Are miles just miles?

Or does it make a difference how many years it takes to rack them up? In looking for a used car for my son (Elantra GT)we’ve come across cars from '03 to '05 with, say 70,000 miles, on them. Now it’s obvious that the '05s have been run harder since they’re newer. But my question is, does that really make a difference? If we can get an '05 for the same price as that '03 with 70,000mi should we take it or leave it? How important are those miles and how long it took to drive them?

It’s not so much how long it took to put the miles on…but HOW they were put on. Highway driving is a lot easier on a car then city driving.

How “hard” the miles were depends on who drove the car and how. Contrary to what you state, it’s NOT OBVIOUS how hard the car has been driven just because it has more miles on it. It has just been driven further.

A friend of mine once bought a high mileage car which had been driven by an oil company regional manager. It had mostly highway miles and had been properly serviced. It was the best car he ever had.

On the other hand, if you bought a car from a person who only did short trip driving, and could not afford regular maintenance, even 40,000 miles may have done permanent damage to that car.

Cars are like people; the really healthy ones have stayed active and looked after themselves with both good diet and health care!

When buying a used car, the maintenance history and how it has been driven is the most important thing. Always insist on WRITTEN DOCUMENTATION that the car was well maintained. Don’t believe a word of what either the owner or a salesman TELLS you.

The last car I sold had a binder with all the maintenance (including 32 oil & filter changes) and repair history. The guy who bought it really appreciated that. The high mileage did not bother him one bit.

My wife and mother-in-law both have 1994 cars. My wife’s car has THREE TIMES the miles on it, but is in better shape.

You’re not crazy to ask these questions, by the way. Miles don’t hurt a car if the maintenance has been well done.

I personally prefer higher miles on a newer car as there are two possible benefits. First the car will have spent a good amount of time on the highway, which is the easiest kind of miles on a car. Second the price will be lower which is always a good thing. Mileage is nothing to be afraid of on a good car that is well maintained. Many cars made today have the potential to reach 400,000 miles with regular maintenance and all cars can reach 200,000 easily. Even some old cars are pretty durable: I had 210,000 miles on my 1988 Volkswagen when I sold it and it was still humming along just fine.

I will emphasize that following the recommended maintenance in your owners manual on time and as needed is the single most important thing you can do. It is possible to ruin the world’s most realible car in 50,000 miles from neglect, or it is possible to get 200,000 miles from the least reliable car.

Not all miles are equal.

A 20-year-old car with 10,000 miles may have accumulated those miles 1/4 mile at a time, while drag racing. A low mileage example such as this would not be a good buy.

On the other hand, a 3-year-old car with 70,000 miles has almost certainly spent most of its life cruising on the highway, which is the least damaging mileage there is.

Without knowing the previous owner or how the car was driven, it’s nearly impossible to tell much of anything. Assessing the overall condition of the car is the best way, short of an inspection by a mechanic, to determine whether or not the car is desirable.

By 70K miles ALL Elantra GTs should have had their timing belts replaced (60K is rthe recommended interval). If there is no PROOF that this maintenance was done, assume you will have to do it RIGHT AWAY at a cost of several hundred dollars.

Use this as a bargaining chip.

It’s always a gamble when you don’t know how those miles were accrued. A smaller, sportier car driven by a young person may have a tendency to get flogged more than other types of cars.

I’ve been at the drag races several times and have seen brand new Subaru WRXs, Turbo Neons, etc. being beaten to death on the drag strip all evening long by their owners; and the cars still had the dealer paper tags in the window.

It’s very difficult to tell sometimes but you could look for a few signs of heavy use. This could include:
A lot of key marks around the ignition switch.
Ditto for the door lock on the driver’s door.
Examination of the rubber pads on the brake pedal and/or clutch pedal. Any rubber wear on a 70k mile car should be near nil, unless…
A simple inspection of the air filter. If it’s dirty that could be a good sign of neglect. If the owner is willing to overlook something so simple and cheap then other areas may be in worse shape.

Very tough call as I don’t think there is a clear answer to your question.

By 70K miles ALL Elantra GTs should have had their timing belts replaced (60K is rthe recommended interval

Really? How do you know this? Are you a mechanic, own a GT? Is it in their recommended service?

Thanks for your input. I hate shopping for cars and used ones are a whole new experience!

Thanks for the input - I’ve been using Carfax to check on the history. I’ve only found cars thru dealers, no individuals yet, so they say they have no paperwork on the vehicles. (Or don’t want to show it.) If the car was a trade-in I figure they should have some records. A few have been sold at auctions and have no documents and dealers play dumb.

This is harder than I thought it would be!

You’re correct; car shopping is a hard thing to do if you’re not blindly wading in.
I’ve been a mechanic most of my life and it’s tough even for an experienced tech to really know for 100% sure if the car is a good one or not. There are a number of tests and procedures that can help improve the odds but some problems are simply not detectable due to the complexity of modern cars.

A few tips that may help. Do not put all of your faith into CarFax which can be inaccurate or lacking. CF will only show what is reported to them and can often be wrong anyway. I ran a few of my cars through CF once just for laughs and one of them showed to be currently stolen (never was and was sitting in my driveway) and another one was shown to have a clean title even though it had been badly wrecked and rebuilt on a SALVAGE title.

A thorough inspection by a mechanic can help improve the chances but this could get pricy depending on the depth of the inspection. Another option could be to have someone mechanically inclined go with you on a long test drive and pay close attention to all facets of the car. Most test drives are 2 miles in length and will reveal nothing.
I’d say drive it at least 50 miles even if you have to put gas in it yourself.

Ever wonder why many test drives are short in length? It’s because most of the time the gas gauge is on EMPTY (they know the customer always looks at the fuel gauge) the salesman may tag along, etc. With the salesman present this provides a bit of “guilt” to the person test driving the car because it gives the impression the test driver is “infringing” on the salesman’s valued time.