How Many Miles Are Too Many Miles for a Used Car?
Mileage is important to consider when vehicle shopping, but it’s not the only relevant factor.
If you’re in the market for a car, you’ve probably considered buying something used to save a little cash. A used vehicle’s mileage is an important number to consider—it can have a significant impact on price and value.
But how many miles are too many miles for a used car? It’s a tricky question to answer, and it depends on a number of factors.
Why Mileage Matters
Technological advancements have increased the average life of a modern vehicle from around eight years in the mid-1990s to nearly 12 years today, according to the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Transportation.
Although a car’s parts might be longer-lived these days, mileage can be a key indicator of used-vehicle health. At higher mileage, it’s more likely parts will need repair or replacement—some of those components, if not properly maintained by an earlier owner, can be expensive and difficult to fix.
Break It Down by Year
A good rule of thumb for gauging how much mileage is too much for a used car is to determine if the vehicle you’re considering appears to have about the average number of miles driven each year.
The Department of Transportation estimates that on average (as of 2019, the most recent year with available data), Americans drive about 14,000 miles annually. Additionally, most new-car leases have a 10,000-, 12,000- or 15,000-mile-per-year limit.
Regardless of mileage, a wise shopper will want a mechanical inspection before signing the dotted line. That said, a high odometer number alone isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.
Go Beyond the Odometer
If you were to compare two vehicles of the same year, make, and model, and Car A had 80,000 miles while Car B had 60,000 miles, it might seem that the car with the lower mileage would be a better buy. Because there are fewer miles on Car B, that probably means less wear and tear, right? Well, kind of.
The vehicle’s history and maintenance records, as well as where it was driven are nearly as important as the actual mileage numbers.
Using the example above, pretend Car B was part of a rental fleet in Detroit, where frigid winters lead to rough roads. It sat outside often, blasted by the weather and caustic treatments the city uses to keep ice and snow off the roadways. While the mileage is low, those miles may have been difficult and harsh ones, which can put additional wear on suspension, engine, and transmission components. Imagine, in comparison, that Car A belonged to a single owner who had a long highway commute in the same area and garaged their car during the day. This disciplined owner kept up on oil changes and other services, too. Car A might be the better buy, even though it has more miles, because it was treated better than Car B.
Mileage Thresholds for Used Cars
Buying a used car has historically made good financial sense. But in the current market, used cars are nearly as expensive as new cars. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of used cars is up nearly 16.1% from last year, while new cars are up 12%, thanks in large part to the chip and supply shortage. It’s typically true that new cars lose about 10% of their value the moment you drive them off the lot (and continue to lose value during the first year of ownership), but used cars can be costly if major components fail. According to J.D. Power, watch out for certain things at specific mileage thresholds, including:
- 30,000 to 70,000 miles: Brake pads need to be changed in this interval. Depending on the car, discs may also need replacement
- 60,000 to 100,000 miles: Timing belts and chains may need replacement
- 100,000 to 150,000 miles: Transmissions can begin to fail and need repair or replacement