Can a Used Car Have Too Few Miles?

Low mileage doesn’t always mean a fantastic deal for pre-owned vehicles.

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In the past, discovering a low-mileage used vehicle for a fair price was like winning the lottery for cost-conscious shoppers. However, in today’s market, where millions of cars aren’t even being produced due to the chip shortage resulting in limited dealer inventories, finding a car with low miles may not be the winning ticket.

Popular Used Cars with Low Miles Go for a Stiff Price Premium

Right now, new cars are in such tight supply that many models are entirely sold out for the 2022 model year. To compensate for that lack of inventory, dealers are bidding up used cars to the point where they can cost more than a brand-new model.

However, buying a nearly new car with low miles could offer some advantages. Certified Pre-Owned models feature longer warranties along with other perks. But if you’re looking squarely at depreciation costs instead of an extended warranty, a purchase price higher than the original manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for a used car can be a hard pill to swallow.

Older Cars with Low Miles Can Have Unique Issues

Older cars sitting around for months or years without being driven on a regular basis can be magnets for expensive maintenance issues. The list of what can go wrong is long. Everything from minor one-time expenses (such as bad tires and a dead battery) to major repairs (such as excessive paint wear and electrical issues from animal infestations.)

If you’re looking at an older vehicle and notice a lot of leaves around the hood, the clearcoat is worn, or the paint doesn’t look right, have an experienced, neutral, third party mechanic look at it before you buy. The real issues on these tempting low-mileage cars are often below the surface. Sometimes a good deal actually isn’t.

EVs Can Be Especially Bad Buys with Low Miles

One dirty little secret of electric vehicles (EVs) is that a lack of driving and long heat exposure can hurt the battery.

If you live in a climate where temperatures can go over 100 degrees, and the vehicle is left outside with a full charge for a long time, this combination can damage the battery cells and shorten the battery’s life.

If you plan on buying a low-mileage EV, ensure it is garaged and regularly driven. A Carfax report can help you figure out how many miles it was driven, where it came from, and whether that vehicle may have sat outside a dealership for several months.

If you are in the market, there are three things to remember when it comes to any used car:

  1. The car
  2. The prior owner’s maintenance and driving habits
  3. The warranty

Some cars have too few miles because they experienced a major mechanical issue at some point in their lives. At the same time, others may have sat for a long time in an environment that was harmful to the vehicle, and are now unsafe to drive due to those needed repairs.

Always get an expert’s opinion and look up the vehicle history report on that specific vehicle. Though fewer miles can mean a car is in better shape than a high-mileage example, low mileage isn’t the only factor to consider.

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Steven Lang
Steven Lang is a special contributor to Capital One with nearly two decades of experience as an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction. Some of the best-known auto publications turn to him for his expert insight. He is also the co-developer of the Long-Term Quality Index, a survey of vehicle reliability featuring over two million vehicles that have been inspected by professional mechanics.