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How many miles are too many on a used vehicle?
August 12, 2006 8:11 PM   Subscribe

How many miles are too many on a used vehicle?

My wife and I are looking to replace my '95 Chevy Blazer that has around 170k miles on it with something. We're going to be buying a used car as we just need something 4x4 for the winters and the convenience for when I need to make some trips out of our house (I work from home).

We've been looking at '97-'99 Ford Explorers and most seem to have around 65-90k miles on them at our price point (~$7-8,000).

Is a car with 80k miles worth buying? What's the key to a good deal on a used car as far as price/mileage match up?
posted by JPigford to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Like anything, it depends how it was used. A car with 20k of "around town miles" is worse than a car with 200k of highway miles that was driven from Chicago to San Francisco monthly.

I bought my 1992 Toyota Camry in 2002 with 120k on it, and it just rolled 200k.

With gas prices going the way they are -- have you thought about looking at something that isn't an SUV, but still has 4wd/awd?
posted by SirStan at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2006


Timing belt chains go around 80-90K. If the belt hasn't been changed, ensure the cost is to be reduced by the cost of replacement. Chain failure causes expensive engine damage.

Also make sure the oil's been changed on a 3K cycle (5K if synthetics are used). So long as oil and filters are changed regularly, a given engine will hold up well.

How are the tires? Look at tread depth and adjust the purchase cost accordingly. If you'll have to buy $400 of tires soon, then the cost should be $6600 to $7600.

Get the VIN and buy an accident report. Was the car in a catastrophic accident? Crumple zones won't crumple twice.

These are some things you can look for.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:27 PM on August 12, 2006


Is there a way to tell the difference by examining the car, the difference between city and highway miles?
posted by bigmusic at 8:35 PM on August 12, 2006


I've always found that things tend to go bad once you've hit the 100k mark. Timing belts (as pointed out earlier) start to weaken, the rollers for the timing belt will wear, suspension starts getting a little off and small fiddly things like battery connections will have enough wear on them to start to be unreliable.

Having said that, I bought my previous car at 100k and put another 170k on the clock before I started feeling sharp pains in my hip pocket (radiator, gearbox, block, seals) etc).

Try to buy a car that has logs - at least you'll know it's been through the correct maintenance. Also, buy a make and model that has cheap and readily available parts. Don't be tempted to go for the "reliable" Euro/Yank car when the cheap Japanese model will cost a quarter as much to keep in good repair.

Disclaimer: I'm Australian so all above figures are in kilometres, Japanese cars are the most common type here and I dislike Fords. YMMV.

Good luck!
posted by ninazer0 at 8:38 PM on August 12, 2006


Is there a way to tell the difference by examining the car, the difference between city and highway miles?

Some cars have mileage calculators, which tell you the "realtime" mileage of the car based on driving usage. The higher the mileage compared with its EPA mileage rating, the more likely the car has been driven on highway miles, at least recently.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:45 PM on August 12, 2006


I want to cut in and say that you almost certainly don't want a Ford Explorer for winter roads. My dad's car is an Explorer (albeit a two-door sport model) and it's handling on anything but completely dry roads is horrendous, to the point where I refuse to drive it if it even looks as if it may rain. It's also so top heavy, I'd be concerned with the very real possibility of overturning it if you happened to fish-tail or spin badly on a slippery road. Talking to other people who own or have driven Explorers seems to indicate that this is an across the board issue.

On topic, though, Fords (well, Ford trucks and SUVs) tend to be pretty hardy. My '98 Ford F-150 is well over 200,000 miles and has taken very little damage for that much driving. Likewise, my dad's '02 Explorer has ~120,000 miles on it, and hasn't needed too much work on it. So yes, the Explorer could well be worth buying at that mileage, though, appropriately enough, YMMV.
posted by internet!Hannah at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2006


I bought a car (at about that price point) with 95,000 miles on it without batting an eye because it was a Honda. 70,000 miles later, I'm still quite happy with it and I'm looking forward to seeing the odometer roll over to the 200,000 mark. However, I wouldn't buy an American car with that much road behind it.
posted by majick at 9:21 PM on August 12, 2006


Of course the answer to your question is "it depends." How long do you want to own this car? How much to do you want to pay for having a car for that long? How much maintenance are you willing to do?

I was just thinking about my current car today. I bought it for $6000 with 70k miles 11 years ago. I was musing: that's less than $600/yr. Not bad. It's a Subaru wagon and has needed very little work so far.

Before that I drove a '77 Toyota wagon with 230k miles on it. It ran perfectly. I got it for $400, drove it for two years, and gave it away to an acquaintance when I got the Subaru. I don't know the what happened to the car after that, but to the guy I gave it to, 230k wasn't too many miles for a free car!

