Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Scott asks: In a recent article, you wrote that the sweet spot for depreciation of used cars was around 10 years. What about for mileage? Obviously the fewer miles the better, but at what point would you say “too many miles, keep moving?” Thanks.
My reply: This is one of those “it depends” questions. For example, a car with 100,000 miles that was regularly (and correctly) serviced, and which was treated well by its prior owner could be a much safer bet than a car with 50,000 miles that was not serviced regularly or correctly – and which was abused like a rented mule by its previous owner. Or, owners.
In other words, condition is a very important consideration – and mileage ought to be considered within that context.
That said, mechanical things – like almost everything – do have a useful service life. This doesn’t mean a given car might not still be operable after 250,000 miles or even 300,000 miles. However, after a certain number of years/miles, wear and tear inevitably begins to show. Repairs become more frequent. A point is reached when repair costs exceed the worth of the vehicle, or – put another way – you could spend less money on a newer/lower miles vehicle than it would cost you to keep the older/higher-miles vehicle operable.
With today’s cars, the problem is more acute because there are more things to potentially/inevitably wear out and many of these can cost so much individually that the repair (vs. the value of the car) becomes harder and harder to justify.
In my opinion – based on many years in the business, wrenching/driving/seeing – the average person – someone who relies on others to repair their vehicle and needs a reliable vehicle – should probably not consider a vehicle with more than 130,000 miles on the odometer, because it’s likely “little things” will begin to wrong before too many more miles accumulate.
The car itself – and the major components such as the engine – will probably be reasonably reliable for at least another 50,000 miles or more. Emphasis on probably.
But the likelihood of the car needing a clutch (if manual) or AC/major brake/exhaust work or a new transmission goes up. Lots of electrical items that can ding you, too.
If you have the skill/knowledge to repair a car – or at least, most of the “little things” which might go wrong with an older, higher-miles car – it’s less risky to buy a higher-miles car, because you can avoid high shop rates for many repairs (the main cost, usually) and deal with roadside breakdowns.
It’s really a question of your willingness to gamble. With any older, high-miles car you’re rolling the dice and taking a chance. Hopefully, you are prepared for the possibility of something expensive going wrong with the car – and are willing to accept that risk in return for the certainty of a low cost to buy the older/higher-miles car.
Meanwhile, “fingers crossed” – and hope for the best!
Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
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Considering the prices of new vehicles, for an older and simpler vehicle the cost of repairing it will never even approach the cost of a new one, or even a supposedly good used one which may have problems that you don’t know about. It won’t be “worth” what you put into it but it will be transportation.
The deal killer is rust or the body just generally falling apart. The mechanical stuff you can always fix.
Interesting: Here’s two other things to consider. 1) Some (many?) people have long distance commutes. For example, I drive 30,000 miles a year just in commuting. Therefore, a 4 year old car might have 120k on the clock. This would be especially true for used cars selling in your hometown; you may find one that has been used as a long-commuter. So, I really don’t shy away from youthful used cars with high mileage. 2) Sometimes, a high mileage (200+k miles) car *has been completely gone over* over the course of its existence. Especially the timeframe from 130k-200k miles. I agree w/Eric, lotsa fixin needed after 130k. However, after you PUNCH THRU that period, about all major things on your car have been replaced! Now, you are in a 2nd sweet spot.
For example, I have a 95 Subaru 238k, that has essentially been worked over bumper-to-bumper on major things: Timing belt, clutch, water pump, brake lines, wheel bearings, exhaust pipes, alternator, various gaskets, etc., etc. I am pretty much now in a new “sweet spot”, and should be there for the foreseeable future. (3yrs/36,000 miles is my hope).
The threat with this is that something major would be a death knell for the car, then it becomes a judgment call on continuing with it.