Should I Buy a Car With 100k Miles? Avoid these mistakes


The decision to buy a car is huge no matter what your budget. No one wants to buy a lemon. Should you even consider a car with 100k miles? Read on to find out why you should.

Modern cars are designed to last well over 200k miles. Buying a high mileage car may be an excellent purchase so long as the vehicle has been meticulously maintained, but before buying, a thorough inspection of both the vehicle and the vehicle’s service history is critical.

Of course, it would be amazing to float into a dealership and buy a new car. But the reality is most people don’t drive a new car. According to IHS Markit, the average car age on the road is 12 years old. Many don’t want the extra financial burden associated with a new car. And most used cars are very reliable. Let’s look at what 100k miles mean.

Audi interior

100k Miles Represents Only Half It’s Working Life

When looking to buy your used car, it’s critical to check it out thoroughly before you take the plunge. But mileage of 100k miles should not be a deal-breaker. Most cars clock an average of 10 – 12,000 miles per year. So firstly, check the age of the car and compare it to the mileage. If the car is 10 years old and has 100k miles, that’s ok, it’s average mileage.

100k miles on the average modern car means it’s about halfway through its useful life. Car technology has moved on so much that cars can drive on to 200k miles or even 300k and more if well maintained.

That said there are a ton of high mileage lemons out there, so how to spot a good one? That’s what we’ll cover next.

Mistakes To Avoid When Buying High Mileage Car

Buying any used car carries risk. You are about to part with thousands of dollars. Buying from a reputable dealer is usually the least risky as they’ll likely offer you at least a short warranty and buying from the classifieds usually represents the most risk since selling cars isn’t presumably the seller’s business and there won’t be a warranty. (It is possible however to purchase a car warranty for peace of mind)

So how can you know for sure it’s a good buy?

I’ve been buying cars for years, both privately and from dealers and the recipe for a successful purchase is simple – Eliminate as much risk as possible

You can’t eliminate all risks, but by taking the following steps you’ll eliminate all the major pitfalls.

  1. Doing your research
  2. Ordering a VIN check report
  3. Have the vehicle inspected by a professional

Sellers of honest cars will be happy to have their car inspected by your mechanic or agent, if however, they won’t allow an inspection, run from the deal immediately.

1 Do Your Research

When it comes to buying a car I’ll assume the seller is not telling the truth, I do this not because I’m distrusting of my fellow man, not at all. I do it because it forces me to check the facts for myself. It’s easy to turn up and accept everything that is imparted to you, it’s harder to do the research but that’s where success lays.

So what type of research is needed? You can do a ton of work from your smartphone without ever going to inspect even one car. First off decide on an actual make and model that best suits your station in life. Get to know as much about your chosen model as possible.

All car models have dedicated forums, they are a super valuable resource for research as the owners love to talk about their cars. But don’t stop there check out KBB for prices and values, and JD Power for their customer satisfaction ratings, and NHTSA for safety and recalls, etc.

Knowing your chosen model’s common problems etc. allows you to be more knowledgeable than maybe even the seller, either way, you’ll know your stuff and that’ll give you the advantage.

2 Order a VIN Check

After you have made contact with the seller be it privately or through a dealer, it’s normal to order a VIN check. A VIN check is a check of a vehicle’s unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) also known as a chassis number through a database where information on title washing, accident damage, insurance write-offs, mileage fraud, VIN cloning, stolen recovered, salvage rebuilds, fire, insurance claims, etc are stored.

Before buying any vehicle, it’s always worth investing just a few dollars to check the VIN number against the database. There are a ton of great companies out there, I use VinAudit and find them thorough, fast, and reliable.

3 Order Vehicle Inspection

This is a super important step also. You’ve chosen your vehicle, it checks out with the VIN check, now it’s time to have a professional physically check over the vehicle. Your local mechanic is likely willing to do this or there are a ton of excellent companies out there offering pre-purchase inspections.

They’ll check the service history, mechanical condition, check bodywork and interior imperfections. And of course, check the service history of the vehicle.

Older cars and cars with 100k miles have reached important markers in their driving life. Some very important maintenance tasks need to be undertaken and the seller should have a complete service history either confirming this maintenance has been taken care of or indicating it needs to be done soon.

Here are just some of the more important checks:

Avoid Cars With No Service History

Check that the car has had regular oil changes. That air and oil filters have been changed regularly (air – every 10-15k miles and oil every 6k). Check the dealer stamp against the date and mileage, does it tally?

