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What Is Good Mileage For A Used Car?

5-minute readFebruary 11, 2022

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New cars can be great to buy, but they aren't always in car buyers’ price ranges. If you're looking for an affordable alternative, buying a used car that's in good shape is a viable choice. When you buy used, the first thing you probably want to know is how many miles are on the odometer. This gives good insight into the way the car has been driven and how much life might be left in the motor.

What is good mileage for a used car, though? How can you know the difference between good miles and bad miles and whether the number on the dial of a preowned vehicle is reassuring or worrisome?

How Many Miles Should A Used Car Have?

Mileage is just one factor of many that should be considered when assessing a used car. One way to judge the relative wear and tear on a car is to compare the odometer reading to the average number of miles drivers put on their cars per year.

Since 2020 was an outlier, we’ll consider the average mileage from more typical years. According to 2019 data, you can expect previous owners to have put an average of 14,263 miles per year. So, you can expect a 5-year-old car with 70,000 miles on it to be good as far as mileage goes. Anything substantially higher suggests the car has more wear and tear than its counterpart with lower miles.

This isn't the end of the story, however. Standards for good mileage have changed over the years. Cars today are built with much stronger materials than they were decades ago. If the used car you're looking at shows higher mileage than what you'd expect, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to have mechanical trouble with the vehicle soon. Be sure to research the make and model of any vehicle you’re interested in.

Other Factors To Consider

One reason higher-than-normal mileage isn't necessarily the end of the world is that not all miles are equal. Cars that have an excess of highway miles, for instance, can usually get away with higher mileage than normal because cruising at stable speeds on flat, level highways puts less stress on the car than the stop-and-go traffic that city miles cause.

City Vs. Highway Miles

If it's at all possible, try to get information about how a used car was driven before you found it. If that 5-year-old car you're looking at has 80,000 highway miles because it was used for long-distance road trips, it may be in better shape than a car of the same make and model that has just 55,000 city-driving miles on the dial. City miles usually involve a lot of starting and stopping, putting extra wear on the car compared to straight, flat highway miles.

Towing History

In the same vein, be sure to look under the rear bumper of the used car you're interested in to see if there's a towing hitch. If not, are there fresh scrapes that suggest a hitch has been removed? Towing puts a strain on cars' engines, and if the used vehicle you're looking at has been pulling weight on a regular basis, the wear and tear on the engine and drivetrain could be a lot more than the mileage reading alone would suggest.

Owner History

Of course, as a prudent buyer, you're going to need to see the vehicle's history report before making up your mind. A 5-year-old car with 70,000 miles may be good mileage, but if it's had five owners, it will be harder to predict how the car was driven and maintained.

Title And Accident History

Likewise, your vehicle history report should include information about any accidents the car has been in, title history and whether it's been salvaged, and the service and maintenance records kept on the vehicle. This part counts for a lot when you're looking into the mileage. High mileage cars that have been properly serviced are almost always a better buy than lower-mileage cars that have been driven 50,000 miles without an oil change.

What Is Considered High Mileage?

To make things somewhat more complicated, what counts as a high-mileage vehicle is different from one model to another. Some car makers have a reputation for lasting longer than others. As a rule, newer used cars are built to last for more miles on the odometer than can be expected from older used cars.

The type of engine can also affect how many miles a car can last. The average gas-combustion cars can run up to 200,000 miles before mechanical issues send it into retirement. Meanwhile, diesel engines tend to be a bit more sturdy than gasoline engines. Premium models such as Powerstroke, Cummins and Duramax can easily make it to 250,000 miles or even 300,000 with proper maintenance.

Newer electric cars are expected to last 300,000 lifetime miles, though it remains to be seen how long they’ll last in reality. Given the average miles driven today, it would take 21 years until these engines meet their end.

No matter what kind of high-mileage used car you're driving, it can still be a good vehicle for you. Even the best, however, still need more TLC than a new car. Certain parts of a car are more prone to wear and tear than others, and you have to expect these components will need replacement more often. Some of the parts that tend to wear out and need to be replaced with regular use and their average cost to replace include:

In addition to replacing worn-out parts, you can keep a used car rolling through high miles by being careful with how you treat it. Using poor-quality oil, for example, tends to wear on every part of your engine and may damage the piston rings that seal the engine's cylinders.

Be extra careful about keeping fresh transmission fluid in the car, since transmissions tend to wear out above 100,000 miles. Water pumps often break between 60,000 and 90,000 miles. Rust is also a threat to many used cars, especially older classics that may not have been properly rust proofed when they were new.

Used Car Mileage Chart Example

One of the nice things about owning a used car is that it tends to depreciate slower and more predictably than new cars. New cars lose 10% of their value on the day they're driven off the lot, followed by further losses with each year. That depreciation tends to slow down over time, and used cars more than 5 years old have been through most of their rapid loss in value.

A used car with a good vehicle history report that shows regular maintenance and repairs generally loses about 8 cents a mile in value, which can add up over time. Here's what that looks like, assuming your car is expected to last 200,000 miles and you drive on average 14,250 miles in the first year, then 12,000 miles per year after, with a hypothetical initial value of $30,000:

Years

Average Mileage

Depreciation Percentage

Car Value

1

14,250

6%

$28,200

2

24,000

12%

$26,400

3

36,000

18%

$24,600

4

48,000

24%

$22,800

5

60,000

30%

$21,000

6

72,000

36%

$19,200

7

84,000

42%

$17,400

8

96,000

48%

$15,600

9

108,000

54%

$13,800

10

120,000

60%

$12,000

11

132,000

66%

$10,200

12

144,000

72%

$8,400

13

156,000

78%

$6,600

14

168,000

84%

$4,800

15

180,000

90%

$3,000

Source: Depreciation vs. Mileage Reimbursement

The Bottom Line

All things being equal, low mileage used cars are ideal if you can find one, but high mileage is not the end of the world. All kinds of factors – from the car's calendar age to the way it's been driven to the type of engine it has – can affect the lifespan and resale value of the car.

As you’re shopping, be sure you know where to look for used cars and research the average lifetime of the make and model of the vehicle. Always properly maintain your car to retain its value and keep it on the road for a long time.

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