How risky to buy high mileage vehicle?



I have been asked to buy a reliable car for a college student, who has given me $5K. My mechanic, who I trust completely, tells me about a 2002 Chevy Cavalier used in a driving school that his son runs that has 130,000 miles. He has personally cared for it, including religious oil changes at 3000 mile intervals. He says it should last 200,000 miles or more because it has been well cared for. He has integrity, and has always done right by me, but I need other opinions. Is he right?


A car that has been used by a driving school has had much harder use than cars normally experience, and besides the brakes that are easily repairable, this type of use takes a particularly hard toll on the transmission, which is very expensive to repair. Even with regular maintenance, the transmission could have an excessive amount of wear on it.

Personally, I would not be interested in this car.


If it would not ruin your relationship with the seller, I would take it to a different mechanic and have the car completely inspected. It might cost you around one hundred dollars but the money will be well spent.


For $5K you can get a reliable car, but I’d avoid a Cavalier no matter what type of care it’s had. It may make it to 200K miles or it may not. There’s no way to know for sure. One thing for sure, though; I wouldn’t want to drive a Cavalier that far, nor would I want force the experience on a poor college student.

Go to your local library and get a copy of Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue for 2007. In it you will find lists of cars that have proven to be “good bets” organized by price range.

You will also find “used cars to avoid.” Pay close attention to this list, as it can save you a lot of heartache.

My personal favorite for an inexpensive used car is a Toyota Corolla or Chevrolet Prizm. The Corolla and the Prizm are mechanically identical, and both offer excellent long-term reliability, economy, and low ownership costs.

If you decide to buy the Cavalier, please don’t pay $5,000 for it. It’s worth about $1,000 on a good day. A REALLY good day.


The original owner of that Cavalier would have been lucky to get $5000 for it after owning it a single year. Now the car is at least five years old and has excessive mileage. That’s over 20,000 miles a year!

I can’t tell you whether this specimen is a sound car or not, but I would offer $2000 and not budge a nickel over $2500. If the owner wants to hold out, let him find another buyer.

The mileage does not really bother me all that much, but frankly a driving school could mean less than ideal driving.  If it were a manual transmission, I would plan on replacing the clutch and transmission.  As it is likely an automatic it may have lived through it.  

I don't know what to suggest.  I may be a good buy, but then it may not.  Why is his son selling it?


I have known some folks who have done OK owning Cavaliers. However, according to the vehicle is worth between $3000 to $4375. That is priced without assessing the risk of this being a car used by multiple inexperienced drivers.

For 5K you should get a lower mileage car from a dealer (Buick Regal or Century) come to mind.


The Cavalier is not a bad car, but there is no way I would give 5 grand for a 7 year old one with 130k miles.

I think you can do much better seeing as you have the cash and hold all of the negotiating cards. Patience is the key when looking for a car. The right one will pop up.


Given your relationship kindly decline.


I had fairly good luck w/the Cavalier I owned. But, they’re asking way too much for it considering its from a driving school. You can tell they’re cheaply built.

If I knew where you lived I’d sell you an 01 Malibu w/73k mi and new tires and brakes for $4100. Light hail damage. This has been one solid car for me. No mechanical problems since the alternator at 5k mi. My point is that I would recommend a Malibu as long as you can confirm the history and know that its been take care of. Others report not so good luck w/their Bu’s. No complaints from me though.


I am in Portland Maine. By the way, I left out one useful detail in my effort to be brief. I have 5K to spend, but they are asking $3500 for the Cavalier, if that makes a difference. The way I wrote it, one could conclude they were asking 5K


You Portlanders just love to obey Augusta so much that… I’ll have to tell you that the 02 is not on the Bad Bets list, but they are figuring about 90,000 miles for an 02. It’s not on the reliable used cars list either, but it looks like all systems other than fuel have a good reputation on the 02. Your fuel system is rated worse than average but not much worse than average. I would check the local newspapers on the web and see what prices they’re selling for. If the prices are way cheaper, then you might get the car for less. I know people who paid more for a little less of a car. At least the car hasn’t been parked for a long time under a tree: We hope.


How much will it be driven?


NADA shows the value of a base model '02 Cavalier with 130K to be $3000 wholesale and $4375 clean retail. I think the previous poster is a Ford guy. He is right about one thing. It’s NOT worth $5000. His son has probably depreciated it out in his businness, so whatever it brings is clear income for the school. You can do better. You don’t have to take the first deal/car you’re offered. The Geo/Corolla suggestion is a good one, but there are lots of good $5000 cars out there. You might look for an '00-'02 Taurus that has a newly rebuilt transmission.


Yeah, I think we all inferred you were going to dump the whole $5K on it. I feel better at $3500, but not a lot better. It was used in driver training. Not like a little old lady drove it only to church. Offer him $2000 and see what he does.