What Makes A Good Mileage For A Used Car?

15/11/2016

What Makes A Good Mileage For A Used Car?

Everyone who works in the motor trade has been asked this question at some time. 

Car buyers will always want to stack the odds in their favour for getting a vehicle which will give them reliable service throughout their time of ownership. So they will carefully compare the amount of miles clocked up by every car they consider, and take this into account when making their decision.

But are they going about it in the right way? Quite possibly not.

Age Vs Mileage Vs Condition

This is the ‘eternal triangle’ of used car buying. There are clear benefits to buying a car which ticks at least the ‘good’ box for all three of these factors. But should you put a younger car higher on your list than one with a lower than average mileage for its age - or do both of these take a back seat to the actual condition of the car?

In simple terms, will a four-year-old car which has done 30,000 miles be more sound than one which is just two years old, but has done double the mileage?

It’s all good pub debating fodder - but realistically, your first benchmark should be the age of the car. This is because, in these days of manufacturers offering longer warranties from new on their vehicles, its age is likely to be the first factor which will exclude it from any such cover.

Is There Still A Warranty?

Kia, of course, has set a standard by offering a seven-year warranty from new on all its vehicles, closely followed by Hyundai, which will cover a vehicle for five years from its date of first registration. Toyota, too, offers a five-year warranty on all its cars from new - including its hybrids. These three are still well ahead of most manufacturers’ standard warranties, which run to three years.

But no matter what the length of a car’s warranty time-wise, there is likely to be a ceiling on the amount of miles for which cover will be provided. So even if a car is younger than the full length of its original warranty, any claims an owner makes against that warranty could be refused, if the mileage on the car is higher than is considered reasonable.

Don’t Rule A Car Out On Mileage Alone

Yet it’s a fact that plenty of cars which have done lots of miles will make a good second-hand buy. This could be for any of the following reasons:

  • The mileage is likely to mean that any teething problems will have been sorted early in the car’s life, and will be well behind it.
  • If the vehicle is an ex-company or fleet car, it could have spent much of its time travelling at relatively relaxed motorway cruising speeds. These are far healthier for an engine, and cause much less wear and tear than being driven in slower, regular stop-start traffic.
  • If the car has been used as business transport, its previous owner is likely to have stuck steadfastly to the servicing schedule, and have had this regular routine maintenance done by a main dealer - again meaning that any potential problems will have been quickly nipped in the bud. And a full service history is always something to look out for in any case - but is especially important the more miles the car has done.
  • One of the most important maintenance operations on any car is cam belt replacement. Manufacturers’ recommendations on when this should be done vary, but it’s worth finding out what they say for any specific model you’re interested in - you can usually find out from the manufacturer’s own website . You can then go through any service receipts to check when the work was last done - if at all. Because a cam belt/timing belt failure can wipe out a large part of the insides of a car’s engine - and lead to an eye-watering repair bill - you’ll be on more solid ground if you can ascertain if any cam belt replacement has been done, and when.
  • Similar principles often also apply to many consumable parts on a car, such as tyres, brake pads and shock absorbers. Even if a car has covered more miles than another near-identical one, if these consumable parts have been replaced when needed, and the buying dealer has been given the receipts to prove it, then that could still make it worth a place on your shortlist. Otherwise, you could still find yourself with a car which, on the face of it, has covered a reasonable mileage for its age, been serviced when it was due - but which still needed a set of new tyres or any of the other parts listed above at the time it was being sold, which could add a few hundred pounds to your purchase price.

Abuse Happens To Cars Of All Ages

Finally, a good gauge of whether a car might be a source of problems is in its overall condition, in other words, the way it has been treated by previous owners.

An enthusiastic driver can easily wear out a set of tyres and brake pads in less than half the time of a careful one. And if you come across a car which has been driven in this way, it may also show other signs of vigorous use, such as:

  • Disproportionate wear to the driver’s seat materials.
  • Ditto to the rubber on the brake and accelerator pedals.
  • Seat belts which don’t retract properly when you unfasten them.
  • Excess smoke from the exhaust.
  • Unfixed minor dents and scratches.
  • A general lack of care for the car’s upholstery and interior - and particularly, strong smells of tobacco smoke.
  • Serious scratches to the interior paintwork in the boot. This could indicate that the car has spent some of its time being used as a ‘load-lugger’. Of course, a car can be expected to carry loads within reason - but if the loadspace isn’t properly covered or adapted if large items have been carried, and damage has resulted, that’s another sign of possible abuse.

However, these signs can all be present in a car of almost any age, and with any mileage reading on the odometer. So they apply whenever you look at a used car, and should set off an alarm bell.

