HOME GUIDES What Is Considered High Mileage For A Used Car? And Is It Safe To Buy One?

What Is Considered High Mileage For A Used Car? And Is It Safe To Buy One?

High Mileage car driving in the sunset
Nathan O. Resident Auto Enthusiast - Carpages.ca
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High Mileage car driving in the sunset

If you're in the market for a used car, you'll hear a lot of people talk about mileage – meaning the distance a car has driven over its lifetime. In particular, you'll hear over and over that you should avoid buying a ‘high mileage’ car.

But what is considered high mileage for a used car in the first place? And is it really that important?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at everything you need to know about mileage, from the per-year-average to the problems that begin to arise with a higher-mileage vehicle. We’ll also take a look at some other important factors to consider when buying a used car.

TSI VW engine

How Much Mileage is Too Much?

Let’s get straight to the point! The average mileage per year is about 24,000 kilometers.

To see if a car's mileage is within a reasonable range, simply multiply 24,000 by the car's age and see if the mileage reading on the odometer is higher or lower than that. You can also just divide the car's odometer reading by its age to get the average reading.

While most people like to compare cars' mileage to the average reading per year, others believe that any number passed 160,000 km – regardless of the car's age – should be enough to make a buyer cautious.

black car driving

Is a Car’s High Mileage Always A Deal-Breaker?

The short answer is no.

While some people are sticklers for low mileage on a used car, it doesn't mean that you should write off every decent-looking car with high mileage. Back in the day, old school odometers would "roll over" or go back to 000 miles/ kilometers once they reached a certain threshold (99,999 miles). This is probably how folks came up with the 160,000 km number, as it roughly converts to just under 100,000 miles.

According to Forbes, "motorists are holding onto their cars for longer than ever" these days. Whereas a car manufactured in the 30s could only last a little over six years, today's cars can clock in up to 400,000 kilometers. This is thanks to all the awesome technological advances that have allowed car manufacturers to create longer-lasting car parts at affordable rates.

busy downtown road

Besides Mileage, What Else Should You Consider When Buying A Used Car?

Mileage isn't the only thing you should be looking at in used cars. Here are five equally important questions you should be asking yourself when you're looking at used cars:

What Was The Car Used For?

Even if a car's mileage reads high, it won't mean much unless you know how those numbers were achieved. Certain driving conditions are rougher on cars than others – and I'm not just talking about rough terrain and bad weather.

Stop-and-go traffic isn't just annoying, it's also really bad for a car's engine in the long run. This is because the car isn't given enough time to cool – leading to the buildup of carbon deposits which can destroy the engine. Stop-and-go traffic is also hard on brakes and eventually wears down the car's braking system.

So even if the previous owner only used their car for a 20-minute commute to the city on weekdays, the traffic could have impacted the car's engine and braking system in some pretty significant ways. 

In this case, high mileage might actually be an indicator of less wear and tear! If a car was used extensively for long cross-country driving, the engine and braking system might actually be in better shape than a city car.

blue rally car on jack stand

How Often Was The Car Maintained?

This question is absolutely crucial for anyone looking at used cars, and is especially vital for those considering cars with mileage readings in the hundred thousands.

Buying a used car means considering both deferred and upcoming maintenance. Deferred maintenance refers to any upkeep and repairs that should have been done, but were ignored by the previous owner. Upcoming maintenance, on the other hand, refers to all the common issues that arise in cars that register mileages around 160,000 km and over.

So, how often should a car be serviced? Some experts believe that cars should go in for maintenance at the 5,000 km, 10,000 km, 20,000 km, 25,000 km, 50,000 km, 70,000 km, 90,000 km, and 160,000 km marks. Always remember to ask about the car's maintenance history AND request for the maintenance records so you can double-check if the seller is telling the truth.

Aside from servicing, you should also ask the seller about regular upkeep like washing, keeping the car covered during heavy rains and snow, and doing touch up jobs on the paint. Although these questions seem superficial, dirt, dust, and mud can cause headlights to fade and certain parts to rust.

crashed black crown Victoria

How Old Is The Used Car?

Again, to reiterate, as technology becomes more advanced, car manufacturers can come up with better materials and reduce the amount of wear and tear newer cars receive over time. So even if a new car has raked in a lot of kilometers in a short amount of time, you can expect it to still be in better condition than some of the older cars on the lot. More on buying a new vs. used car here.

