Which Is More Important When Buying a Used Car: Mileage or Age?

Which Is More Important When Buying a Used Car: Mileage or Age?

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You’re in the market for a used car and want something that will last. Maybe you’re looking for your dream car. Maybe just for something reliable enough to get you from Point A to Point B.


Either way, you probably have two big things on your mind as you’re browsing the used car market: mileage and age. Both more mileage and more years on a car mean more wear and tear, more failing parts, less useful life. No matter what, a car wears out over time if you use it at all.


Should Mileage or Age Be Your Priority?

Well, they are equally important. Both lead to the same thing: increased costs. At the same time, they are not necessarily directly related to one another.


In most cases, the older a car is, the more miles it has on it. But not in all cases. You can sometimes find a car that is pretty old but has incredibly few miles on it, or a car that is only a year or two old but has 50,000 miles or 100,000 miles on it. Just about any combination of age and miles can be found in a car for sale somewhere or other.

How Age Affects a Car

If parts are designed to last a certain number of miles, you may wonder how the age of the car can be all that important. In some cases, it’s not. With respect to maintenance and repairs, age is usually not nearly as important as accumulated miles.


Depending on how well the previous owner took care of the car, though, age may be as important as mileage. If the owner never cleaned the car inside or out, or if he lived somewhere with lots of rain and snow, the car may be in much worse shape than its mileage alone would suggest.


Age is also relevant in another important respect. The older a car is, the more likely it is to be missing many of the great technological and safety features that have become standard in modern automobiles. If you’re switching from a newer car to an older one, you may have to do without some great features you’ve gotten accustomed to.


On the other hand, the older a car is, the more affordable it tends to be.


What Is the Best Age for a Used Car?

The best age for a used car is hard to narrow down, since the effect of age depends in part on regional conditions and how it has been treated by previous owners. As a rule of thumb, though, try to find a car that is no more than ten years old or so.


To be sure, you may discover a wonderful car that is 15 years old. But a maximum of about ten to 12 years should give you a pretty nice car as long as it has been well-maintained.


If you are especially concerned about safety, focusing on two of the countless safety and tech advances that have been made over the years will help you narrow your search. First, all vehicles made since September 2007 must have a tire pressure monitoring system, which lets you know if you have any low tires. Second, all vehicles made since 2012 must have electronic stability control, which helps you maintain control of the car when road conditions are poor.

Why Mileage Matters

Car parts are designed to last for only a certain number of miles. As the number of miles on the odometer ticks higher and higher, more and more parts will need to be replaced, whether because they are failing or because they are close to failing.


Car repairs are expensive. It is estimated that here in Canada, car owners spend an average of almost $800 per year on maintenance. This is just the average. You could go a year or two with no repairs, then suddenly get hit with a repair bill in the thousands.


Expensive repairs are more likely as the odometer adds miles. You get more time from a low- mileage car before parts start to fail.


How Much Mileage Is Good for a Used Car

Fewer miles usually mean less wear and tear on parts, so the best number of miles for a used car is a number as low as possible. All other things being equal, pick the car with the lowest mileage.


Mileage pertains to the average number of miles driven per year. Here in Canada, the average distance driven per year is 15,200 kilometers (about 9,445 miles). This means that if you’re looking at a five-year-old car, total mileage would be about 76,000 kilometers. A similar car that has accumulated fewer kilometers over the same period is regarded as low-mileage; one with more kilometers as high-mileage.


This is just a rule of thumb. Typically, though, you don’t want to go for anything that has way more mileage than you would expect in light of these averages. Problems crop up quickly on a high-mileage car, and you usually have to pay more to keep it running and in good repair.


Maintenance Matters

In addition to mileage and age, you also need to consider how well the car has been maintained. In some cases, the maintenance history of a used car is even more important than the first two characteristics.


No matter how new a car is or how few miles it has, these advantages may be no advantage at all if the used car you’re looking at has not been kept up well. For example, if a manufacturer recommends that the oil be changed every 3,000 miles, but the car has 12,000 on it and the oil has never been changed . . . that’s a problem. Despite the low mileage, you may well end up making some very expensive repairs very soon.


On the other hand, an older car with relatively high mileage isn’t necessarily a pass. Perhaps the car has maintenance records from the day it was purchased brand-new, and you can see that everything has been perfectly maintained. A car in this kind of condition may be a much better buy than a car that is newer and has fewer miles but has been poorly maintained.



If you buy a brand-new car off the showroom floor, you’re almost always paying a huge premium simply because it’s brand-new. As soon as you drive it off the lot, you can slash off a fifth of its value; from that point on, it’s a used car. Often you’re better off getting a used car to begin with. Age, mileage, maintenance history—it all matters. When looking for a used car, pay attention to all three and you’ll find the perfect car in no time. CarDigest is here to help if you need it. Good luck with your search!


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