Should I Buy A High-Mileage Car?

Some older cars are better than others. Photo credit: John Lloyd, Flickr. 

Question: I am planning on getting a 2009 model car with 110K miles on it. I viewed the car record and it has zero accidents. It looks brand new. Should I buy it if it’s high mileage? 

Answer: It’s safe to say that most car buyers would prefer to drive off the lot with a brand new vehicle that’s straight off the factory floor. But in the real world, people are bound by real budgets, which oftentimes makes purchasing a used car a better economic choice. Conventional wisdom suggests that any item that’s purchased second hand should be more on the “gently used” side. But is it ever a good idea to purchase a car that’s racked up 100,000+ miles? It depends on whom you ask.

“There are many good reasons to purchase a vehicle with over 100,000 miles on its odometer,” says Michael Harley, editor-in-chief at AutoWeb.com. “Most late-model vehicles are engineered to run well past 100,000 miles, and with proper maintenance and care they should be able to double that number.”

That “proper maintenance and care” factor is pretty much going to determine which high-mileage car you purchase, if you decide to purchase one at all. You need to know not only the mileage of the car but how it was treated while it accrued those miles. And the best way to obtain that information is to turn to two main sources: the vehicle’s maintenance history report and your mechanic. 

“To find out about previous driving conditions and maintenance, it is important to check the vehicle’s registration history via all available sources, including Carfax,” says Gary Langshteyn, sales manager at Bay Ridge Ford in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Buyers can also ask the seller for service records.” Vehicle inspection from a trusted mechanic is also a must. Langshteyn notes that safety should be your top concern when purchasing a high-mileage car, therefore the tires, suspension and brakes, your car’s top safety features, should be subject to extra special scrutiny.

Even if you select a high-mileage car that meets all of your safety and financial requirements, it’s important to know that these cars come with their own special set of drawbacks. Lisa Copeland, managing partner of FIAT of Austin in Austin, Texas, notes that both the extended and factory warranties will be expired by the time you take ownership, and you’ll be facing higher overall maintenance costs due to obsolete parts. Plus, high-mileage cars are more likely to have changed hands a few times, so you’ll never know how well it was cared for by each owner. “Yes, you can do an inspection and background check, but that won’t tell you how well the vehicle was maintained, where the vehicle was stored (covered spot, garage or out in the extreme heat or cold), how abusive the owner was, etc.,” says Copeland. “You just don’t know what you’re buying into.”  

It should also be noted, if you do decide to go the high-mileage route, that it’s best to stay away from the enticing siren song of premium and luxury vehicles. The idea of cruising down the road in a luxury car that you bought for a rock-bottom price may seem very appealing, but in reality it can cause you a tremendous headache. In addition to the inherent high maintenance costs and hard-to-find parts that come with purchasing a high-mileage vehicle, luxury cars “depreciate much more rapidly than standard vehicles,” says Harley. This means that it will have little to no resale value no matter how well you maintain the car.

At the end of the day, the decision of whether to buy a car that’s used or extremely used is completely up to you. Education is your best asset in any type of car-buying decision, so make sure that you learn the facts and weigh all of the pros and cons before plunking down any of your hard-earned money.  

We’re scouring the Internet to uncover interesting questions that people have posted looking for advice from the unwashed masses. We will contact experts to give you well-researched, professional advice. You can also submit questions to autos_qotd@yahoo.com.