“How much mileage is good for a used car?” It’s an essential question: one that can significantly impact your ownership experience with a prospective car. The trouble is there’s no exact mileage figure that makes for a good or bad used car.
Let’s look at this a little differently. Who sounds healthier to you? A 38-year-old who’s never seen the inside of a gym, or a 68-year-old marathoner who can run circles around people half his age. You can’t know who’s healthier, just like mileage not being the sole indicator of a vehicle’s condition.
Of course, a used car’s mileage is an easy benchmark to look at, but it goes way beyond this when considering putting a new-to-you luxury ride in your garage. Let’s first look at some key used car considerations that work together with vehicle mileage.
Know A Vehicle’s History
Arguably as important as a used car’s mileage is also knowing about its history. Was it in an accident? Was maintenance performed per the manufacturer’s recommended schedule?
So, which car sounds more appealing? An 84,000-mile, 7-year-old performance SUV with three owners and no service records or a one-owner 11-year-old performance SUV with 108,000 and a complete service history.
It’s a safe bet that a good mechanic would choose the 11-year-old vehicle because there are no surprises; everything from a repair and maintenance history is known. With that newer SUV changing ownership too frequently, there’s a greater chance that vital maintenance was skipped. Or worse, it’s changed hands so many times for a reason.
Buying any used car involves a degree of risk. The more that is known about a vehicle’s background lessens the uncertainty and increases peace of mind. In a day when a car’s history is one click away (thanks CarFax and AutoCheck), there’s no excuse not to dig deeper.
Identifying Known Issues
Knowing a car’s service and repair history goes hand-in-hand with known issues for a particular vehicle. While no vehicle is flawless 100% of the time, some cars are known for specific problems. For example, the IMS bearing (which transfers power to the wheels) in some 1997-2008 Porsche 911 and Boxster models are known to fail. And, we’re talking catastrophic (meaning expensive) failure.
So, that low-mileage 2005 911 you discovered may seem like a fantastic bargain, but if it still has the original IMS bearing, then a massive headache could be waiting for you around the next corner. In other words, mileage matters only so much if there are other issues with the car.
Look at Recalls and Service Bulletins
At some point in time, every vehicle manufacturer has issued a recall. Think about the very complex nature of today’s automobiles, and this comes as no surprise. While the manufacturer will pay for recall repairs, it’s important to know if a car you are considering has been recalled and if the problem has been fixed.
This is especially important when dealing with components like the engine or transmission. An ignored recall in these areas could result in more damage to the car later on. Always check for recalls at https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/.
Just as important as checking for a recall is learning about a technical service bulletin (TSB). Sometimes referred to as secret recalls, TSBs are advisories provided by car manufacturers to guide dealer service departments on particular mechanical problems with certain cars. These don’t have the legal ramifications of an official recall but are important nonetheless. In some instances, the manufacturer will pick up the tab for a TSB repair; in other cases, it’s on your dime. Just like with recalls, an uncorrected TSB issue can lead to more significant damage to the car.
Car Parts Matter
A car is only as good as its parts. So understanding how mileage affects a vehicle’s major systems can be helpful. Of course, always have a potential purchase checked out by a professional mechanic, but here are some things to consider.
Engine: For the most, engines in modern upscale cars tend to be reliable and predictable. You can always find examples of complete engine failure, but usually, it’s because of a problem with an individual component. The trick is trying to identifying potential problem areas BEFORE they become issues.
Of course, ensuring a vehicle receives regular maintenance is part of it (which goes back to the importance of knowing a car’s history). One of the areas to check is the used car’s timing belt or timing chain. If the vehicle has a lifetime timing chain, then you’re good to go. However, for vehicles requiring a replacement, this will typically occur every 60,000-100,000 miles.
Check the manufacturer’s guideline for this and include it into your equation if a particular used car is worthwhile.
Transmission: Consider that at some point in a car’s life, the gearbox will need work. Yes, you hear stories about an ancient Lexus with 250,000 miles and the original transmission, but those are more likely exceptions than the rule. On the other hand, finding a 15-year-old RX330 with a recently rebuilt transmission means that you may not care about its 160,000 miles on the odometer when you don’t have to worry about the transmission. If the car is manual, then it’s a question of when, not if, the clutch gets replaced.
Brakes: Like a clutch, brakes wear out somewhere between 30,000 to 70,000 miles. Buying a used 60,000-mile Mercedes with original brakes means there’s a brake job in your near future. Consider this when shopping and negotiating.
Tires: Of course, tires don’t last forever either. That great deal on a three-year-old BMW may seem less inviting when you discover you’ll soon need to replace the original rubber. Always look at tread wear and manufacture dates as most tire companies recommend replacing tires that are older than six years regardless of tread condition.
Mileage Ranges For Used Premium Cars
Now, let’s look at suggested mileage ranges for used vehicles from some luxury and performance brands. Of course, there will be exceptions; it will depend on what you find in the used car market. And, you’ll also want to consider how much you drive and your plans for how long you’ll keep the car.
In short, there’s no definitive answer when asking, “What is considered high mileage for a used car?” 100,000 miles might be excessive for one car while absolutely fine for another. Let’s dive in.
Audi: As with other premium German brands, the more complex a car, the fewer miles you want on the odometer. For example, an A8 will be loaded with complex drivetrain components, while an A3 or A4 will have more straightforward systems. For top-tier Audis, shoot for less than 75,000 miles while you can look at entry-level models with up to 125,000 miles.
BMW: There’s a reason BMWs and other European lux brands have resale values that sink like a stone; it all has to do with uncertainty. Buyers are unsure about reliability. With this in mind, look at 3-series and 5-series models with up to 125,000 miles but cut this number in half if there’s an “M” on the badge. On the SUV side, you can consider similar mileage ranges as well.
Lexus: Toyota’s reputation for bullet-proof reliability certainly extends to its luxury brand, and strong resale values back this up. Even Lexus’ top-tier models tend not to be as complex as its German rivals. Given the right conditions, a used Lexus can easily perform well with 150,000 or more miles.
Mercedes: As with Audi and BMW, longevity with a used Mercedes is best maintained with simpler models that have up to 125,000 miles. Tread carefully with AMG-flavored Mercs.
Porsche: Porsche has two advantages in the used car arena: an overall solid reputation for reliability (when regular maintenance is performed religiously) and that many Porsche owners don’t use their cars as daily drivers. As such, look at well-maintained Porsches with up to 150,000 miles.
Tesla: Skipping the original Roadster, Teslas have less than ten years of a track record for reliability. Some reports are great, others not so much. So, it’s hard to nail things down for Tesla. However, with fewer operating components, used Tesla buyers should primarily consider a car’s battery pack, brakes, and wheel/suspension system.
Also, check out body and cabin fit and finish. So, if you are considering a used Tesla, make sure the battery pack still has a decent remaining capacity (in the 90% range). That said, check out used models with up to 150,000 miles. Keep in mind that a replacement Tesa battery pack can cost up to $7,000 to replace, but it can be swapped out in segments.
Again, always review the car’s history and condition. And have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic before buying.