Coolant:

Coolant needs to be changed every three years. Coolant is important it prevents overheating, freezing, acts as a lubricant and as anti-corrosion. Your coolant levels may be fine but if the car is being topped up with water and not coolant then the coolant is diluted each time and so becomes less and less effective.

Brake Fluid:

Brake fluid needs to be changed approximately every three years. brake fluid attracts moisture and that can cause two problems, soft brake pedal and brake system corrosion, both are serious.

Soft pedal – Heat from the rotors turn moisture in the fluid to steam causing an ineffective brake pedal.

Corrosion – Moisture inside the brake system corrodes the system from the inside resulting in a very expensive repair bill.

Brake Lines:

Brake lines are steel pipes that run the length of the vehicle and carry brake fluid and pressure in order to activate the brake calipers. In salt states especially the salty brine can corrode the brake lines in older vehicles.

Transmission Fluid:

Transmission failure costs can be enormous. Transmission fluid needs to be changed every 3 years or 30,000 miles. On a car with 100k miles, this should have happened at least 3 times already. Transmission neglect is a warning signal.

Timing Belts:

Timing belts are crucial to maintaining your engine’s operation. The toothed belt maintains the timing of the top and bottom half of the engines. Most engines are what’s known as interference engines meaning the internal components occupy the same space but are crucial at different times. The timing belt makes this happen.

If a belt fails, the components try to occupy the same space at the same time and the result is devastating usually to the cylinder head. And that’s quite the spendy repair bill.

The belt is typically changed at around 100k miles and while the technician is in there, they replace the water pump also. If it has been changed already – fantastic – one, because it’s going to save you money but two because the seller has shown that they care for the car.

Timing chains

Some engines don’t employ a belt to time the engine, instead, they use a chain. Chains generally are designed to last the life of the engine, but in recent years vehicles like Audi and BMW have experienced premature chain wear. But doing your research will mean you’ll know about such weaknesses in your chosen model.

Cost Of a Car With 100k Miles

The consideration to buy a car with high mileage is usually cost-related. You may already have several monthly bills and not want another. Or it may be your first car for heading off to college and you just don’t have the credit history to get your own finance. The average cost of a new car is $37k and used at $20k (Kelly Blue Book). But a car with over 100k miles might be $5000 or less.

This will result in a purchase that won’t incur any debt. It’s a figure that can be saved. I recommend you research the type of car you think you might like and check out some local car dealerships and also Edmonds.com 

Have a budget in mind and when you have that amount saved, start actively looking.

You’ll have to factor in maintenance jobs that might need to be done. When you go looking, remember that whenever you buy, either privately or from a car lot – Cash is King! It’s hard for people to turn down hard cash. It gives great bargaining power as you can offer the lower amount, and when the deal is done just count out the dollars. You don’t have that control when paying with a check or draft.

The other costs that might surprise you are insurance and registration. Insurance on older cars can be as little as 25% that of a new car. This is an enormous saving. Insurance is of course age-dependent, location-dependent, and driver history. It’s going to cost an insurance company much less to replace an 8-10-year-old car than a brand new one.

Registration fees vary greatly from state to state (Autolist.com). However, many states base their fees on the age of the vehicle. Older cars cost much less than new cars to register. You will be charged a title transfer for a used car and maybe an extra charge for license plates. You only have a certain amount of time to register your car and may be charged penalties if the time runs over.

Where To Buy?

Buick car lot

There are two buying options. Private seller or dealership.

Autotrader is the best for private sales. The option to filter the vehicle listings by location make, model, year, color specs. And also a range of reviews.

Carsdirect is for local dealerships. It doesn’t have the in-depth search capacity of Autotrader but it does offer a loan calculator, trade-in values, and the ability to save searches.

Cargurus is probably the best site for 100k mile cars. It sorts cars by best value or a good deal. You can see how long a car has been listed, which may give you some buying power if it has been on the show for a while.

In Conclusion

I would recommend buying a car with 100k miles on the clock, many still have a ton of good years and miles in them. Do your research. Don’t just believe the seller, even if it’s a local dealership, check your facts, order a VIN report and have a mechanic check it over.

By following these simple steps, I think you’ll find an excellent motor that will serve you faithfully for many years.

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John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty-five years, and I've worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Landrover, and Jaguar dealerships. My passion is cars. I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of car ownership, including buying advice, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

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