If you're looking at cars that are over 10 years old, you can expect to see some parts that are beginning to deteriorate. The parts that are most susceptible to wear and tear are the suspension arms, ball joint, steering rack, water pump, wheel bearings, fuel pump, flywheel, injector, and automatic gearbox. Rubber parts like wipers, timing belts, bushings, and hoses are also prone to dry rot, especially in more temperate climates.

Has The Car Ever Been Damaged Substantially?

Whether the car has been in a collision, a fire, or a flood, a used car dealer is supposed to be transparent and reveal any major damages done to the vehicle. Depending on the severity of the incident, any significant damage can affect a car's performance and safety – and should lower the car's resale value.

If you've noticed some suspicious signs of damage that don't match up with the seller's story, you can always download a CARFAX Canada report. This report gives you the Vehicle Identification Number and relays to you any existing liens and damages done to the car in the past.

What Is The Car's Make And Model?

As much as people hate to admit it, these two factors really affect a car's reliability over time. Two of the most durable and reliable brands are Toyota and Honda. Most used cars under these brands are still up and running well despite years behind them, and their parts are almost always easy to find.

What Kinds Of Problems Do We See With High Mileage Used Cars?

Before you buy that used car you've been eyeing, make sure to bring a mechanic with you when you meet up with the dealer or private seller and take it out for a test drive. Your mechanic should be able to help you scope out issues in their early stages and tell you what to prepare for in the near future.

Here are some of the most common issues we see with used cars that register higher odometer readings.

Orange Mustang MK1 engine bay

Fuel Pump Damage

If the previous owner frequently drove the used car on a low tank or let the tank run out completely, they've run the risk of eventually damaging the car's fuel pump. Ask the seller if these things have ever happened before so you know if you're in for a fuel pump repair any time soon.

Worn Out Brake Pads

As I mentioned, driving your vehicle frequently through stop-start traffic will wear out your brake pads faster than driving long distances. Even more so when you live in areas with a lot of steep hills. Make sure to ask the seller what their previous driving conditions were like, then test out the brakes as much as you can during the test drive to see if you'll have to replace the brake pads soon. Remember however, brake pads are one of the cheapest fixes you can do on your car so don't let that steer you away from an otherwise perfect used car.

Timing Belt Breakage

Depending on your engine's timing configuration, unresolved issues with your timing belt can cause major damages to your engine in the long run. If your engine is an interference type, the timing belt is there to keep the valve and the piston from colliding. If your timing belt snaps and they do crash into each other, this can damage either the valve, piston head, and even the cylinder wall.

To prevent all this from happening, it is suggested to replace the timing belt of used cars at about 100,000 km.

Automatic Transmission Failure

Oftentimes, problems with transmission have to do with the transmission fluid. If the transmission on a used car feels stiff or if the gear shifts awkwardly, you may end up having to check and replace the transmission fluid in due time.

Water Pump Leak

Water pumps are present in cars to deliver coolant to the engine. This keeps the car from overheating. Though water pumps don't break easily, the gaskets and seals can wear out over time, resulting in leakage. Unless you want to handle smoke coming out of your hood in the middle of a warm traffic jam, you shouldn't forget to check the water pump for leaks.

Dead Battery

Battery lifespans have less to do with how many kilometers the car runs and more to do with how often you use it. Batteries typically last about 5 to 6 years, so cars older than that are definitely up for a battery change in the near future.

Damaged Tires

Driving on worn out tires is a huge risk, especially when it's raining or snowing. You can end up hydroplaning, lose control of your brakes, and become more susceptible to tire blow-outs. Worn out tires can also lose air pressure more quickly, resulting in a reduction of control in steering and braking. If you're looking at a high-mileage car, always check the tires to ensure that they aren't worn out. If you can, just buy brand new tires. Better to be safe than sorry!

Clean Toyota 86 pearl white

How To Take Care Of High-Mileage Cars

Here’s a simple, two-part solution for looking after high-mileage cars:

  1. Treat your car with care. This means watching where you're going, avoiding bumpy roads, and avoiding hitting the brakes too hard. The better care you take of your car, the less chance there is of your car breaking down.
  2. Clean it regularly. Debris, grime, rust, animal droppings. All of these can slowly damage our cars' paint jobs and cause damage and corrosion.

Conclusion

Though high-mileage used cars are usually considered impractical and unreliable, this is a bit of an outdated mindset when it comes to modern vehicles. As long as you’re buying a car made post-2000 a high mileage vehicle shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. 

Whatever the case, when you’re looking at used cars, always bring a mechanic along to check for potential problems and signs of wear and tear. You should also be as thorough as possible with the seller, you want to make sure that you’re buying a safe car that will last for years to come.