Home Car Shopping What Is More Important When Buying a Used Car: Miles or Age?

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

Miles vs. Age Quick Facts for Used Car Buying

  • A newer model used car can have more miles than a comparable vehicle that is significantly older.
  • Newer used cars with low mileage might be well-positioned to provide long-lasting, reliable service.
  • Some auto brands are more reliable over the long haul than others.

When buying a used car from a private seller or dealership, 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. 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? We’ll explain how to navigate, especially in today’s market, where the used car supply remains thin.

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), the car likely 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 most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the average car owner puts about 14,489 miles annually on their vehicle.

So, for a four-year-old car, you might reasonably expect it to have around 58,000 miles. We suggest you consider a 4- to 6-year-old vehicle with less than 50,000 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. It is also important to be wary of used cars with unusually low mileage.

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, Jeep 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.

However, 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.

How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

An ideal odometer reading doesn’t exist. A pampered vehicle with 100,000 miles might have a longer future than a car with skipped oil changes but only 50,000 miles. It’s best to get a car checked out by a certified mechanic. Ask for service records on any used car to find out if its current owner takes it for regular service.

Pros of Buying a High-Mileage Car

  1. Save money.
  2. Depreciation happens more slowly.
  3. Lower cost of car insurance.
  4. Odds are good for getting a solid vehicle since cars last longer.

Cons of Buying a High-Mileage Car

  1. Higher cost to maintain.
  2. Potentially, there is no manufacturer warranty.
  3. If financing, you’ll find higher interest rates for used vehicles in general.
  4. Could miss out on newer technology and car features.

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. Newer used cars with low mileage (at or below the average 14,489 miles per year mark mentioned above) might be well-positioned to provide long-lasting, reliable service.

According to a study from S&P Global Mobility, the average age of a car on U.S. roads is now 12.6 years old. That’s a new high, and two months older than the average in 2023.

Reviewing a vehicle’s service history and getting a clear picture of how the car got used in its past will help you understand how well the vehicle 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. Safety features and advanced technology offerings on cars and trucks have improved in recent years. 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 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 apply 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. When backing up, the rear cross-traffic alert warns of approaching traffic from either side.
  • 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, such as stopped vehicles on the road, using cameras, sensors, and lasers. The autonomous braking system can stop the vehicle if the driver doesn’t act.
  • 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.

MORE: Don’t Skip These 7 Safety Features on Your Next Car

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’s 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 5-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, get the vehicle checked out by your local automobile repair shop as thoroughly as possible to ensure it’s in good condition.

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

More Car Buying Related Articles

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication. 

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  1. What about cars with low milage at a dealership with Certified vehicles and/or sites such as Drivetime and Carmax?

    • Thanks for reading, Bob. Potential buyers have the same considerations whether shopping for a used car from private sellers, franchised dealerships, or chains like those you mention. For some buyers, the best choice is a newer model with higher miles but desirable tech and safety features. Those bells and whistles aren’t as important to other shoppers who set their sights on vehicles with low mileage and look forward to keeping it on the road for many more years.

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