Reader Question: High-Mileage Tundra?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Nate asks: What is your take on buying a 2013 Tundra with 220k miles? One owner, mostly highway miles and well maintained apart from the transmission fluid has never been changed. I’ve heard many different things about changing transmission fluid, but that last detail is what gives me pause. I don’t believe the owner towed anything. I’ll also be getting a dealer inspection. I’m thinking that the truck could go for another 100k or longer as is before needing serious work. On the other hand, if I had to replace the transmission for example, I would still be spending less total than a lower milage Tundra. I’m guessing there are other folks who might benefit from your views on this tradeoff, given the increased affordability of high-mileage trucks.

My reply: How often did the previous owner perform other normal maintenance, such as engine oil/filter, axle/transfer case lube, brake fluid flush, coolant system flush – and so on? I ask specifically even though you mention it was well-maintained apart from the transmission fluid never having been changed.

And: How does the body – and frame – check out? Though it’s a young truck, rust can happen fast, if the truck was subjected to lots of road salt and not much washing.

I’d want to be sure about these things.

But assuming the truck checks out sound and assuming the price is right, I think the risk in re the transmission fluid not ever having been changed is a risk worth taking. As you mention, even if the transmission needs work at some point, the cost of that work will probably be less than the cost of a lower-mileage example and you may never have to pay it.

There is risk, certainly.

This is true with any used vehicle. With any new vehicle, for that matter – though of course warranty covers the cost. But not the hassle. But you can reduce your risk – as a general thing – by sticking with known-solid makes/models.

This Tundra is only eight years old – barely – and while it has high miles for its years, these trucks are known to be very sturdy and very reliable. They are also comparatively free of obnoxious (and expensive) electronics, another big plus in terms of long-term reliability/lower-cost-to-keep.

I do wish the prior owner had serviced the transmission fluid/filter. But, the good news is the worst-case scenario  – the transmission needs to be replaced/rebuilt – the cost for that should not be more than $3,000  . . .(see here) and you may never have to pay it.

Plus: You can get a good used replacement, if need be, for much less than that.

Assuming you get even two trouble-free years out of the truck – that’s lowball and very probable – you’re already ahead.

Even if you end up paying $3k for a rebuilt tranny that’s the equivalent of about $120/month over two years and so about a third the cost of the typical new car payment and not factoring the new car’s steeper depreciation and higher cost to insure, plus tax.

What I’d do if I were you is put $100/month into a “just in case” fund for just in case. Two years from from now,you’ll have $2,400 in your cookie jar, close to as much as you’d need to have the tranny rebuilt and more than you’d need if you just swapped in a good used unit.

Now you can sail without worry – and if nothing goes wrong, you’ve got $2,400-plus for whatever else comes up!

. . . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I brought a transmission back from the dead with Amsoil and a good filter. Never have one flushed. YMMV but it’s worth a try. It wasn’t instantaneously and took a couple months to get the torque converter to lock up as it should but it stopped the leak in 3 weeks.


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