Advice on buying a high mileage car

I am looking to buy a car but my budget is around $5000 or less which means I can’t buy a car with low mileage. Also I want a Honda , Toyota or Acura so that limits my selection even more. In this price range for those brands I can mainly find cars with 100k miles or more , some even have 200k miles on them.

Other than having the car checked by a good mechanic what else can I do to make sure the car will not die soon after I buy it? I normally don’t keep a car much beyond 100k miles so this will be a new experience for me. Maybe it’s not logical but I really worry about paying $5000 for a car and I find out 6 months later the engine or transmission is shot.

If there are service records that indicate the car has been properly maintained, that’s plus.

For the brands you’ve mentioned, 100K miles is a cakewalk. 200K is getting a bit long in the tooth, but usually not a big concern. Engine failure is rather rare, save for a few particular Toyota models. Manual transmission failure is not common. To get an idea about automatic transmission longevity, inquire at a reputable transmission shop.

Other things being okay, I wouldn’t be afraid of those cars with 200K on them. I have a Honda with 300K showing no signs of imminent major problems.

But is 100k miles on a Honda still good if the car was abused - driven very hard, not enough oil changes, overall lack of maintenance, etc.?

Probably not. One aspect a good mechanical pre-purchase inspection will cover is evidence of maintenance done and of maintenance neglected. I’d rather have a car with higher mileage and a good maintenance history than with lower mileage and poor maintenance (depending, of course, on how much mileage and how little maintenance).

If it’s around 100K, find out if the timing belt has been changed. That’s what keeps the valves from hitting the pistons as they open into the cylinders. Broken belt–> broken valves–> expensive repairs.

Also, tuneups are not generally required until 100K miles so it may never have had one. The spark plugs need to be replaced or else the ignition system (coils, etc.) can be damaged, leading to expensive repairs.

I think it’s pretty humorous that you admit to basically knowing nothing about cars, and yet insist on a Honda, Toyota or Acura. Sort of like if I knew nothing about video cards, and yet insist that my new video card must come on a blue PCB.

I guess as far as advice goes, if all you want is one of those brands, and all you can afford are high mileage examples, then you don’t have much choice, do you? It beats walking, I suppose.

Hondas (and may other modern engines) don’t like it when you don’t change the oil. In fact can get downright cranky and expensive if you don’t change the oil.
IMHO if you are looking for a high mile car, look real close at the service records.
If the guy let the routine stuff slide, what else did he let slide?

I have always wondered how a mechanic can tell the car has had regular oil changes (without opening the engine up) Is it based on a compression test?

He can’t. But he can find evidence of maintenance done (e.g. clean camshaft area, belts in good shape, auto trans fluid red and fresh-smelling, engine coolant clean and not acidic, spark plug gaps within normal parameters, air filter clean enough, etc.) and/or evidence of maintenance neglected (e.g. sludge in camshaft area, cracked belts, auto trans fluid dark and burnt-smelling, engine coolant cloudy and/or too acidic, plug gaps beyond normal wear, dirty air filter, etc.). By giving the car a reasonable once-over he can make a reasonable assessment, supported by evidence, of how well or poorly it was maintained. It’s not direct proof, but usually a compelling case can be made one way or the other.

On an engine that runs well and has good power, the compression will almost always be up to specs. A compression test can be a very helpful diagnostic procedure for certain problems, but generally does not add much to a pre-purchase inspection.

In the 5k range, you can’t afford to be choosy.

However, there is a good chance that you can find really good cars out there for 5k because of the economy, or you can offer 5k for cars that are worth a lot more. Private sellers are more likely to haggle, and they also tend to offer more car for the dollar (dealers tend to offer less car for more money.)

As you are checking the car, remember that there are some things that are cheap repairs, and some things that are expensive repairs:

  1. Leaks: expensive, depending on source. Hose replacement is cheap, but cracked anything is super expensive, over 1-2k.
  2. Overheating: expensive. You probably need to replace the radiator or water pump.
  3. Tires: cheap (~200. You should expect to buy new tires when you buy a used car)
  4. Body damage (particularly rust that can allow water into the body causing further damage): expensive, especially if you need the car repainted, a 1k job.
  5. Brakes/clutch/timing belt: ~200-500.
  6. Belts/oil change/alignment: cheap, ~40 each.
  7. Air conditioning: ranges from ~40 (freon refill) to 1k (compressor replacement)

Standard replacements:

  1. Tires: 40k miles
  2. Timing belt: 100k
  3. Brakes: 50k disc, 100k drum
  4. Oil: 3k miles

If you get a car at or near 100k miles, you probably need to replace the timing belt or brakes. If you get a car over 100k, you need to check if the timing belt or brakes need to be replaced.

Historically, Honda’s have had a high resale value. This is not because of quality. This is because they are popular and spare parts are always in demand. In general, you will expect to pay at or near the top of the Kelly Blue Book Value (BBV. Sorry if this site hasn’t been mentioned to you yet. It’s the gold standard for valuing used cars) even if it’s in average condition.

Toyotas, until recently, have had such an excellent record that it was rare to find a used one for sale. People drove them until they died. Nowadays, you’ll find more. Try to avoid the 2007-2009 models. Those are the ones with the recall problems. However, older ones are more expensive. If you are willing to risk dealing with the recall, you can probably find a great deal on a very new Toyota. Trucks, on the other hand, have not been affected by design issues, and the Tacoma is a great truck.

I really doubt you can get a decent Acura for 5k, but essentially they are the luxury arm for Honda.

Hondas are popular because they have great reliability. That’s why the poster above mentioned not having a problem with buying one at 100k miles.

BTW, this car would mostly be for my son so that’s why my budget is low.