Used Car question

It looks like I’m going to have to replace my 2006 Ford Escape, which has 200K miles.

When looking at used cars, how important is the age of the car? If the car has relatively low miles, but is more than 10 years old, would that be worse that something with twice the miles but only 4 years old?

I hate car shopping.


Older cars seem to have sensor and computer issues. We try to be sellers before 10 years if the budget allows. Fairly new with relatively high mileage has never bothered us. You can’t get high mileage in stop and go or short trip driving. Has to be highway miles where the car gets to get into optimum temperature range.

I got a car as a gift from my cousin. The car was 12 years old, but had 67,000 miles. I drove it for 10 years. It needed stuff, sometimes expensive stuff, like a clutch, and at one point it needed a gas tank (albeit, that cost just under $300 total, parts and labor). It would need things like calipers, and the AC went kaput, and could not be recharged, because it used a chemical that had been outlawed. I did the math, decided I was keeping the car for enough years into the future, that it was worth the $800 to replace the whole system, and did it (following a summer where it was 105’F for a week).

I kept track of how much I was spending on it, and it always worked out to only about $75 a month (excepting the year of the AC, but even then, it was less than $150\month). When I balanced that against the $300+ I’d be paying if i had a new car, it just never seemed worth it.

Then my great-uncle died, and left me $27,000. I decided this was the time to get a new car, and I bought a brand new Chevy Spark outright. Still had quite a bit left over. Paid off my credit cards, and bought a pinball machine.

Sold my cousin’s car for $700. I probably could have gotten more, but the body was rough, because it had gotten hit in a parking lot by someone who didn’t leave a note, and I didn’t make a claim against my own insurance. Used the money to pay for my insurance for the Spark all at once, and not in payments. Saved $140 (more or less). The Spark gets way better mileage than my cousin’s car did, but the fact is that the other car had been made back before the SUV thing, and was pretty gas-efficient, all things considered.

I miss driving a manual.

Anyway, my point is, that a car with significantly low mileage can be a really good bargain, but those cars are pretty rare.

On the flip side, I have bought a couple of cars that were only two or three years old, but had over 75000 miles. I needed loans for those, and they were hard to get. I needed significant down payments to get loans for cars with high mileage, even though they weren’t very old. The cars were good cars, though.

Another time, I though I lucked out, and got a car that had been leased and turned in early, so it was a year old, and had 6600 miles. It was about half the price of the same car new. Seemed like a bargain, but after three years, we started having problems with it. It didn’t help that we got rear-ended, and I suspect it had damage that was never addressed. It was a black car, and that may have been out mistake. Apparently black cars get hit more often than other colors. It didn’t get hit at night, though, but it was completely the other driver’s fault.

I dunno. You just can’t have everything, I guess.

I’m looking online at a 2005 Pontiac Vibe. I liked that car when it was in production, and the owners I’ve talked to said it was a great car. 75K miles, $6000. I could just about write a check for that, although with taxes, tags etc., it’d be a stretch.

Other cars I’m looking at are newer Kia Souls. Same miles are about twice as much.

Both cars, used, are recommended buys from Consumer Reports.

I’m looking for a smaller SUV/hatchback. I drive rescue trips for dogs, and haul horse feed. My current car is AWD, but I haven’t needed that option. It has a hitch, but I’ve almost never towed anything. My neighbor will gladly haul/tow with his truck if I needed something. I just need a reliable, economical daily driver.


The advantage to buying an older car is: less to fail.

I recently bought a 2000 F150 with 169,000 miles on it. I had to re-do the entire cooling system, front end, and a myriad of other small problems. None of which was unexpected for a poorly maintained vehicle of that age.
But, while I was working on it, I lurked on a lot of truck forums, and found that newer vehicles have many, many more sensors and electronics that can fail (for example, my truck doesn’t have ABS). OF course, I’m not getting the benefit of these newer advances, but I also don’t have to worry about fixing them.

I believe the average car goes about 17-20 years from the showroom to the junkyard.

IMO, anything older than 10 years old is not a good idea, low miles or not.

For one, parts will just break due to time and exposure to the elements.

For another, the depreciation slows rapidly around that age. A 15 year old car isn’t much cheaper than 10 year old one. A 10 year old car may be worth 20-25% of its initial value, at 15 years it is worth 15%. Not much of a savings.

You people sound like refugees from the '50s, when a 10-year-old car truly was an old car.

These days, a 10-year-old car that has low mileage is just entering active maturity.

I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned a car that was less than 15 years old.

Mileage isn’t nearly as important.

A service record of the car if applicable would be the best way to go. Otherwise look up reviews about common issues and severity with the make and model. Then look at the car, check coolant and oil after driving it for a bit (for mixing), check fuel lines, brakes and brake lines for excessive rust or leaks, body/chassis rust, check the accessory belt and pulleys. Make sure steering is aligned and make sure to put a flattened cardboard box underneath it after test driving while you sit inside and put it into accessory mode and make sure each idiot light does a self-test. Check cardboard, no drips except water from the A/C? you’re good to go.

Once you buy it, change the coolant, oil and transmission fluid, steering fluid and brake fluid (if they are dark). If nothing is wrong with any of that stuff above, buy it. Sensors can be easy and cheap to replace if/when they fail especially if you do it yourself. With proper maintenance, almost ANY car is reliable. Had a 1999 Chevy Blazer 2DR in the family. Went just over 300K miles. Only major issues were a valve cover gasket, routine suspension work (bearings, ends) and brake jobs.

