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Older car, low mileage, good deal?

I’m looking for a used car, and recently stumbled upon a '08 Hyundai Elantra with only about 30k miles on it. It looks like Edmunds/KBB value this car at around 6.5k, but the seller is asking for a few thousand more, citing the condition/low mileage. Who’s right? What are the things to worry about with a car like this? Should I be looking more at the age or the miles?

Usually private sellers have to sell below dealer prices and above trade value. With all the used cars on the market I would not even consider paying above market price.


“Who’s right?”

Edmunds is right

Low mileage only commands a small premium, not thousands over “book value”

I’d rather get a newer Elantra with more miles, for the same amount of money, for example

The newer one will generally have newer technology, more features, and might even have better fuel economy

“citing the condition . . .”

Few of the cars that supposedly are in excellent condition really are. Most people really don’t know much about cars, and think new tires, fresh oil change, and a car wash automatically means the car is in excellent condition. If only it were that simple :smiley:

Consumer Reports shows the 08 to be a pretty good car. One minor issue, it was redesigned in 07, so there may be a few more problems than usual, things that would get worked out in later years of that design which went through 2010.

The chart I’m looking at shows better or much better than average reliability in all systems except for fuel, suspension, and audio systems, which show average reliability.
I should mention that prior year Elantras had some significant problems reported by the owners, in the 02 - 05 year models. Major engine problems, cooling system problems, brakes, exhaust, paint. Those are the kind of problems you definitely don’t want. Hopefully they learned from that and the fixes are in for the 2008.

I’d guess that car you are looking at is probably a pretty good bet. Have you taken it for a test drive? What’s the driving experience like? How does it handle bumps? What about road noise?

db4690 most likely knows for sure but this over priced vehicle might be due for a timing belt and a lot of other service that has not been done.

I took it for a test drive, it seemed to handle a few potholes that I drove over very nicely, and road noise was low; in general it was a car I would be happy enough driving (I found it comparable to my '99 Camry).

@“VOLVO V70” -That was one of the things I was wondering - would a timing belt “go bad” after 9 years even if barely used?

Timing belts are changed before they go bad because of all the really bad damage that can happen. The replacement period is x number of miles or x number of years.

Doesn’t matter, the materials in the timing belt degrade with time. The usual limit is 10 years or 100k miles, whichever occurs first. However, some make/models may have different limits. I’ve seen them as low as 8 years.

Important that you get the car inspected by your mechanic before the purchase. If the seller refuses, walk away.

If the timing belt has not been changed (and you have proof) then subtract $1k from the 6.5k.


here’s the kbb private party values for the car. Based on what you say, I"m guessing the guy is asking 9K or 10K for the thing. If so, he needs to stop smoking rock|true|2128066|true|2128067|true&condition=good&pricetype=private-party&persistedcondition=good

The car DOES have a timing belt, so it’s definitely due by time, unless you have paperwork proving it’s been done recently. Timing belts are replaced at x number of miles or x number of years, whatever comes first. Many people focus on the miles, and not the years, thus lulling themselves into a false sense of security.

If I’m anywhere near the truth, as to what the seller is asking, the sale doesn’t make sense. If you like, show him my printout and offer him the excellent price. If he doesn’t budge, ask him why he thinks his car is worth so much more. And then move on, because it doesn’t matter at that point anymore. Politely tell him you’re not prepared to spend so much on a 2008 Elantra, thank him for his time, and then walk away.

Here’s a good example of why age is often more important . . . the quality of the exterior and interior. I see plenty of older cars that are excellent mechanical condition, yet the paint is degraded and the interior is splitting. At that point, the low miles don’t matter anymore

Thank you all so much. The owner has already agreed to let me take it in to a mechanic. @db4690 - the interior and exterior both appeared to be in pretty pristine condition (though I’ll double check again when I bring in the car for inspection); I think this car is probably a “very good” or “excellent condition”. But I’ll definitely be negotiating, and ask about the timing belt. Seems like 7.5 is about the max I should be paying, probably should be closer to 6.5 or 7. I assume this will be a no-go for the owner, but such is the way of car searching.

On a similar note, I have a mechanic I’ve gone to, but I don’t particularly trust them (I don’t not trust them, I just don’t really have data). How exactly does one not well versed in cars pick out a mechanic? I don’t really have a good way of confirming their work, and it seems like most online reviews (yelp, etc.) are from people similarly unfamiliar (“I got an oil change and they were friendly. 5 stars”).

I would pay $3000 over market value for a classic car if there was something about the car that impressed me but not for an ordinary car. I wouldn’t make an offer that was $3500 below asking price, the seller would likely be offended. I would move on and look for a car that is appropriately priced.

Low miles is not an advantage. Here’s a good example, it should have had the timing belt replaced, I bet, and it sounds like it hasn’t. Low miles (if from lots of short trips) actually requires more maintenance, not less. I’d rather see about 10k/year.

Around here (southern CA) where used cars are not even cheap, you can get a CPO ex-rental 2015 Elantra with 30K miles on it for around $11K without even much negotiation. I would not pay more than $6K for a 2008 even if it had zero miles on it. The technology improvements itself is also a consideration.

Never buy an overpriced car; it’s an automatic loss.

In addition to the timing belt issue–which is very valid–I would be concerned about the overall state of this car’s maintenance.

Many–or, more likely, most–people seem to focus only on odometer mileage, rather than also considering elapsed time when doing maintenance. In the case of this car, it has been driven–on average–only about 3,750 miles per year. If the owner considered only odometer mileage, then it is entirely possible that the oil was not changed often enough.

If I was contemplating buying that car, in addition to the timing belt which is now overdue for replacement (and whose condition cannot be evaluated on the basis of its appearance), I would only consider buying it if the owner could produce documentation of at least 15 oil changes.

When a car is driven the way that this one was apparently driven, the oil should be changed at least every six months.

Find the private seller price in your area for this car on Edmunds or a similar on line service. Cost an identical car (same trim level and options) in clean condition with the same mileage. Subtract anything your mechanic finds that needs fixing. The mechanic has to price every problem, of course. This is the most you should be willing to pay. Start lower with the intent of ending up there. If the owner won’t sell, tell him to contact you if he changes his mind. As part of the negotiations, you might show the owner a printout of their fair market value, or bring it up on your smart phone if you have one. There is no need to overpay for the car just because the owner has an inflated sense of value.

Agree! Low mileage on an older car only commands a small premium, but the car must have been maintained and look immaculate.

A friend is selling his wife’s 2002 Malibu V6 fully loaded because she has a back problem and want a vehicle with higher seating, like a van.

I priced this car for another friend and even with only 49,000 miles, it would only sell for $1500 retail and about $1000 on a private sale. Wholesale price is only $100.

Owners who are proud of their well kept cars often have inflated expectations of what the car is really worth; the simple answer is what the market will pay.

I’ve bought a number of older low mileage cars over the years and have never paid a significant premium.

Generally, I Would Rather Buy A Newer Car With Higher Miles Than An Older Car With Low Miles, If They Were Priced Similarly

Without knowing all the particular detail, driving a car only 4,000 miles per year is usually tough on the car’s exhaust system and could be bad for the engine, too. Moisture and corrosion is the enemy at work here.

Newer cars are less likely to have corrosion issues and have newer safety standards and newer technology.


My kid got a 07 focus w/60k miles 2 yrs ago for 2500. No issues. Older cars are ok. Sometimes.

You have to consider the make and model of the vehicle as well. Back in the late 80’s there was a plethora of used Yugo’s on the market and all had low miles. When you stay in the repair shop most of your life you don’t accumulate mileage. Low miles can be good or bad.