How Many Miles Are Too Many For A Used Car?

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Photo: Scott Olson

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are talking about mileage on used cars, bringing kids to dealerships, and advertising lemon law vehicles.

This story was originally published on December 20, 2019

First up, when buying a used car how many miles are too many?

I’m looking to buy a car/suv for my teen daughter’s first ride. I have only ever bought new cars and have never put more than 80,000 miles on a car. Shopping for a used car I’m not sure how many miles is too much. I want to make sure that whatever I get is fairly reliable. She will be driving less than 60 miles per week.

This is an excellent question, and mileage is often a major concern when shopping for a pre-owned vehicle. Of course, any car nut will tell you that “mileage is just a number and it’s the condition that matters most.” That’s true, but mileage can be an indicator of how much wear a car has had and therefore how much life is left in the components.

You could, of course, have a 120,000-mile car that runs very well, and a 60,000-mile car that should head for the junkyard. When it comes to looking at mileage thresholds for used cars it really comes down to the budget and the type of car. Various price points and certain types of cars are going to have different guidelines on what constitutes “too many miles.”

In this particular case, I’m going to assume that like most parents buying cars for their kids you are likely trying to spend less than $10,000, perhaps you want to spend less than $5,000. Within that budget zone if you set a mileage threshold at around 120,000 there will be a number of decent cars to choose from. While that 120,000 marks may seem a bit arbitrary, a line needs to be drawn somewhere, and I don’t subscribe to the “once a car hits 100,000 it’s junk” philosophy. At the same token once you start pushing to 150,000 miles and more there is a much higher likelihood of shelling out even more money to fix things. As always if you find something that seems worthwhile, you should invest in getting it inspected prior to your purchase.

Next up, what is the protocol for bringing kids to a dealership?

What is the general protocol for bringing along a child/children to a dealership? Certainly, it would be beneficial to see how the child fits in the car, bring them along on the test drive (with or without car/booster seat), etc? I have one child in third grade, and I would like a small saloon, but need to ensure the kid has enough room in the back, even if the front seats are all the way back.

Bringing kids along to go car shopping is not really any different than bringing kids along to do any other kind of shopping. You need to plan ahead and do your best to make sure they are as well-behaved as possible. Do not under any circumstances leave them unattended in the dealership lot with a rock.

In all seriousness, if you are buying a family car I would say it is crucial to bring the family along for test drives. You want to make sure everyone is comfortable and the car is a match for your needs. What I would not recommend is doing the negotiating with the kiddos at the dealership. I’m of the mindset that you should never negotiate price at the dealer anyway because you have so much more leverage comparing prices via email. While some folks may think a rowdy or crying kid may get the salesperson to bend to your will on the pricing, what it will often do is stress you out and cause to make decisions quickly, which may not result in the best deal.

Lastly, is it legal for a used car dealer to sell a car that was bought back under Lemon Law?

I saw this cheap Dodge Dart for sale and the ad said it had a ‘Lemon Law’ and hail damage. How can they do that? I thought these cars can’t be sold anymore

Cars that are bought back under Lemon Law are resold all the time. Often the manufacturer addresses whatever issue was at hand to necessitate the buyback and the car then usually goes through an auction and gets picked up by a dealership. Sometimes a car is bought back for a serious issue, sometimes it’s minor. If this particular dealer is telling you straight up in the ad that the car has a Lemon Law history, it’s fine. They are being honest about that. It’s the dealers that sell these cars without disclosing that info that really hoses buyers on the transaction.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at [email protected]!

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