How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

Posted by in Auto | Updated on May 27, 2023
At a Glance: As a rule of thumb, a used car should have no more than 12,000 miles for each year since the car was originally bought. For instance, a five year old car should have 60,000 or less miles on it.

At a Glance: Car owners drive around 12,000 per year on average, which is a good rule of thumb for deciding how many miles a used car should have. For example, if the car is 5 years old, it should have 60,000 miles or less.

When buying a used car, people tend to have difficulty gauging the value of the vehicle. Sure, a secondhand car will be easier on your wallet than a brand-new car, but how do you judge whether the used car is worth the money you pay?

After all, there’s not much you can see on a used car other than the car’s appearance and the mileage on the odometer. It’s not possible to tell what kind of repairs and maintenance it has gone through or the places it has been.

So, how do you judge whether a used car is the right one for you? How many miles should it have?

What’s a Good Mileage on a Used Car?

The general rule of thumb to calculate a reasonable mileage is to assume that car owners drive at least 12,000 miles each year on average. That is:

12,000 x Age of the car = Reasonable mileage

This means that if you are getting a car that has been used for eight years, the reasonable mileage on the car should ideally be:

12,000 x 8 = 96,000

This means that if the car has considerably fewer or higher miles than 96,000, it is highly likely that the car will face some problems. However, it is essential to remember that mileage is just one factor in this equation.

You need to keep in mind several other factors before buying a used car that might change the way you look at the mileage. For instance, has the car been with a single owner or many owners? Is the car a highway car, or has it been driven mainly in the city? Are you getting a rental car as a secondhand car? Answering these questions might help you gauge whether the mileage that you see on the odometer is a good reading or not.

Some specific examples

Let’s take a look at some examples of how many miles a used car should have assuming it is December 1, 2022, and all cars were bought on the same date in the corresponding year:

  • How many miles should a 2016 car have in 2022? A used 2016 car should have around 72,000 miles.
  • How many miles should a 2017 car have in 2022? A used 2017 car should have around 60,000 miles.
  • How many miles should a 2018 car have in 2022? A used 2018 car should have around 48,000 miles.
  • How many miles should a 2019 car have in 2022? A used 2019 car should have around 36,000 miles.
  • How many miles should a 2020 car have in 2022? A used 2020 car should have around 24,000 miles.

How Many Miles on a Used Car Are Too Much?

As we have already mentioned, mileage is not the only factor that comes into play when judging a used car’s tax value. This is why it becomes challenging to get an exact figure of what would be “too many” miles on a used car.

For example, think about a 10-year-old sedan that has 90,000 miles under its belt. Going by the mileage, it seems like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? However, if this sedan has been driven by four or five owners previously, it’s advisable to stay away from it. This is because it is implausible that all previous owners would have maintained the car with the same rigor and diligence that a single owner might have put in. This means that even if it has a lesser mileage under its belt, this sedan is likely ready for scrap.

How Many Miles on a Used Car Is Too Little?

Just as we can’t tell how many miles on a car is “too much,” we can’t really say how many miles is “too little.”

Take, for instance, a used car that has been with the previous owner for 10 years. Now, the average mileage it should have gone through is 120,000 miles, but the odometer shows 30,000, and the car looks to be in excellent condition. In this case, it wouldn’t be wise to pass up on this car merely based on the mileage. This is because such a car is likely to have been regularly maintained in a garage, which means that it’s actually a brilliant deal.

Is It Wise To Buy a Car With High Mileage?

A lot of people shopping for used cars tend to pass up on cars that have higher mileage. However, this might not be such a great idea. There are several reasons behind this. Technology has advanced over the years, which means that cars today last much longer than they used to. A used car is also not likely to depreciate as much as a brand-new car would, which means that the car’s high mileage has flattened the depreciation curve.

It’s also important to remember that a car with a higher mileage means that it has been driven enough for regular fluid changes and the burning of carbon build-up to have taken place — something which you will not see in a car with low mileage.

Is Buying a Car With Over 50,000 Miles Bad?

Not necessarily. When looking at the mileage of a used car, it would be better to see how much mileage you are more likely to get out of the car than how much mileage the car has already gone through. To do this, you would need to consider the age of the car.

The average life of a car in the U.S. is 12 years. This means that if you buy a used car that is five years old with 50,000 miles under its belt, you are left with nearly seven years of driving. If, like the average car owner, you tend to put in 12,000 miles a year, you are left with 7 x 12,000 miles which is 84,000 miles. As such, despite the 50,000 miles on the car, it is likely to be a decent buy, especially if it has been maintained regularly.

What’s More Important: Mileage or Age?

 Mileage and age don’t often go hand in hand. That being said, when purchasing a used car, it’s better to make a judgment based on the mileage that the car has already put in, rather than just looking at how old the car is. This is because the car’s mileage affects the suspension and the engine the most, which means that the service life of a used car is highly dependent on it. This is why you might notice a six-year-old car with a mileage of 100,000 going for a higher price than a car that’s 10 years old with a similar mileage under its belt.

Not All High-Mileage Vehicles Are Equal

It wouldn’t be wise to compare two vehicles with the same mileage reading on the odometers without first knowing the kind of mileage the cars have gone through. For example, if one of the cars has been driven on highways or less congested areas, it is likely to be in better condition than one driven mostly in congested areas with slow-moving traffic.

Another essential factor that you need to consider is how dedicated the previous owner was when it came to repairs and maintenance. It goes without saying that a well-maintained car with regular servicing would be in better condition than one with the same mileage that hasn’t been regularly maintained.

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As you can see, it wouldn’t be wise to go by the mileage alone when purchasing a secondhand car. This is why it’s a good idea to have a detailed vehicle history drawn up for the car or have a used car technician take a look at it before you make the decision.