One tip when buying a used car: If it's being sold by someone who hasn't owned it for long (a dealer, for example) dig around in the glove box and under the seats for paperwork from the original owner. I've done this several time for myself and when helping friends buy cars. Twice I found the original owner, called them up, and got the story on the car--including how much they sold it to the dealer for. One time I found out the engine had been run dry of coolant and destroyed, which the seller had declined to tell us. (He'd put a new engine in and said he didn't feel it was a relevant detail, when confronted.)

Good luck!
posted by nonmyopicdave at 9:23 PM on August 12, 2006


On a 4WD you also need to think about how much time it's spent in 4WD mode. U joints need to be replaced practically yearly on older vehicles that are driven a lot in mechanical 4 low, for example.
posted by fshgrl at 9:29 PM on August 12, 2006


I want to cut in and say that you almost certainly don't want a Ford Explorer for winter roads.

Got suggestions for an SUV that would be safe within our price range?
posted by JPigford at 10:13 PM on August 12, 2006


They make safe SUV's now?
posted by SirStan at 10:18 PM on August 12, 2006


JPigford: "Got suggestions for an SUV that would be safe within our price range?"

Is there any reason in particular you want an SUV (hauling, a plethora of children, etc)? While they are durable and you are more likely to come out on the winning end in a wreck with another vehicle, their center of balance is so high that no matter what SUV you go with, rollovers are a very real risk, and that's not something I'd personally ever be comfortable with on icy roads. Not to mention you'd need a lot of weight in the car over the axles (such as snadbags, cat litter, etc) to give it any decent traction while braking, and that will come at the cost of already-low mileage.

Plenty of cars come with 4WD or AWD that would be safe for winter, though, if you're willing to look into those. I personally can't recommend anything, however--my experience is limited to warning people away from Explorers. Maybe someone else will have some specific recommendations.
posted by internet!Hannah at 10:38 PM on August 12, 2006


Look in the driver's manual for the maintenance schedule.
Note when the major (expensive) repairs are due (timing belts and the like) and see how close you are.

If it's just past them, and they were all done on schedule, you are good for quite a while.
If they're all coming up in the next 20k miles, then you might want to pass on that vehicle.
posted by madajb at 10:39 PM on August 12, 2006


Japanese cars are much longer-lived than American ones. Subaru "SUVs" (they aren't, really) do not have the rollover tendencies of similar vehicles, because of their flat engine design, which lowers the center of mass. Subarus are also relatively safe in a crash. They all have AWD. [End of Subaru commercial]

Go to the library and peruse the Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue. It's full of reliability information for almost every car.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:07 AM on August 13, 2006


Ditto Kirth Gerson's comment. I'll go so far as to say don't even consider an American used car. Get a Toyota, Honda, or Subaru and you're probably OK even if it has 100k+ miles on it. Find out when the manufacturer recommends a timing belt change and get it done unless the previous owner has documentation showing that it has been done. I usually pull a Carfax report to confirm the mileage and make sure it hasn't been in a wreck.
posted by mattholomew at 5:54 AM on August 13, 2006


You might want to check out this site before deciding on your next purchase - reviews of all makes and models by owners

http://www.carsurvey.org/
posted by DonM at 7:02 AM on August 13, 2006


I looked at DonM's survey site. It seems that Japanese cars get a lot more negative reviews there than American cars do. Possibly buyers of rice-burners have higher expectations. Can't think of any other reason that an ultra-reliable car like Camry gets so many sad-face icons, while a notorious dog like Explorer gets all smiles. Whatever - If the particular car you get happens to be reliable, good choice; otherwise, not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:24 AM on August 13, 2006


Take Blazecock Pileon's contributions with a grain of salt.

Timing belt chains go around 80-90K.

Ford's own maintenance guidance for a 99 Explorer makes no mention of timing belts, timing chains, or "timing belt chains". Its one mention of any belts prompts an inspection at 100,000 miles.

Also make sure the oil's been changed on a 3K cycle (5K if synthetics are used).

Ford says 5,000. And it makes no distinction between standard and synthetic. Modern engines simply don't need their oil changed as frequently.

Some cars have mileage calculators, which tell you the "realtime" mileage of the car based on driving usage. The higher the mileage compared with its EPA mileage rating, the more likely the car has been driven on highway miles, at least recently.

Yes, some cars will report gas mileage, but I've never seen or owned one that kept a permanent lifetime average. I certainly wouldn't count on it being available.
posted by NortonDC at 1:24 PM on August 13, 2006


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