What mileage is good for a used car?

How far is too far for a used car?

Are you searching for a second-hand motor and wondering what mileage is good for a used car? 

Unfortunately, there’s no golden rule that states a lower-mileage car is always better than a higher-mileage car. But that doesn’t mean you should disregard mileage entirely when shopping for an older car.

Here, we explain why miles matter when comparing vehicles, how many miles are good for a used car, and why some pre-owned cars can go further than others. 

Why do miles matter on a car? 

Mileage refers to the number of miles a vehicle has driven since it was first purchased new. 

A used car’s mileage matters as it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine the vehicle’s current condition and value. One look at the odometer should give you a glimpse into how far it’s been driven and how much life it potentially has left in it. 

Generally speaking, a used car with fewer than 10,000 miles on the clock might look and feel almost brand new. Assuming it’s been driven carefully and maintained correctly, it won’t have much visible wear and tear — and the underlying mechanics should be in good working order. 

On the other hand, a used car with 100,000 miles under its belt could have more scuffs and scrapes on the interior and bodywork, simply because it’s been on the road longer. 

You may also find the mechanics are less reliable in a pre-owned motor due to long-term use. Some car parts are built to last a certain number of miles. The more a car has been driven, the higher the likelihood it’ll need those parts replaced or repaired sooner rather than later.

That said, choosing a used car purely because it has a low mileage isn’t a hard and fast rule. As we’ll discover below, there are other factors to consider when buying second hand, including the types of miles driven, the vehicle history, and the manufacturer. 

Good used car mileage: What you need to know

What is a “good” mileage for a used car? To answer that question, it’s helpful to understand the average mileage of a car in the UK, and what can be considered “high” and “low” mileage for a second-hand car. 

What is the average mileage of a car?

According to recent government data, the average car in the UK drove 7,400 miles in 2019, down from 9,200 miles in 2002. 

During the pandemic, this number dipped further as many of us worked from home or switched to hybrid roles, using our cars less than usual. As a result, the average mileage for 2022 fell to 6,600 miles.

With the above figures in mind, the average five-year-old car could have anywhere from 33,000 to 37,000 miles on the clock.

What is considered high and low mileage for a used car?

To work out if the used car you’re looking at has a high or low mileage, simply divide the total number of miles driven by the number of years it’s spent on the road. 

If we take the 2019 average mileage figure of 7,400 miles as a benchmark (skipping the pandemic years when we were all driving less), then anything higher than this could be considered a high-mileage used car. Meanwhile, anything below that number could be deemed a low-mileage used car. 

For example, let’s say you’re looking at two similar cars that have both covered 40,000 miles. One is four years old, and the other is eight years old.

  • The four-year-old car has driven an average of 10,000 miles per year. This means it’s covered more distance than the average car its age, making it a high-mileage car.
  • On the other hand, the eight-year-old car has covered an average of 5,000 miles a year, meaning it’s driven less than the average number of miles for a car its age, making it a low-mileage car.

So, what is the best mileage to buy a second-hand car? High or low?

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. It’s not as simple as stating whether a high, low, or average mileage is best for a used car. 

It’s true that the more miles a car has driven, the more likely its interior, bodywork, and moving parts will have suffered some degree of wear and tear. However, mileage alone won’t tell you everything you need to know about a second-hand vehicle. 

Take our above example of the four-year-old car vs the eight-year-old car. Both vehicles have 40,000 miles on the clock, but the older car has the lower average mileage. 

Does this mean it’s the better option? Possibly. But it really depends on the history and condition of the vehicle. This means you need to consider the type of miles driven and who was driving, not just the number of miles it has done. 

Good mileage vs bad mileage: Who was driving and where? 

Whether the used car you like has a high or low mileage, you’ll want to know more about the vehicle’s history before committing to it.

Has it been looked after properly? Serviced regularly? Driven with care and consideration? How many previous owners has it had? 

And where was it driven? Depending on the driving conditions and road surface, used cars can rack up “good” or “bad” miles. 

  • Good miles are typically driven on the motorway. The smoother surfaces and higher speeds mean the vehicle can operate closer to top performance, with less frequent braking and gear changes. 
  • Bad miles tend to be driven in cities or on rural roads. Sharp turns, potholes, bumpy and uneven surfaces, harsh braking, and frequent gear changes can put more strain on the vehicle’s moving parts. 

So, now we know there are good and bad miles, how many miles is too much for a car? Is 100,000 miles a lot for a petrol car? Is 200,000 miles on a car bad? Again, these are common questions, and the answer is almost always, “it depends”.

A second-hand car with hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock could be nearing the end of its life. You might only get another 10 or 20,000 miles out of it, which may not represent good value.

However, it’s also possible that a higher-mileage car has been looked after properly and driven carefully by its previous owner, whereas a car with reasonable mileage hasn’t. 

What’s more, a high-mileage car could’ve been driven predominantly on the motorway, meaning its mechanics are potentially in a better condition than a low-mileage car driven mainly in the city. 

Does the manufacturer matter when it comes to mileage and longevity?

Yes, your car’s manufacturer can play into the longevity of your car. Modern cars tend to be more robust than older models, and certain manufacturers have gained strong reputations for design and engineering standards over the years. 

It’s a good idea to research the model of the used car you’re planning to buy to see if it has a history of breaking down after a certain number of miles. 

Better yet, check reputable car guides to see which used car models are deemed the most reliable. For example, brands like Honda, Toyota, Suzuki, and Kia have all ranked highly in the What Car? Used Car Reliability Survey

To recap: What is the best mileage to buy a used car? 

A used car’s mileage can be a helpful starting point when comparing vehicles. That’s because, generally speaking, a car with fewer miles on the clock may have less wear and tear, while a car with a higher mileage may have more scuffs and scrapes or worn down moving parts. 

However, the numbers on the odometer can only tell you so much. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual car and how it’s been driven and looked after.

A well-maintained car will almost always be a better choice, even if it’s driven an above-average number of miles. Especially if those miles were mainly on the motorway, rather than city streets.

And remember, whether you’re buying from a private seller or a dealership, you’ve got to have your used vehicle properly insured. Get ready today by grabbing your car insurance quote here

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