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Car Buying

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

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

In the world of used cars, two factors seem to have a major effect on pricing: mileage and age. An 8-year-old car is usually less expensive than a 2-year-old car, for instance, while a 100,000-mile car is normally less expensive than a 20,000-mile car. But what about a 2-year-old car with 100,000 miles? Or an 8-year-old car with only 20,000 miles? If you're buying a car, should you be more concerned about its miles or its age? We have the answers.

Mileage Matters

If you're buying a used car, mileage should be a huge factor in your decision. After all, a car's odometer is a measure of how much life it's lived -- so a car with only 70,000 miles is worth a lot more than one that's covered 170,000 miles. Engine parts, suspension components and other factors are only designed to last so long, and a car with too many miles is rarely a good decision.

With that said, the way a car has added its miles is tremendously important to understand. A vehicle with all city miles will have a lot more wear and tear than one that's had all highway miles, since highway miles are easier on a car. Likewise, a car with a fastidious owner who takes care of every issue or problem, and maintains the car perfectly according to the manufacturer schedule, will likely last a lot longer than a car owned by someone who doesn't do much maintenance -- even if the better-maintained car has much higher miles. When you're buying a used car, it's important to figure out exactly which one you're getting.

Age Matters, Too

But that's not to say that age isn't important. While mileage matters a lot, a car's age can be just as big of a deal -- and in some cases, it's even more important than mileage. For instance: a 10- or 15-year old car with only 30,000 or 40,000 miles may be appealing. But given that the driver hasn't spent that much time behind the wheel in the last 10 or 15 years, have they spent much time doing maintenance? Repairing the items that break?

More importantly, when it comes to an older car with low miles, we'd be worried about rubber parts and other components that don't normally age well if they aren't exercised. A 6- or 7-year-old car that has spent much of its life sitting, for instance, might give us more concern than a 10-year-old car that's been well-maintained.

Our Take?

Our view is that age and miles don't matter as much as you think. Instead, it's the way the car has been taken care of during its life that makes it so important. A 5-year-old car with only 50,000 miles may have many more problems than a 10-year-old car with twice the odometer reading. It all depends on the type of vehicle, the type of owner and the type of maintenance that's been performed. This is one of the reasons why we always recommend prepurchase inspections before buying a car -- and it's why you can't judge a car's condition based solely on its age and miles.

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.
What's More Important When Buying a Car: Miles or Age? - Autotrader