Vehicle mileage vs age?
March 18, 2014 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I am in the (unfortunate) position of needing to buy a Ford Econoline passenger van. I'm having trouble evaluating two options in particular: one, a 2001 vehicle with 90k miles on the engine (not the van's original engine), and two, a 2006 with 132k miles.

Assume neither car has been garaged, most of the miles for both are city not highway miles, and prices are comparable. Which is the better bet? I don't know how to weigh newer car versus lower mileage in predicting reliability.

If it matters, I'm only looking to put 25k miles on the van over the next few years, so I don't need it to last forever. Also this is for the purpose of transporting people, not towing heavy loads. Finally, resale value is not a big concern.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by kbcostello to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Take both to a mechanic and ask for a professional opinion.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:35 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given that the rest of the 2001 likely has far more than 90k miles on it, my instinct would be the 2006.

Which engine it is matters, though! Which engine does each have? The gas engines have pretty good reliability but the diesels are beasts (in a good way).
posted by flaterik at 11:36 AM on March 18, 2014

I don't know how to weigh newer car versus lower mileage in predicting reliability.

This can be a crapshoot. A new engine breathes life into a car for sure but it could have other issues with it that will bite you later. A newer car could be hiding an accident.

I would bring it to a mechanic and also do my own test drive. And ask the owners lots of questions.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:43 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

90k and 132k aren't a huge difference in engine life by themselves. More useful info would be usage patterns - are those freeway miles, or lots of in town traffic driving, starts and stops, etc.

If the 01 was mostly 130k of smooth cruising freeway miles, and the 06 was 90k of downtown traffic, I might lean toward the 01.

A bigger issue, as previously mentioned, is the wear and tear on the rest of the vehicle on the 01 - what kind of shape are the brakes, shocks, transmission, water pump, power steering pump, etc. in?

Generally speaking, without having comparative info on the service life and usage patterns of either vehicle, I'd lean toward the '06.
posted by stenseng at 12:04 PM on March 18, 2014

Response by poster: More info: Neither is diesel, both are 5.4L V8. The older van is an E350 and the newer one is an E150, but in my reading I haven't been able to find much positive/negative about the heavier chassis except for hauling/towing capability (?).

Like I said, I'm assuming city miles for both... the 2006 is actually an ambulette, and the '01 is a former police van. :) This is in NYC. Oh yes--and I am consulting with a mechanic, just wanted to ask for opinions here as well.
posted by kbcostello at 12:19 PM on March 18, 2014

The mileage difference on the engines isn't significant. The 2006 has (assuming the engine replacement wasn't before 40K) less wear on everything else plus less deterioration of everything not metal by air pollutants and heat. IE: suspension bushings, brake lines, rad hoses, window seals, A/C hoses, etc. all will be in better shape just by being five years newer.

Be aware of the carrying capacity of your van. Get a dozen people and their luggage and you can easily exceed the carrying capacity of the E150. Any upfitting of the vans for ambulance or police duty will also count against the carrying capacity. A 1-ton vehicle often is more expensive to perform routine maintenance on.

Finally in general it can be harder to find parts the older a vehicle gets. Ten years is kind of the break over point IME where getting stuff like window switches, tail lights, or A/C controls can mean scouring wrecking yards.

TL;DR: If they are essentially the same price and utility buy the 2006.
posted by Mitheral at 12:47 PM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's not that much difference in mileage — 90k vs 130k isn't that big a deal; if it was 90k vs 300k, then I'd be more interested — and in order to get the lower mileage you have to get a substantially older vehicle around it. No way; go for the 2006.

However: if the older one was better maintained throughout its life as a result of being a fleet vehicle, that might sway me towards it vs. one that was owned by someone less meticulous about maintenance. Not sure what the NYPD's reputation is in regards to maintenance though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:22 PM on March 18, 2014

The company I work for has owned several vans over the years - cargo, not passenger, but same difference, and most have been Ford Econolines, mostly bought used. Almost all city driving from us, too.

I'll second everyone else saying that it's more about the everything else than the motor. Especially being in a wintery city that salts the streets.

We've got a '98 350 with somewhere around 250k miles on the original engine, and the engine runs fine. Pretty much everything else is either on its' last legs or has been replaced more than once.

So go for the newer vehicle unless you've got strong evidence that the older vehicle was maintained better.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:09 PM on March 18, 2014

I would never buy the older one with the swapped engine. My parents own an SUV like that. The engine was great until recently, but throughout the 12-13 years they've had it everything else has fallen apart.

You have to consider that every bit of the vehicle except for the engine has much more than 90k miles of wear. What is the chasis mileage? Because ford truck engines will easily last 200k as mentioned above, so i'm assuming it's fairly high.

You're reaching into the range where weird shit like differentials that people don't typically have to replace, and every accessory system that's driven off of the engine starts disintegrating and failing in odd ways. The steering will likely be loose, the seats/pedals/dashboard controls will be worn out. I could go on.

This is such an insignificant mileage difference if they were both fleet-maintained city vehicles, and i'm saying this to the benefit of the newer one with more engine mileage on paper.

The only time the older engine swapped one would make sense in my opinion is if it was a significant, like 40% or more price difference between it and the newer one.
posted by emptythought at 4:53 PM on March 18, 2014

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