Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Is 100k mileage too high to buy?

When searching used cars on craigslist price between 5k to 10k, I found many cars with mileage higher than 100k. For example, a 2004 Volvo S80, 119k mileage, asking for $8200. Is this mileage too high to buy? What should I be careful when buying cars with 100k mileage or greater?

I’d stay away from used Volvo’s if your intent is to save money. There are plenty of cars that can make it to 250K miles or more without too much expense, but I don’t think any recent vintage Volvo’s are in that category.

Depends on the car and the price. This Volvo is $8,200 now, plus you’ll spend thousands more on it in the near future.

Ask Irv:

Of course they don’t make them now like the used to.

It depends on the price, the car, how well it has been maintained, and most importantly, how reliable you need the car to be.

A few months ago, I traded in my '02 Outback, and it had ~105k miles on the odometer.
The car had been maintained better than the manufacturer specified, and had absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it did not even burn any oil, or have fluid leaks of any kind, and got slightly better gas mileage than when it was new.

By contrast, there was a car on the dealer’s lot that was 3 years newer than mine, and had less odometer mileage than mine. But, because of the relatively poor condition of the newer car, it was actually priced at the same level as my older car with more miles on it.

In other words, the key to finding a decent used car is maintenance. Unless you can verify through documentation that a used car with over 100k has been well-maintained, you should pass it by. On the other hand, you could find a car like my old one that probably has many thousands of trouble-free miles left in it. Maintenance is the key.

100K would be like buying a new car to me. I generally run them 200K +. I had a '93 F-150 that I traded off at 300K because I needed a heavier truck. It’s replacement has 124K on it when I got it 2 years ago. It’s now at 175K…

A car with 100K could have a lot of good miles left in it, or it could be ready for the junkyard. The difference is; was it maintained properly? and is it a good reliable car model to begin with? Volvo fails on count #2. Older Volvos cost a lot to maintain and they tend to need frequent and expensive repairs. Toyota, Honda, and many American brands hold up much better over time than Volvo. BMW, VW, and M. Benz are similar to Volvo. Great new cars, expensive to maintain old cars.

On count #1 you may have a difficult time figuring out if the previous owner did the proper maintanence on a car or not. Services like CarFax are helpful but don’t tell you if the oil was changed every 5K miles. If the previous owner(s) kept all the service receipts in the glovebox for you to examine, that is the best way to know a car was properly cared for, or not.

As noted already, maintenance history is the key. If you’re looking at private sellers and they don’t have records readily available then they probably played it a bit fast and loose. (The ones big on maintenance normally keep all of their receipts and such and know where they are).

If you’re looking at a dealer lot there are ways to tell things about maintenance history but you usually need to know your way around a car. Find a good mechanic you can trust and many will charge an hour’s labor to give it a once over for you.

If it is well maintained, I figure a car at 100K miles is finally broken in.

One caveat about that - if you look at minivan’s with 100K miles figure in that you’re very likely to need the transmission rebuilt anywhere from 100.1K miles to about 150K. Again maintenance makes all the difference, but minivan transmissions - pretty much all of them - are the notorious weak spot.

The weak link in most FWD cars are the automatic transmissions…They seldom get any maintenance and if they do, it’s liable to be just a fluid change. These transmissions don’t last forever and when they fail it usually totals the car…Many transmissions fail between 100K and 150K miles…

I agree that maintenance and make are the most important factors. On one extreme, who would argue (time machine comparison) that a new Yugo had less life left than a used well maintained 100k Accord. Our son’s routine for Boston traffic and economics was to buy an Accord at 100K miles, trade or dump at 250K.

The actual age of the car because of rust and safety features may be just or more important. Find parts for a 20 year old car with 20K miles vs a used 2 year old Accord/Fusion with 100K miles.

At some point people have to realize it’s the chassis that cost the most money to maintain near life’s end…just like people.

My Dad bought a used 1954 Buick from a friend in 1955. The car had been very well maintained. He maintained the car well and I bought the car from him when I was in graduate school in 1963. The Buick had gone 120,000 and ran beautifully. I drove it to 165,000 miles and it still ran well. The car was still on the streets 3 years later. The heads and pan had never been off the engine. If a well maintained car back in that time period could go well past 100,000 miles, today’s cars should do as well. (I still think tht the Buick nail head V-8 that came out in 1953 was the best engine ever made and I used to think that my car did well because of that engine. However, the maintenance was the important factor).