When shopping for a used car, two key factors typically dominant the decision-making process: age and mileage. This well-established debate continues on in auto spheres as to which characteristic is most important when considering a used car purchase — the age of a vehicle or the number of miles it's been driven? Regardless of which will sway your decision, knowledge is the best tool any car shopper has to make an informed decision, so here are some pros and cons for both sides.


Pro Low Mileage

odometer reading
The odometer only tells half the story

In theory, a car with less miles on it should last longer than a car with more miles. If you buy a used vehicle with 50,000 miles on it, it's going to have more driving days ahead of it than its 100,000-mile counterpart — that's just simple math. The huge caveat here, though, is the assumption that these two vehicles have been cared for the same. How a vehicle has been cared for is just as important, if not more so, than age and mileage. If a vehicle has been well cared for and has low mileage, then it's a win-win, because that means a longer life expectancy for the various components of the car which are only designed to last so long. Compared to a car with higher mileage, parts are going to need to be replaced sooner, like a transmission, which can be incredibly costly, making a low mileage vehicle the more cost-efficient option, even if the initial sticker price is higher.

Con Low Mileage

Lower mileage doesn't always mean less wear and tear. If a vehicle has been neglected when it comes to maintenance and routine check-ups, it's not necessarily the more attractive option just because of the low mileage. Being driven is a vehicle's raison d'être. To keep them operating smoothly, they need to be used and well-oiled. A five-year-old car that's just been collecting dust isn't necessarily the better option over a 10-year-old vehicle that's been driven regularly and well-maintained. Mileage isn't necessarily the end-all be-all of a vehicle's usefulness. Plus, modern technology has made great leaps in extending lifespan of vehicles, so a newer car with more miles might actually be built to last longer than an older version with less.

Resale Value

used cars

Pro: Low Mileage

Another plus for low mileage vehicles is that they'll likely retain a greater resale value. If you only plan to own your used vehicle temporarily, a low mileage ride will serve you better when it comes time to list it for sale, granted you haven't racked up tens of thousands of miles yourself. However, vehicles with solid reputations for durability won't have a problem selling either way. For instance, a Toyota Corolla with 100,000 miles on it is still going to have a lot of interested buyers due to its trusted reliability, so low mileage might not be a big of a selling point depending on the type of vehicle.

Con: Low Mileage

How a vehicle racked up its mileage is also an important factor to consider. City driving, which requires lots of stop and go, is more taxing on a vehicle than highway driving. Vehicles with lower mileage are also going to have higher sticker prices so price point is another influencer when car shopping. If you're looking to only keep the vehicle for a few years and then resell, a lower mileage vehicle would be worth it to help you get the best return. But, if you're shopping for a new daily driver, it might not be worth it to spend the extra money for less miles. The difference between 60,000 miles and 90,000 miles isn't so great once a vehicle has accumulated so much distance.

Final Say

Bottom line, you can't really reduce it all to a simple answer, but how a vehicle has been cared for is extremely important. Here are some good guidelines to follow.

Always check the vehicle history report

vehicle history report
If you see "Salvage Title" on the report, you might want to reconsider. This means that the vehicle was damaged and/or deemed a total loss by the insurance company.

Reach out to the seller and ask for the vehicle history report for the car you're interested in. This is an important first step in establishing a dialogue with the seller as well. If the report is negative, then there's your answer. There are many online resources that will allow you to access a vehicle's history report via a VIN search. On the flipside, a vehicle history report doesn't catch everything. If an accident hasn't been reported by the owner and/or the police, it may not show up in the history report.

Test-drive the car

This seems like a no-brainer, but it stands to have it in writing that you shouldn't buy a vehicle before testing it out on the road, and trying your best to simulate the conditions you'll likely do the majority of your driving in. Ask the owner or dealer whether the vehicle's scheduled maintenance has been performed on time, or if it's undergone any serious damages and repairs, perhaps due to an accident.

Have the vehicle inspected

Finally, you can opt to have the car inspected before you sign your name on the dotted line. If you're buying a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle then this probably isn't necessary, but if you're buying from a private party, it's not a bad idea to have a trusted mechanic take a thorough look.