older ones, as they usually have less wear and tear. And used cars with lower mileage usually cost more than those 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 drove a lot of city driving (stop and go), it’s likely that the car experienced more wear and tear on components such as brakes and transmission than vehicles mostly driven on the highway.

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

What Are Good Miles for a Used Car?

What determines a “high-mileage” car? There’s no hard and fast rule. However, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration 2019 data, the average car owner puts about 14,300 miles annually on their vehicle.

So for a car that’s four years old, you might reasonably expect it to have around 57,200 miles. But it’s essential to consider how an owner drove the car, whether city, highway, or a mix of miles, and how well the driver cared for the car.

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. Pickup trucks, too, hold value in part because of their workhorse durability and construction.

But that doesn’t mean every model from the higher-rated brands will always outperform those from 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 used car, the age of the vehicle under consideration merits serious consideration, too. Used cars that are newer with low mileage (at or below the 14,300 miles per year gauge mentioned above) might be well-positioned to provide long-lasting, reliable service.

It’s also interesting to note that according to S&P Global Mobility Reports, the average age of a car on U.S. roads hit 12.2 years old in 2021. That’s a new high.

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 well it 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 have improved on cars and trucks. Older models may not offer as many. Keep that in mind.

Here’s a sampling of top safety features and advanced technology offerings:

  • Adaptive headlights: Headlights that adapt can come in two forms. One form rotates the headlights to light the area in the direction 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 turning 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 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.
  • Backup cameras and rear cross-traffic alert: The backup camera helps drivers view 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. Some systems also have a cross-traffic alert feature, mentioned above.
  • Forward collision warning and emergency braking: The car detects hazards using cameras, sensors, and lasers, such as stopped vehicles on the road. The autonomous braking system can then stop the vehicle if the driver doesn’t take action.
  • LED headlights and taillights: LED 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.

More Car Buying Related Articles

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. 

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How Many Miles on a Used Car is Too Much?

It depends. A 10-year-old car with 100,000 miles may have received more TLC than a five-year-old model with 50,000 miles. According to the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration 2019 data, the average car owner puts about 14,300 miles annually on their vehicle.

How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

It varies. It’s best to get a car checked out by a certified mechanic. Ask for service records on any used car to know if its current owner takes care of the vehicle.

Doug Demuro
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 about Doug Demuro

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  1. How do detailed service records reveal whether a car’s owner drove city, highway, or a mix of miles? I don’t see any way to determine how “demanding” a car’s miles were.

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