Should I buy a high mileage car?

Last updated April 22, 2021

Buying a new car can be a daunting process – especially if you’re not familiar with the buying process and aren’t sure what you should be looking for. Parting with hard-earned cash is difficult to begin with, but the added worry brought in by the fear of buying a car that doesn’t meet your expectations can make the process especially off-putting.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, there are ways for you to save money on buying a car without compromising on quality. High mileage cars, especially those that have been well maintained, can be a cheaper alternative to new or lightly used cars, and they can be worth considering.

Since car mileage lifespan has increased over time, a well-maintained used car could still serve you well for thousands or tens of thousands of miles, even if it already has over 100,000 miles on the clock. In fact, opting for a car with a higher mileage can be a great way to find a great deal on a late model car that you might not be able to afford otherwise.

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What is considered high mileage?

What constitutes being labelled as ‘high mileage’ depends on a range of factors including the age of the car and what make and model it is. However, mileage studies have estimated that, on average, UK motorists drive around 7000 miles per year, so any car that has been driven more than that on an annualised basis can be thought of as high mileage.

However, as we’ve already stated, high mileage isn’t always a bad thing. With proper maintenance, cars can have a life expectancy of around 200,000 miles. You could reach this within two years or twenty, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your car’s life.

What checks should I make before buying a high mileage car?

The internet has made buying cars a lot easier, not least of all because of the availability of handy tools like MOT checkers. These can highlight a lot of problems in advance if you know the car’s registration plate.

If you are buying a high mileage car, certain checks may be carried out to minimise risk. By checking the MOT history of a car you’re looking to buy, you can make sure that it has been assessed throughout the milestone markers of its lifespan. Some examples include:

  • Wheel alignment should be checked regularly, but after 50,000 miles, the shocks and struts should be looked at.
  • After 60,000 miles, cars may need a new cambelt. You can ask for proof of this purchase by way of receipts or through using a pre-purchase mechanic.
  • After 100,000 miles, new spark plugs may be required, and these should be checked up on every 10,000 miles thereafter or if the engine misfires.
  • Coolant should be checked and replaced if necessary, at around 125,000 miles.
  • At 150,000 miles, the drivetrain seals should be checked for loss of fluid, headlights should be checked and refinished, timing chain tensioners must be looked at and renewed if they are worn, and power steering fluid needs to be looked at and be changed if required.

Alongside doing an MOT check, you should ask for the vehicle history report. This can allow you to see the vehicle’s details history, including a list of any previously reported accidents.

Don’t let your research stop with the car, either. You should research the buyer to try to get a better sense of how the car may have been driven. If you are potentially planning on purchasing a car from a used-car seller, check if they have any bad reviews online – especially reviews that relate to cars with high mileage.

You should also use the seller to your full advantage. Ask them questions about the car to find out how it has been maintained, and to ask for any receipts for work carried out. You could additionally consider having a professional ispect the car before you buy it, but this will come at an additional cost.

The benefits of a high mileage car

The biggest benefit of buying a car with a high mileage is that you’ll generally get it for cheaper than if you bought new. However, you do have to keep in mind that this benefit can come back to haunt you if you choose a car that hasn’t been well maintained.

With the existence of car check tools online, it’s now possible to check any car that you know the registration number of to make sure that it has a good history. If you want to check a car's service history you can complete a V888 form via the DVLA’s website.

Whilst you can check online, the best way to check a vehicles history is to review the documentation with the vehicle. You should ensure that all services have been provided by a VAT registered garage and that the vehicle has been serviced in regular intervals in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

High mileage doesn’t always mean that the car is in bad shape - after all, cars are meant to be driven. A car with 100,000 miles on the odometer might have been used for fewer, longer trips on the motorway. Trips like this cause minimal wear and tear, whereas multiple short trips can cause strain on the engine. The engine will typically be healthy because it is constantly lubricated and will burn any carbon build-up.

Keep in mind that lower mileage isn’t always the best thing to look for in a used car. Particularly low mileage on an old car might indicate that it has been out of use for long periods of time, or hasn’t had much motorway experience (which can be associated with greater wear and tear on the clutch and brakes).

What are the best high mileage cars?

The best high mileage cars are the cars that have been well looked after. Ex-company cars or taxis are often well maintained as they tend to have a full service history and will more than likely have been used for longer journeys. Cars that have driven on longer journeys rather than shorter journeys are often in better condition.

How to maintain a high mileage car

If you choose to buy a second-hand car with over 100,000 miles on the clock, there are several things you should consider to keep it running smoothly for as long as possible.

As with any other vehicle, you should perform monthly checks to ensure that everything is working as it should. These regular checks should include monitoring oil and coolant levels, tyre pressure and tread depth, and the cleanliness of headlights and number plates. Also make sure to top up your washer fluid.

If the spark plugs have not been replaced and you purchase the car, be sure to replace these when appropriate. It’s also important to replace the coolant and check wheel alignment regularly.

If your car has reached the 150,000 mile mark, there are a few extra checks you might want to perform. Drivetrain seals should be inspected for loss of fluid, and your power steering fluid might also need changing. Timing chain tensioners must be looked at and renewed if they are worn.