Used Car Mileage Overview


If you're like most pre-owned car shoppers, you're wondering (or have previously considered), "How many miles on a used car is too much?" This is a fair question. Most of us feel like the odometer is a crucial indicator for how a car might have been treated and perhaps how much life it's got left. Some people will tell you that used cars for sale with minimal miles are the way to go. Other people will point out that a higher amount of miles on a car is directly related to the amount of continued service and care it's seen over its lifetime - and is, therefore, the safer bet. So who is right? This article will help you determine how many miles on a car is too much, too little, or just right. This page will be about a five-minute read, but by the end, you'll be able to shop like a pro for anything from high-end used luxury to used cars for sale under $15,000. Let's do this!

Mileage, Motors, & Myths. Tips & FAQs Revealed

Buying a used car can be an overwhelming experience. The idea of a used vehicle lures us in with the promise of meaningful savings, but facts, figures, and costs can be all over the place. Why would two like-vehicles for sale at different locations be thousands of dollars apart? Why would an older vehicle with high miles cost more than a newer vehicle with fewer miles? Here's the part where we unpack the most common questions that will help you determine the answers. But first, let's take a look at the lifecycle of a vehicle from the time it has zero miles on the clock:

  • A Car's Life In A Nutshell - A vehicle enters the showroom after a long trip from the factory. It's inspected, prepped, and made ready for its first owner. It's either leased or purchased and hopefully serviced according to the guidelines in the owner's manual. Within about 3-5 years, the vehicle is either returned (if a lease) or traded in (if purchased) for something else. At that point, the vehicle should be inspected, and services brought current. Then it should be resold.

But what can happen from there is anyone's guess. Will the next owner abuse it? Service it (occasionally or diligently)? Use it sparingly? So is mileage important when buying a used car? The truth is, mileage on a used sedan or used truck of any kind is almost irrelevant. It's the quality of the vehicle's life that counts. And we're going to give you a punch sheet to print out and take with you the next time you buy a used vehicle. When you consider the purchase of any used vehicle, consider the following:

  • What brand are you looking at? Are you looking at brands known for longevity, such as our Mazda CPO cars for sale? Or are you looking at a brand known for a nightmarish history of electrical problems or other reliability issues? Automotive apples don't fall too far from their factory family tree. Know what you're getting into.

  • Paper trail or no? How much (if any) verifiable service history is available? Don't be scared of too many receipts. This indicates obsessive ownership. No paper trail? Guess who will be making up for lost time on repairs…

  • Appearance matters. A tidy car will speak volumes about prior ownership. Be on the lookout for broken plastics, cracked dash material, and worn seat bolsters.

  • Check fluids. Oil should look like honey. Transmission fluid should be clean. Coolant tanks should be free of debris. Power steering and brake fluid should be clear. Almost all of these fluids smell sweet when they are fresh. If you take a whiff and smell something acrid or burned, it can indicate a problem on the horizon.

  • Hit the road. Take any and all used cars for a test drive. Take special care to listen for clunks, bumps, and knocks from suspension or the engine. Push all the buttons! They are all supposed to do something. If they don't, something is broken.

  • Run it for 30 minutes or more. Most of us drive 30 minutes to an hour. Make sure your test drive resembles your planned activity. A lot of hidden problems will also appear after the 30-minute mark. So do yourself a favor and spend the time now to investigate.

Now that you have a sense of what to look for against the big picture, here are some mileage guidelines and FAQs that will help you make the best decision as you navigate the purchase of any and all used cars for sale:

Is year or mileage important?

Spoiler alert: neither. If a vehicle is well cared for, neither the age nor the mileage should be of concern. Make sure to examine all service receipts and vehicle history reports. A car from any era with any amount of miles should drive great - provided it was cared for correctly.

What is considered high mileage?

Ask 50 different people and get 50 different answers. From our standpoint, though, we track sales numbers all the time. There is something psychological about the six-figure mileage mark, and prices drop considerably because of it. For us, 100k miles is the gateway to high mileage vehicles.

Should you buy a car with 100k miles?

Provided there is a paper trail of service, then yes. If the vehicle meets your cosmetic standards and performance requirements, then, by all means, go for it! Many collectors will argue that the 100k miles mark is just the beginning.

What are the risks of buying an old car with low mileage?

