What mileage is OK for a used car?

Updated: September 26, 2019
Used cars with lower mileage are more desirable, but high-mileage cars are cheaper. What are the mileage recommendations when it comes to a used car? What mileage is considered too high?
High mileage This Mazda 3 lasted this far with good maintenance. The mileage is in kilometers.
An average mileage is 15,000 miles per year. If you are looking for a 3-6 year old car, a car that has less than 75,000 is preferred, but the mileage is not the only consideration. When deciding between several used cars, look at these factors:
1. Reliability reputation and maintenance history
2. Current mechanical and body condition
3. Mileage and price.

For example, If you want to decide between one car with 60,000 miles and the other one with 40,000 miles, the car with 60,000 miles might have been religiously maintained and kept in pristine shape, while the one with 40,000 lower mileage might have been abused or poorly cared for. In this case the 60K car is a better choice. See another example with photos below.

Mileage versus mechanical condition

Mazda CX-7 This Mazda CX-7 has only 63K.
Here is the real-life example: we are looking at this Mazda CX-7 turbo, a sporty SUV with only 63K miles. It looks clean in and out and drives like new. We noticed, though, there was a little bit of white smoke coming from the exhaust. We saw more white smoke when we started the engine after the car sat for a few minutes. We checked the engine oil, but, It didn't show any oil on the dipstick! Check the next photo; it's dry.

There was also a smell of burning oil noticeable under the hood. We looked deeper and noticed that the engine is "sweating" with oil and there is also an oil leak near the turbo.
No oil on the dipstick There is no oil on the dipstick in this car.
All this means that the turbocharger is on its way and this engine won't last long. It looks like the previous owner didn't care about the oil changes. Do we even care about the price or mileage now?

There are plenty of low-mileage used cars like this on the market. We have also seen a number of low-mileage used cars with signs of collision repairs. Not all accidents are reported. If the used car history report shows no accidents it only means "no reported accidents." What happens to all those cars that have been flooded during one of the heavy rain storms? Some of them will end up on used car lots. To summarize, low mileage doesn't make a good car.
Read also:
How to inspect a used car and
How to check an engine in a used car.

Lower mileage is important if it's a relatively new vehicle. For example, if you are buying a one-year old car, but it has 40,000 miles, then you will only have 20,000 more miles until the powertrain warranty runs out. In this case, it is worth to pay a little extra for lower mileage.

If you want to sell or trade a car in a few years and you want it to retain some value, lower mileage makes a difference too, but what if you just need a cheap transportation and you plan on keeping it until it runs into the ground?
Toyota Camry This Toyota has 209K miles (335,000 km).
Let's check this car: This Toyota has 209K miles. It looks clean in and out, other than a few minor rust spots. You can tell that the previous owner cared for it. According to the mechanic, it needs brakes, two struts and a wheel bearing (about $1,300 worth of repairs). Those are simple repairs, Other than that, it runs OK. What's important, the engine is quiet, the engine oil looks clean and the transmission shifts smoothly.

Once said repairs are done, this car should easily last for another 2-3 years. It's a Toyota. The price is very reasonable. This car is a good deal if you just need a commuter for a couple of years.

Another issue with "low mileage" cars 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 the FB post where a person offered an "odometer repair" for modern cars. This means again, inspect the vehicle carefully, check the service history and get it inspected by an independent mechanic regardless of the mileage.

How many miles is too many for a used car?

Unless you just need a cheap transportation, we recommend avoiding cars with more than 130,000 miles (208,000 km). There are many vehicles that can last much longer, but a lot depends on the mechanical condition. Smaller and turbocharged gasoline engines often have more problems at higher mileage. Larger V6 and V8 engines tend to last longer. By the way, the top photo shows the odometer of the Mazda 3 that lasted this long thanks to good maintenance.