What mileage is OK for a used car?

November 04, 2018
High mileage
Pay more attention to the mechanical condition of the car. This Mazda 3 made it this far with good maintenance. The mileage is in kilometers.

Used cars with lower mileage are more desirable, but high-mileage cars are cheaper. Should used car buyers look for low mileage or save money on high-mileage vehicles? The short answer is: when deciding between two vehicles, look at the mechanical and body condition first, then maintenance quality and reliability reputation, then mileage and price.

Do cars have a natural limit? How many miles are too many? Before we answer this question, let's consider this real-life example:

Toyota Camry
This Toyota has 209K miles(335000 km)

The Toyota in the top photo has 209K miles. It looks clean in and out, other than a few minor rust spots. According to the mechanic, it needs brakes, two struts and a wheel bearing (about $1,300 worth of repairs), other than that, it runs OK. The engine is quiet, the oil is clean and the transmission shifts smooth. Once said repairs are done, it should last for another 2-3 years with good care. It's a Toyota. The private seller asks $2,700.

In the second photo, it's the Mazda CX-7 turbo SUV with 63K miles. It looks great in and out and drives like new. When we started it, though, there was a little bit of white smoke coming from the exhaust.

No oil on the dipstick
There is no oil on the dipstick in this car

We also checked the engine oil, but it doesn't even show on the dipstick and there is a burnt oil smell under the hood. Once we looked deeper, we noticed the engine is "sweating" oil and there is also an oil leak near the turbo. All this means is that the turbocharger is going and this engine won't last too long either. It looks like the previous owner hasn't been too meticulous about oil changes. Do we even care about the mileage or price now?

We have seen many low-mileage used cars that were either restored after a serious accident or were poorly maintained or had expensive mechanical or electrical problems. Just recently we came across a 6-year old Nissan Sentra with low mileage that was advertised cheap because of rough shifting issues with its CVT transmission.

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Another issue is that there are still cases where odometers are rolled back, even though it's illegal. Recently, one of our readers brought to our attention a FB post where a person offered an "odometer repair".

In the Rust Belt, high-mileage older cars often have a lot of rust damage from the salt that is used on the roads in winter months. Cars with extensive rust damage should be avoided.

How many miles is too many? We recommend to avoid cars with over 130,000 miles (208,000 km). There are cars and trucks that can last much longer, but a lot depends on the mechanical condition. Turbocharged gasoline engines often have more problems at higher mileage. V6 and V8 engines tend to last longer. By the way, the top photo shows the odometer of a Mazda 3 that lasted this long thanks to good maintenance. Read also: Simple car maintenance checklist.

The lower mileage is important if you are buying a fairly new used car that you want to trade in after 3-4 years. Cars with lower mileage will retain more value when you are ready to sell or trade it.

We also advise to look for lower mileage when shopping for a one-two year old vehicle, or when buying from a rental company. A lower mileage, in this case, means longer warranty coverage.