Miles vs newness for a used car purchase?

For example, what’s a better buy? 2004 Camry (10 yrs old) with 150k miles vs 1998 Corolla (16 yrs) with 90k miles. Is there any heuristic to “weight” car recency and miles?

Huh… After I wrote that I just saw a 1987 Toyota with like 45k miles on it in the same price range as the others listed! Kind of really makes me wonder how to think about this!

Far more important than the number of miles the car has traveled is how well the car has been maintained. A 2013 car with 60,000 miles on the odometer owned by an over the road salesman who had the maintenance performed might be a better buy than a 2013 car of the same make with 10,000 miles that was only driven around town without the engine warming up fully and had never had the oil changed.

I’d go with the 2004 IF it looks to be in good condition. Have an independent mechanic look it over. Age has a tendency to hurt cars with corrosion inside and outside. And once you get past about 12-15 years old it gets very hard and very expensive to get parts. Even a small accident will total the car.

I would find it hard to get excited about either. Although a higher mileage newer car would suggest more easy highway miles.

I try to find the newest vehicle with the lowest miles and best maintenance records. They are hard to find but they are out there. I’m fortunate that I don’t need to have it inspected by a mechanic but in some cases…I pay the extra money to have it inspected anyway. I have one quirk that people find strange but…I will not buy a car or truck that doesn’t have it’s owner’s manual. I pass up deals all the time because of this and will continue to do so.

Be wary of older cars with low miles. Non usage can be more detrimental then you’d think. From your options the 2004 would likely be the better buy, if its maintenance was up to date. I’d still look for something around that age with more like 110-120 on it.

1998 is a bit “long in the tooth” for my taste. At least for a daily driver. There’s a big difference in crashworthiness and passenger protection between the two years stated. Engine management also came a long way in that short span of time.

Any used car, regardless of make, year or miles, needs a good assessment by a competent shop. I’ve seen 16 year old cars in excellent shape, ones that I’d like to own, and 10 year old cars that I’d be afraid to ride in because they’re in such horrible shape… and some even look great but haven’t been properly maintained mechanically. Sometimes even needed repairs, like brakes or articulating suspension joints, have simply been ignored. Sometimes the current owner is so used to the car that he/she doesn’t even realize it needs serious work.

Since the bases have been covered by others I might just ask how much the sellers are wanting for them.
It’s possible that none of them are worth the asking prices.

It also matters how good that model was in that particular year. Many cars have problems right after a major redesign and are considerably more reliable a couple of years later. Check out the Consumer Reports stats on used cars and you can see that pattern. They identity when a car has had a major redesign.

<100k and <10yrs old is a good goal

As you get into the older cars with higher mileage, the owner becomes more important than the vehicle itself. If this is a car lot, then you lose that insight, but if you are dealing with a private sale, you can learn a lot about the owner.

Do they have other vehicles and are they clean and in good shape? If the car you are looking at is really clean and appears to be in good shape, but their other vehicle(s) is not looking very good, then you can be assured that this car looked like the other one for most of its life. And if the other car looks shabby, then you should be suspect of the maintenance.

My favorite used cars to buy back before I could afford a new one were ones owned by an elderly person. They were usually well maintained and typically had fewer miles on them. They weren’t driven hard. They weren’t usually “polished” but they were reasonably clean and I could put on a coat of polish myself. Often their affluent children don’t want Granny’s old car, but they were always the best cars I ever had.

One of the biggest determining factors is the condition of the body. That would weigh heavily in the direction of the newer car. Also, safety features are very important. If the car were kept inside and the body pristine in a non heavily salted areas, you could argue low mileage was more important.
Personally, other factors being equal…“like no accidents” the Camry wins hands down !

If everything else is equal, I’d give the nod to a 10 year old econobox w/150K vs a 16 year old w/90K. The rubber and plastic parts deteriorate with age, and everything inside the engine cooling systems deteriorates with age b/c of corrosion. But to reach this conclusion on two specific candidate cars it would depend on everything else being equal. If the 10 year old car hadn’t had its routine maintenance done on schedule, and the 16 year old car had, then I’d go with the 16 year old car.

Have you actually seen any of these cars or have you just seen advertisements on Craiglist or in your newspaper?


I have seen the 2004 Camry and driven it (owned by a friend). The rest were on Craigslist.

TIME plays a big part on a lot of the vehicle that miles may not.
Plastic, rubber, and electrical connections all come to mind.

My 79 has just 71k on it. it is on its third set of tires…if you fill the tank all the way, the filler hose leaks, the transmission rear seal seeps a good deal…the inside mirror fell off, again…the windshield spider crack keeps advancing…the door weatherstrips are dry and brittle…the clear coat is pealing…I could go on.