Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

HELP! I need a new (used) car, and have concerns

Okay, here’s my problem. I’m still living in the “If the car has 100,00 miles on it, it’s only good for the junk yard,” period. I need a new vehicle, and have narrowed it down to a small, 6 cyl SUV, such as a Ford Escape (My first choice). Here’s my problem: What is “acceptable” mileage? Am I nuts to consider a car with, or close to, 100K miles? Am I nuts to reject such a vehicle? Am I just plain nuts? (My wife likes option 3 by the way!) Anyone have any inside info on the subject, and willing to share? Thank you! (My little 17 year-old Ford Ranger is at 188K, is too small, too underpowered, and thanks to years of using it as a truck, sort of falling apart!)

Far more important than the odometer mileage is the way that a vehicle has been maintained. I would be much more likely to buy a 100k mile vehicle that has been meticulously maintained than one with…let’s say…50k or 60k miles that has rarely seen the inside of a service facility.

About a month ago, while my car was in the shop for its regular maintenance, I was given a loaner car that looked pretty good, and which drove really well. No rattles or squeeks, good braking action, decent handling, good acceleration, no smoke from the exhaust, no road wander. It had 171,000 miles on the odometer, and it was a 2006 model, so clearly the previous owner had put close to 30k miles per year on that car, but had maintained it meticulously. By contrast, I have known people who did not maintain their cars properly, and their cars were essentially rolling junk by 60k miles.

IMHO, anyone who buys a used car that does not come with full maintenance records (and a copy of the mfr’s maintenance schedule to compare with the maintenance records) is being incredibly foolish. While this will limit your selection of vehicles to a certain extent, it will also greatly limit the amount of money that you spend on repairs on that used car.

And, even with full service records that reflect good maintenance, you still need to have a potential purchase vetted by your mechanic, in order to detect incipient problems as well as possible collision damage.

How reliable do you need the car to be? Today’s cars should have a lot of life left after 100,000 miles if they’ve been properly maintained, but they probably will break down from time to time. Is that okay in order to save some money?

I maintain my vehicles well. I require a 100% reliable vehicle (I know, everything mechanical breaks sometimes) But what I want to know is when is, say, a Ford 6 cyl past it’s prime? I will most likely not have any access to any maint records of any sort. I will run the car past my favorite mechanic for his opinion, and I’m not worried if I have to replace a belt, hose, or tires. If I can spend less on the original car, I will.

I also grew up in the era when my father said a car with 100,000 miles was ready for the junk yard. That was until my mother put 126K on one and it was still nearly perfect. They traded at that point. The car before that one had 98K when he traded for the one above. I ran onto that car four years later. The new owner had put 120K MORE miles on it, thinking that It only had 60K when my dad traded it in. He thought it was an exceptionally good car with 180K miles when it actually had 218K. The odd thing was that both of those cars were AMC Ambassadors, as were the next three cars he had. Then there were a couple of Matadors and a Concord, all of which they drove over 100K miles. After that came the AMC/Renault merger. Things were never the same after that. They switched to Buicks.

My theory is that fifty years ago it was not illegal for a dealer to turn the mileage back on a car. Dishonest yes, illegal no. By the time a car showing close to 100K miles on it had been traded in two or three times showing close to 100K, it REALLY had closer to 200K.

Today’s cars are built to closer tolerances than those 50 years ago. Lubricants are better. Unleaded fuels cause far less carbon buildup, and therefor less wear. It is not at all uncommon to see cars with 200 or even 300K miles. I’ve bought several cars with over 100K miles, and a few with over 150K. I’m not afraid of them.

If you have your heart set on a Ford, why don’t you pay $21.95 and get a three-day pass to the technical information website?
Then you can find all the technical service bulletins, recalls, etc. for whatever you’re seriously considering.
Then you’ll know what might happen down the road.

I did that for the Toyota I was considering, and I printed out all the TSBs and studied them.

If I were going to buy a car with 100 k miles, it would not be one that had awd or 4 wd. A simple as possible fwd car from a proven reliable make ( use CR) or a two wheel drive pick up. So, you got 188 k from a Ranger ? You can take an f150, Tundra or Nissan to retirement and beyound.

The number of miles is only one factor related to the remaining life of a car. Look at the specific car you are considering. Make sure it is in good condition.

I would much rather have a car in good condition with 150,000 miles than one in poor condition with 50,000 miles.

I would not buy an Escape with 50,000 miles on it. We’ve had a number of them over the years (new every 2 years) and meticulously maintain them even beyond what is called for, and the damn things have all had serious problems. Fortunately, they were problems that cropped up while the vehicles were under warranty, but so far we’ve had 3 with bad transmissions within the first 15k miles, 2 (one of which was one of the transmission trucks) with cracked heads, and all of them have absolutely miserable traction control that panic stops the car in turns on gravel or snow, and you can’t turn the damn thing off, even when you turn it off. The computer still takes over if it thinks you’re in trouble.

If they’re giving us that kind of trouble in the first 40k miles, I don’t want to think about how screwed up they’d get after 100k.