Depending on the year, make, and model, you will often pay a premium for a "time warp" vehicle. On the other hand, cars like this could also be the "barn find" variety where it was purchased, driven minimally, and parked for decades without explanation. In those cases, you will see almost all components atrophy. You could potentially need new engine seals, tires, wiring (rodents love to eat wires), HVAC service, upholstery work, and paintwork, and major drivetrain components might need to be overhauled. Cars are meant to be driven, much like we need exercise. When cars don't get their time at the gym, time will waste them away.

Is 200,000 miles a lot for a car?

Yes and no. The same rule of care applies. If you've been diligent, you can enjoy a vehicle well into the million-mile range. Many OEMs have high mileage clubs with certificates, badges, and awards for those who bear their high mileage odometers with pride. On the other hand, if you come upon a car that hasn't been maintained, 200k miles is a scary place to be. Especially with used trucks. Trucks are meant for work and play. Their underpinnings can see way more abuse than a normal car.

How many miles on a used car is too much?

This is another highly subjective answer. For some people, having to face that first 30k mile interval service is a good enough reason to jump ship. For others, no amount of miles is too much. There are many vehicles out there with mileage into the millions. But maintenance is part of the equation. The real question becomes, "How many miles on a used car is too much, for you?"

How many miles should a car have a year?

12k miles per year is the consensus for "average" usage. So when looking at used cars, used SUVs, or used trucks, you can quickly calculate where they fall on the mileage curve by multiplying their age by 12k miles. For instance, a 10-year-old vehicle should have about 120k miles on the clock.

Mileage Intervals, Service, & More

The answer to how many miles on a used car is too much should be pretty obvious by now. This is to say that mileage has less to do with risk & liabilities, whereas service, ownership, and pedigree are more important. But let's examine the issue from another perspective: the owner's manual! Understanding what a car needs at key milestones in its life will help you decide how many miles on a car is too much:

  • Year 1 (10k-12k miles) Most OEMs state that a vehicle needs to be serviced at a specific mileage interval or once a year. Whichever comes first. This first service is usually a break-in inspection with a few adjustments, updates, and an oil change.

  • 30k miles Whether you get there in a year (any pharmaceutical sales reps reading this?), three years, or five years, the "30k" is a big service. This usually means all of the "tune-up" stuff gets replaced in addition to drivetrain fluids, brakes, and tires. This service is costly, no matter what brand of vehicle you drive.

  • 60k miles While still considered a lower mileage mark for most prospective buyers, this service interval takes on everything from the "30k" but adds additional services like starting/charging system repair, fuel system service, and hydraulic services (mainly steering and brakes). This is more costly than the "30k."

  • 90k miles Take everything from the "30k" and add in cooling system service, hoses, lighting, exhaust, and electronics. As you might suspect, the "90k" is more costly than the other services.

  • 100k miles+ If you look closely at the owner's manual from 100k miles forward, you'll see that there is something of a reset. The service clock starts over again, but be aware that from here on out, you enter the world of potentially major repairs such as engine & transmission replacements, differential replacements, major powertrain resealing, suspension overhauls, and more. Impossible to predict, these services are a fact of life down the road. We all need new shoes, eventually.

So now, from a cost and repair perspective, how many miles on a used car is too much based on your comfort level? At our service center, we've seen clients bring in vehicles needing an engine in as little as 30k miles if they've been raced and abused. On the other hand, we've seen people come in with 1st-gen Mazda MX-5 Miata convertibles that have well over 200k miles, and you would never know it.

One of the nice things about our used Mazda cars for sale is that they are all inspected, serviced, and ready to go. We do all of that pre-inspection legwork so that you don't have to. When you visit us, ask to see the vehicle history report and our service records, and then take her for a test drive. We know you'll be pleased with what you find.

Parting Words & The Road Ahead

It should be pretty clear that there's no cut and dry answer to how many miles on a used car is too much. Just guidelines. And your comfort level. If your thinking about miles brings up concerns about repairs, you can get ahead of it with warranty coverage. Going for a certified pre-owned vehicle will give you an extension of the original warranty on many essential items. The Mazda CPO program raises the bar and gives you incredible coverage with a zero deductible on covered repairs. Not all CPO programs are created equal. So do your research!

Lastly, if you fall in love with a used vehicle with over 100k miles, there's still hope for warranties. Most manufacturers don't offer in-house coverage, but an experienced finance center will have various third-party providers that will let you build your own warranty to cover the items you need for about as long as you'd want. If you buy a higher mileage vehicle from a private party, there's no hope for any kind of warranty. Just make sure you love it - you'll need to. And have a great mechanic's number on speed-dial.

Jim Ellis Mazda Atlanta - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)