As Well As The Age Of The Car, Ask The Age Of Its Previous Owners

A caring, conscientious used car specialist such as Philip Paul will be well acquainted with cars showing any of the signs listed above. So they’ll make sure any of these problems are fixed - or, better still, will avoid buying such cars in the first place!

So we could answer the question which forms the title to this article with a simple “how long is a piece of string?”. But it’s really not as simple as that.

It’s well known that older drivers, by and large, use their cars less than younger ones, and treat them with more respect. As well as this, the types of journeys they undertake tend to be of a less demanding nature, such as to out-of-town shopping centres, or picking up the grandchildren from school.

A quick tip for working this out, if you can’t get the information from the dealer, is to check which radio stations are pre-set on the in-car system. If they’re the type which plays non-stop current chart music, thrash metal or hard house, then they’re almost certain to be a younger driver. If you see Radio 4 and Radio 2 showing prominently, however, that shows an older, and more likely more responsible, previous owner. We’re not suggesting this as a hard and fast rule, however - merely as a sign to be taken into account along with all the others mentioned in this article.

Finally, Look At The Mileage (But Don’t Let It Break The Deal)

It’s long been a rule of thumb in the motoring trade that ‘average mileage’ equates to 10,000 to 12,000 per year.

So do the sums in your head, and use this as a starting point for working out whether you think a car has been reasonably used. But you have to take this into account with all the other factors mentioned above when you’re coming to a decision - and in particular, you shouldn’t necessarily turn a car down just because the mileage seems to be higher than the above annual average.

What’s just as important is the way a car has been driven, the level of care taken of it by the previous owner(s), and the uses they’ve put the car to. And you’ll get a much better idea of all of these by looking at all the signs detailed above than you will by simply taking account of any odometer reading.

Also, if your budget can stretch to a newer car, as well as the remainder of any warranty, you will also benefit from likely improvements in safety features and technology over even an older version of the same model. So this might be another reason to consider a newer car with average or higher mileage.

Horses For Courses

Importantly, also bear in mind that different kinds of cars will typically be subjected to varying levels of use, simply because of the profile of the typical customer who buys them. So here, we present a handful of typical car types (giving a couple of models as an example of each), with ‘ball park’ figures for annual mileage. You should be able to use this as a guide - but importantly, bear in mind that there’s no such thing as the completely ‘average’ car. While these are approximate figures, the used car market is so wide and varied that the most important criterion for deciding whether a car has had fair and reasonable use is your own judgment.

And What Use Will You Make Of The Car?

You probably won’t think too much of this when you’re buying a used car beyond making sure that the car has enough space for all the luggage you’re likely to carry, that the seats are comfortable for all your likely passengers, and that it has all the extra bells and whistles you’re looking for (leather seats, a good sound system, alloy wheels, those kinds of things…).
But if you’re only going to be doing a low mileage yourself, you could easily consider a car which has already clocked up an average or even above-average distance - provided you’re happy with it under all the other criteria we’ve listed above. This will mean that you shouldn’t be penalised yourself when you come to sell the car on.

Also, bear in mind that if you’re buying a car which is seven or eight years old in the first place, its mileage will become less of a factor in how quickly its value depreciates during your ownership, as at about this age the ‘depreciation curve’ of any car has started to flatten out, and it loses a lower proportion of its value each year it continues to run.

No Substitute For Looking Closely

However difficult it may be, all this shows that it really pays to be as dispassionate as possible when you’re looking to buy a used car.

No amount of fancy add-ons and luxury trimmings can make up for a car which has had a hard life, and been maintained on a shoestring. And you often find that the higher the spec of the car, the less in proportion has been spent on maintaining it properly - simply because previous owners might have overstretched themselves financially.

A close look at the car will also mean you should be able to satisfy yourself that it hasn’t been involved in any accidents which have seen major repair work done, and which could still have a bearing on the working of both new and existing parts. Remember that a car can be involved in a serious crash as soon as it’s driven off the garage forecourt brand new - so whatever the mileage of any car you’re looking at, you can always invest in a vehicle history check which should uncover any such information. These are available from a variety of sources, but a reputable used car dealer should be happy for you to subject their cars to such a test before putting down your money. After all, they’re staking their good name on you being totally happy with your purchase, so any checks you want to carry out should be welcomed.

With so many used cars out there, one of the surest signs you can have that you’re getting a good buy is the reputation of the garage you’re buying from. So when you buy a used car from Philip Paul, you’re getting the assurance of buying from a company which is well established in the local area, and has a team with many decades’ experience of the motor trade. That’s put to good use in constantly searching out a range of cars which will meet the needs of our customers, and give them long and faithful service.