Most of the folks I see driving around these days really abuse their vehicles . . . if you can afford it at all I would look for a new vehicle and maintain it well, you’ll get more smiles per gallon. Rocketman

I think 300K miles on a current era new car (2000 and on) is the rough equivalent of the 100K miles of years past. Motors run so clean now that if you change the oil on schedule (and check the dipstick level regularly) a motor can go 300K miles often without a major problem. I don’t consider a new timing belt, water pump job a major problem on cars so equipped.

Getting 300K miles out an auto transmission isn’t a sure thing however. I feel most cars will need major transmission work somewhere on the way to 300K.

Maintenance by the previous owner’s is a big factor in longevity. When you have no clue about previous maintenance it adds a big risk and question mark on whether or not the car will make that 300K miles mark. And the build quality and design of a particular model is a factor in longevity and major repairs needed along the way to 300K.

Volvo’s and Range Rovers can get to 300K but the $$$ for the repairs to reach that mark will be steep, perhaps prohibitively so. On the flip side I thing my '03 Honda Civic will reach the mark with little trouble and relatively cheap repairs (we are at 135K now).

With a Ford Escape you might get to 300K but it will cost you. I’d say the first 150K could be OK, but the next 150K will involve some significant repairs.

If you are OK with driving a car that is 10 years old or more you might be better off buying a new one and maintaining it properly yourself. That eliminates a big question mark, and you have a good chance at getting lots of years and miles from your new car purchase. That’s what I did with the Civic fully intending to drive it 20 years or more and however many miles it racks up.

I needed a vehicle to pull a boat and horse trailer and replaced a Volvo V70XC wagon that I’d hoped would be a good long lasting car, but it was eating me alive with expensive repairs. I bought an '01 Toyota Sequoia in Oct. '08 with 90K miles on it. New plugs and timing belt job and new tires have been the expenses so far and it is at 128K now and runs great, no rattles, and seems like it will go a lot more miles.

For fun I purchased a used '04 T’bird in Nov. '05 with 24K miles on it. That car has had COP issues that were warranty covered but I’m on my own now if the problem recurs and I know it will. I had an AC mixing valve issue, $250 to repair. Otherwise just tires (very expensive ones) and routine maintenance to the current 64K miles.

You can do OK with used cars but, if it is to be your main driver and you need 100% reliable (the OP’s statement) I’d really steer you in the direction of a new car. Buy it, drive it, pay off the loan, and keep driving it for years and years and you’ll get 200K and maybe all the way to 300K.

As VDCdriver said, how the car has been maintained is far more critical than the miles on it. There’s a huge number of low miles cars out there that are in far worse shape than many with 100k miles or more.

For quite a few years now, I’ve generally only purchased a car with close to 100k miles on it. Being a mechanic helps in the decision of course, but being patient on the choice, checking it out, and weeding through any stated claims that may be BS has worked out well for me.
Well over 20 years ago I was negotiating a deal on a new Subaru from a dealer where I was employed and we couldn’t see eye to eye on that last few hundred dollars. That was the last and closest time I came to buying new.

For what it’s worth, my late father was like that. He thought that by the time a car had 70k miles on the clock it was ready for the junkyard even though the car was clean and ran great.

Thanks for all the input, but, seriousy guys, If I could afford a new car, this would be a moot discussion. I have about 17K to spend, MAX, and what I could find new for that money, I won’t buy. I need a bigger more powerful vehicle than what 17K can buy. And, let’s face it, I want an auto transmission (Been driving 40 years, never owned one!) Electric windows, and for the first time in my life, I want to adjust the damn passenger’s side mirror without rolling down window, and tapping with my Maglite flashlight! The idea of a little lever or switch to position the mirror is so enticing!!!

If you have $17K to spend, I’d suggest spending about 10K on whatever and then you’ll have some money for tires, struts, a new tranny if the car should need it.

Thaks guys! I’m going over to the Car Max in Raleigh tomorrow, and I have a list of SUVs , crossovers, and wagons to look over. I have a local mechanic who will trade me lunch for a thorough going over of whatever I buy. (CarMax has a 3 day money back thing, no questions) So, I’m going to hold my breath, and jump in. I have, however, set my max mileage at an arbitrary 70K, so, cross your fingers!

100k is not an issue, but set aside $1000-$2000 bucks a year for repairs. It’s still cheaper than a new $25,000 car.

You might want to investigate what rental fleets have to offer in cars they sell. I rented a Chevrolet Traverse and before that a Jeep Grand Cherokee from a rental agency. They may have the smaller SUVs in the fleet. These vehicles are usually well maintained, but do have a potential purchase checked by a mechanic.

CarMAX is so named because they get the MAXIMUM possible price for their cars. Seriously, they may have a good selection of nice cars, but check their price against NOT Kelly Blue Book. NADA is far more in line with the real world and what reputable dealers should be charging. The local CarMAX doesn’t even allow solo test drives, and requires that cars be driven on a prescribed route of about three miles. I would not trust a situation like that.

Do some internet shopping at other dealers, too. I found a 2010 Cobalt with 14,500 miles with a steep discount at a local Nissan dealer on line. You can probably find something that you like at an attractive price if you search long enough. Maybe you have already, but you never know who has the SUV for you.

I must agree with MgMcAnick about CarMax prices. When I was shopping for a used car, they consistently had the highest prices. And their cars had fairly high mileage for the respective model year I was looking at.