This is a common challenging question because there isn’t necessarily a clear-cut definitive answer. But we can tell you what to watch out for…
Let’s compare the 16-year-old car Grandma drove to the store and back once a week vs. a 4 year old car with 90,000 miles on it.
Grandma’s car sounds great because it has low miles, but surprisingly, that could be a recipe for disaster. Cars that are driven too little can have more problems than cars that were driven heavily. (Driven enough usually means more than 10 minutes at a time, at least several days a week. Much less than that, and you can possibly run into problems.) When a car sits, rubber hoses and belts can dry up. Tires can become dry rotted and cupped. Items like batteries can run down as well. Bottom line, when a car is not driven on a regular basis, it can deteriorate.
So does that mean that newer, higher mileage cars are better? Not necessarily. Cars that have higher miles and are driven more frequently tend to be better cars; however if routine maintenance such as oil changes, transmission fluid changes and tire rotations are not completed when required, your chances of having a good experience with that car diminish.
So what’s the answer? My answer is simply that a car that has been maintained on a regular basis, like a 2013 with 82,000 miles or a 2011 with 120,000 each has a much higher chance of being a better car than the 2003 model driven by grandma that has 30,000 and was only driven five minutes to the store and back, and has not been maintained. The average car today is driven between 15,000-18,000 miles a year. So, bottom line, to give yourself a greater chance of getting a good car, get previous service records, ask to see an inspection report the dealer or seller performed on the car. Low mileage doesn’t always mean it’s a better car.
AutoCheck and Carfax are also helpful tools. You can see where the car originated, as well as its history; but remember, even though Carfax and AutoCheck report the history of the vehicle, they are not 100% accurate. It’s always good to have an ASE-certified technician inspect your car before you purchase it. It costs around $250, depending on who you hire. Your favorite mechanic may charge less, although he or she may or may not provide the value of a certified inspector. iAutoAgent provides a free inspection by an independent ASE-certified technician on every car we represent.