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How Many Miles on a Used Car is Considered too Much?

Each used car can be very different based on several different factors, but usually, the industry standard for average miles driven per year is between twelve and fifteen thousand annually.

This means that a ten-year-old, used vehicle with between 120,000 and 150,000 miles is considered average. A used vehicle that has been driven 100,000 miles is considered low while one that has been driven more than 150,000 is high.

This is the simplest gauge of what is considered average, low, and too high, but there are other factors to be considered that could make a high-mileage vehicle even better than a low-mileage one. Some of the best vehicles on the road can have well over 200,000 miles, but this is the maximum lifespan of many vehicles before they start needing extensive repairs.

What is Vehicle Lifespan?

Vehicle lifespan is the maximum amount of driven miles a vehicle should be able to achieve before starting to need extensive repairs. Even the best vehicles often need tune-ups and minor repairs from time to time, but large issues like a transmission failure, engine component issues, and major suspension problems can factor into vehicle lifespan.

Since a vehicle’s engine is usually the largest and most important component, it is often the largest factor in measuring lifespan. 

Misconceptions/Myths About High-Mileage Used Vehicles

used vehicle odometer

The average vehicle on the road today is about eleven years old. Because of this, there are plenty of vehicles with high mileage that could end up in a used car lot for you to consider as your next purchase. But, there are many misconceptions about vehicles with higher-than-average miles. 

The 100,000-Mile Myth

The 100,000-mile myth is a popular misconception that sides with one of two beliefs. The first belief is that once a vehicle hits 100,000 miles, it essentially becomes a useless money pit. The second belief is that most cars with 100,000 miles have basically just become broken in.

Both beliefs can be true depending on many different things. Some well-built vehicles can go for 300,000 miles without issues if they are taken care of, and others have a litany of issues from the factory, despite being well maintained.

Inexpensive Cars That Used to Be Expensive Equals a Good Deal

Depreciation is the loss of a vehicle’s value over time. Nearly all vehicles depreciate with few exceptions, but not all vehicles depreciate at the same rate, and the miles do not always have a direct correlation with how much a vehicle depreciates.

Many expensive luxury vehicles actually depreciate more than more common vehicles and can be found with relatively low miles and affordable price tags. Just because they used to be the top-of-the-line vehicles when they were new, does not mean that they have become the best used car now.

Just Because it Looks Bad, Doesn't Mean it IS Bad

Very few people want a vehicle that is all scratched up, but a good running and driving vehicle may be better than its exterior or interior might suggest.

In fact, a vehicle with average or below average miles with no apparent engine or transmission issues might be cheaper than a vehicle with more miles that looks nicer. If you do not care about how the car looks but need a means of transportation, you might be able to find a hidden gem beneath a rough exterior.

Older is Always Better Than Newer

The phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to” is used quite a bit, and it can hold some truth, but it is not always the case.

Many older vehicles were simpler with fewer electronics, more mechanical parts, and more room under the hood. But, many modern vehicles are well-built with proven technology that works for years.

Vehicles With Higher Than Average Miles Are No Good

Vehicles with higher than average miles are often used for travel. Many times, these miles are accrued on the highway. Highway miles are not the same as in-town miles which, in turn, are not the same as idling miles.

Idling for long periods of time is actually worse for an engine than when it is being driven. Stop-and-go driving is also harder on your engine than driving consistently on a highway for a long time.

As a result, a vehicle that has been driven a lot on the highway and that has higher-than-average miles may be in better shape than a comparable vehicle with half the miles that has functioned as a grocery-getter its entire life.

Factors That Could Make a High-Mileage Vehicle Worth Buying

used vehicle miles

There are several factors in addition to miles that must be considered when buying a vehicle. Miles alone are rarely an indicator of whether or not a used vehicle is good. Miles driven, whether above or below average for the year, should be considered in tangent with all of these considerations to get a better picture of a vehicle’s overall shape. 

Overall Condition

You can tell a lot from the overall condition of a vehicle, and it is one of the primary indicators of a used vehicle’s potential, regardless of how many miles it has. It is always good to have a mechanic check out a used vehicle for you, but it is easy to give it a test drive, listen for strange sounds, look it over inside and out, and observe its condition thoroughly. Chances are that if a vehicle was taken care of, it will look and perform better than one that has not been, especially if it has a lot of miles.

Vehicle History

We have access to several different vehicle record checking services like Carfax and Autocheck that attempt to show us what any given car has been through during its life.

These are helpful since it gives us a glimpse into a vehicle’s history, showing us things like service records, accident reports, and title issues. But, this is not the only thing to consider concerning vehicle history.

It is also important to view a specific make and model’s history. Subaru and Porsche, for example, use a unique type of engine in all of their vehicles called a boxer or flat engine. These types of engines have several characteristics, common fail points, and maintenance needs that differ from the conventional straight and “V” engines that may be helpful to consider if you are looking for one of these vehicles.

Though these engines have proven both good and bad at various times and in various models, it is important to understand a nuance like this so you can be as informed as possible when it comes time to buy.

Vehicle Track Record

Vehicle track record is similar to vehicle history in many ways, but researching specific makes and models based on their performance in the past can also be helpful.

A vehicle like the Toyota Corolla is a good example of this. With only a few exceptions, Corollas are known to generally last a long time. Of course, this does not mean they are not without their flaws – like any other vehicle – but it could mean that buying a Corolla with higher miles than normal may not pose as much of a risk as buying another vehicle that has a consistent record of issues.

Vehicle Redesign Timeframe and Component Use Timeframe

Redesign and component timeframes are often overlooked as an important part of vehicle purchases, but it can be very helpful. Most vehicles are redesigned every three to six years, and when that occurs, it may be a complete redesign or partial redesign.

It is usually wise to avoid buying a vehicle a year or two after it was redesigned, especially if a manufacturer is using all new components and technology almost everywhere. This is because long-term, real-world testing has not yet been conducted and a vehicle has a greater chance of encountering issues.

A good example of this is the Honda Civic. It was completely redesigned in 2016. Despite the Civic’s stellar reputation, it encountered major issues with its new infotainment system in the 2016 and 2017 model years. These issues seem to have been worked out in later model years. 

Redesign timeframes are not as big of an issue in vehicles that are redesigned but that also generally keep the same main component setup as a previous generation vehicle.

Again, a good example of this is the Toyota Corolla. It was completely redesigned in 2014, but both the outgoing model and newly-redesigned vehicle used the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Even though minor updates to the engine were made, a major proven component was carried over from the previous generation, allowing a relatively seamless transition.

A transition like this also means there is less risk in buying a used, high-mileage vehicle shortly after a major redesign year. 

Final Thoughts

12,000 to 15,000 miles driven per year is the industry average for a vehicle, but there are more than driven miles that need to be taken into consideration when trying to figure out how many miles is too many.

The type of miles driven by the previous owner, the design of the vehicle, the components used within the vehicle, whether or not the vehicle was properly maintained, and vehicle history all need to be used in tangent with driven miles to determine how many is too many.

Generally speaking, the 200,000-mile mark is considered to be too many by the average driver, though there are several vehicles known to regularly exceed this mark and several that consistently fall short.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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