Too high of mileage in a short period of time is never good from what I’ve seen. Too low of mileage in over a decade is a mixed bag (depends on who owned it previously)

Terrible terrible drive by wire and electronic brake crap seems hardly an advance to me and the rest are just toys.

I like them slightly older too (cars). The 2000-2005 range is nice.

My statement that a car last about 17-20 years from showroom to junkyard is true. I read that in a paper which discussed transitioning from internal combustion engines to all electric vehicles, and how long it would take for a society to make that transition because society has to wait for all the existing cars to end up in scrap heaps before people buy new ones.

However the paper may have been about 10 years old, so maybe cars last a little longer. But probably not much.

Either way, I stand by my statement. There aren’t many pre-2000 cars on the road for a reason. And with depreciation being what it is, depreciation slows rapidly when a car is about ~10 years old. You can buy a 10 year old car for not much more than a 20 year old car. And the 10 year old car will have newer parts and lower miles.

Having said that, it also depends on the model. A 10-20 year old honda or toyota is not the same thing as a 10-20 year old jeep or dodge.

Having said all that, a 10 year old car is fine (my car is 11 years old, which is about the average age of the car on the road). But I am pretty sure it only has maybe another 50-80k miles left on it, and maybe another 5 years. When that car is 15+ years old and has 250k, miles on it, I don’t want it because who knows what all will break by then.

Depends on the climate as well. Where I live, rust from road salt is the age limiter. Very few cars make it to 15 years without some rust and by 20, the vast majority have major issues. A car from Phoenix though might not have a touch of rust.

What I’ve found on older cars though is that they tend to be driveable even at the 20+ year mark. What happens though are compounding small things - broken cruise control, burning oil, power windows stop working, dash lights go out, radio stops, etc. You can get those things fixed, but the little things nickle and dime you. Alternatively, you can just live with the annoyances.

The bottom of my 18 year old truck looks like new. It was a New Mexico and Arizona vehicle it’s entire life. When I see the youtube videos of people in the midwest working on their trucks I am aghast at the amount of corrosion and crap under their trucks.

A lot of cars (especially Asian models) go forever and ever now with few issues and I think the average U.S. car age is around 10 years old.

I rarely buy new cars, I currently have a 2014, an '04, and an '02. The older cars are for playing around. (they’ve 167k and 150k on them).

I bought my 2014 about 18 months ago with 36K on her, two years of warranty left, and for $18, 000 less than her new selling price. I try to find the sweet spot of price, some warranty remaining, and under 60K mileage or so. BMWs depreciate rapidly, so buying one that is 3 or 4 years-old is a far better decision for me.

However, I believe mid-entry Hondas, Toyotas, and Kids and don’t depreciate as rapidly and may not figure into a decision heavily.

I’ve my '02 BMW jacked up to do some brake work – I’m confirming that the East Coast is not kind to car undersiding.

I drove that very car (well, not that exact one) last year when we were looking for an economical second vehicle. I really liked it. We didn’t buy it because it spent a lot of time on the east coast (salt). We’d already done a pre-purchase inspection on a rustbucket and didn’t want to do that again.

I also drove a Toyota Matrix which is the same thing. Again, I really liked driving the car, but we decided it was too beaten up for what the seller wanted.

Anyway, I do think the Vibe’s a great car! However, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you have a mechanic check it before you buy it. TWO vehicles we looked at flunked until we found one that didn’t. Also, look at the Carfax and be sure it doesn’t have a salvage title or other issues, although it’s not necessarily a guarantee (the first flunkee had badly-repaired accident damage and the accident wasn’t on the Carfax).

I spent a lot of time talking to the mechanics at our garage who said mileage is more important than age.

Good luck! Please let us know if you get it. :slight_smile:

Fortunately, in Tennessee, salt isn’t a big issue. I’ve asked a friend who’s worked on the Nissan assembly line for 25 years and knows cars inside and out to come with me to kick the tires on the Vibe.

I’d created a spreadsheet for the cars I’ve liked online. I’ve subtracted the existing mileage from 200K (in my mind, a car should reach 200K, or close to it) and divide by the price to get a cost per mile estimate. Then I’m factoring in the Consumer Reports recommendation. So far, the winner is the Vibe. We’ll have to see how it stands when I see it in person.


I have always bought used, with cash. I current own six used cars. The newest is a 2005.

I don’t care how old a car is when I am looking to buy, with two caveats: 1) it must have airbags, and 2) it must have ABS brakes. Which means I will not be purchasing too many cars made prior to around 1992.

I am primarily concerned about miles and rust.

We have a 2006 Vibe we’ll be replacing soon (there’s a thread about small SUVs I started; we haven’t been in a huge hurry because schools are closed and I’m not driving much). It’s been great mechanically, but three things happened at once; the air bag light stays on, there’s a clicking whenever it’s set to fresh air, and (worst of all) there’s a bad leak on the driver’s side. I’m addition, the CD player stopped working. Despite all these things coming up at once, we loved the car. It’s the only new car we’ve had, and it will almost certainly be the last.

I’ve owned 2 used cars, and I pray I never have to again.

As far as 10-15 year old cars go, are there many available? I seem to remember that one lament about Cash for Clunkers was that people who couldn’t afford new cars were out of luck because the supply of used cars was decimated.

I agree that the make and model of the car has a lot to do with answering this question.

For example, a 2007 RAV4 with 50K miles (not at all unheard of…I bought one last year with less than 25K miles from a widow who literally just used it to go shopping and attend her various meetings) is not a bad buy, especially if you find a “less attractive” one. Everybody wants the bigger engine, the 4WD, the options, etc., and the basic models often sell for far less.