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What’s More Important When Purchasing a Used Car: Model Year or Mileage?

    4 minute read

    With inventory shortages and ongoing price changes, the used car market isn’t what it used to be. According to Cox Automotive, the average listing price for a used car was $26,202 at the end of March. Although significantly lower than the cost of a new vehicle—$48,008 on average—used car prices are still higher today than before 2020.

    If you’re in the market for a used car, you may wonder what to consider before deciding on a vehicle. Besides your personal needs, much of your decision will typically boil down to two key factors: a car’s age and mileage. But is one more important than the other?

    Understanding A Used Car’s Mileage and Its Importance

    a zoomed in view of a car's odometer with 27,000 miles

    A used car’s mileage is often one of the most significant factors that determine its price. When searching for a used vehicle, you’ll inevitably come across similar models with different odometer readings. But what is considered high mileage?

    Generally, a vehicle is considered to have high mileage once it surpasses 100,000 miles. Many consumers believe they should avoid cars with excessive mileage due to potential mechanical issues. Although it is something to weigh, modern advancements in car manufacturing have enabled cars produced in the last 20 years to last well after the 100,000-mile mark with proper maintenance and care.

    How a car was used to reach the 100,000-mile mark is equally important. Over time, shorter trips in the city can cause a lot more wear and tear to a vehicle compared to longer highway commutes. That’s because car engines are put under greater stress if they’re constantly being turned off and on versus only starting twice a day. With this in mind, a well-maintained commuter car with 100,000 miles may be better than a lower-mileage car used in the city without proper maintenance history.

    Mileage is important when considering a used car. Still, it alone does not give you a complete picture to base your decision on.

    Understanding a Used Car’s Age and Its Importance

    a used car for sale at a used car lot. Car is priced at $25,995 and has bright neon colors

    Another scenario you may encounter when searching for a used car is an older vehicle with low miles. If 100,00 miles is considered high mileage, what is considered low? According to the Federal Highway Administration, drivers add around 13,000 miles to their vehicles annually. So, if a vehicle is 10 years old with only 70,000 miles, it is considered a low-mileage vehicle.

    However, as with a high mileage vehicle, it’s important to get as much information on the vehicle’s history when considering an older model. For example, how often was the oil changed? Has it had any major repairs? Was it used frequently or not? Asking these questions will help you understand how a vehicle was used and how it will perform as it ages. This is especially true for older cars with a low mileage reading. In these situations, you must review the maintenance history to ensure the vehicle wasn’t involved in a major accident or hasn’t sat unused for too long.

    Remember that older vehicles are less likely to have advanced safety features, such as forward collision warnings and backup cameras. If these features are important to you, a newer vehicle with higher mileage may be a better option. Additionally, it’s more likely that an older vehicle will no longer have its manufacturer’s warranty or pre-owned certification available.

    So, Does Mileage or Age Matter More When Buying a Used Car? 

    a person getting the keys to their new car

    As we’ve discussed, there is no hard-set answer to the question, “does car mileage or age matter more when purchasing a used car?” Although both are essential factors, a vehicle’s service and maintenance history should hold more weight. For example, a 6-year-old car with 30,000 miles may seem like a great deal until you learn that the previous owner never performed any routine maintenance or care. Still, with vehicle improvements and added safety features, choosing a newer car may be the better option.

    If you’re torn between a high mileage or an older car, consider how you will use the vehicle before purchasing. An older car with low miles may be a better option if you plan to add a significant amount of miles onto it.

    To fully understand a vehicle’s condition, we recommend having it inspected by a certified mechanic before finalizing the purchase. Although a new paint coat and clean interior can make a car look brand new, there may be mechanical defects not visible to the untrained eye. After the car inspection, you’ll better understand the car’s overall condition and what may need replacing or repairing down the line. An inspection may cost around $100 to $300, but purchasing a car without performing one first can cost you even more.

    Insuring a Used Car 

    The process for insuring a used car is the same as insuring a new car. Depending on where you live, you’ll be required to purchase your state’s minimum car insurance coverage and likely recommended to purchase additional coverage, like collision and comprehensive. Your insurance premium price will ultimately depend on several factors, such as your driving history, location, and the type of car you are buying. If you have a general idea of the car you’ll purchase, getting a car insurance quote before finalizing your search will help you estimate your overall costs.

    At AIS, we make it easy to compare auto insurance quotes from our network of trusted insurance providers. With over 55 years of experience, our insurance specialists know the right questions to ask to find the best coverage options for you. If you have any questions or want to learn more about our insurance partners, call us today at (888) 772-4247.

    The information in this article is obtained from various sources and is offered for educational purposes. Furthermore, it should not replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.