11 Tips for Buying a High-Mileage Car

By Timothy Moore · November 09, 2022 · 9 minute read

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11 Tips for Buying a High-Mileage Car

Are you thinking about buying a car? Brace yourself: The average cost of a new vehicle in the United States is nearing $50,000. Couple that with increased wait times for new car orders since the onset of the pandemic, and buying a used car might be a more attractive option.

During your used car search, you may come upon several vehicles with 100,000 miles or more on them. Conventional wisdom used to preach that 100,000 miles was a critical turning point in a vehicle’s value and reliability. In other words, the advice was to proceed with extreme caution. But today, a well-cared-for high-mileage vehicle can still be a wise purchase — if you know what to look for when buying a high-mileage car.

If you’re ready to learn the new rules, read on. You’ll gain insight into:

•   Whether to buy a high-mileage car

•   The pros and cons of buying a high-mileage car

•   Smart tactics that can help you get the best deal possible.

Is It Wise to Buy a High-Mileage Car?

Buying a high-mileage car can be an easy way to save money. In fact, if the price is right, you may be able to buy a used car with cash, meaning you won’t have to worry about monthly car payments and high interest rates.

However, cars with higher mileage are understandably more prone to mechanical issues. When buying high-mileage cars, it’s important to consider models with a clear history of routine maintenance. It is also wise to consider automotive manufacturers that are well-known for building longer-lasting cars; Consumer Reports singles out Honda and Toyota specifically, though some people are loyal to other makes, too.

Recommended: Can I Get a Personal Loan for a Car?

Buying a High-Mileage Car: Pros and Cons

So what are the pros and cons of buying a high-mileage car? Let’s break it down:

Pros of High-Mileage Cars Cons of High-Mileage Cars
Affordability: Used cars are generally cheaper than new cars; the more miles on the odometer, the more affordable it typically is. And expect continued savings: For the most part, used cars are cheaper to insure than new ones. Maintenance costs: A high-mileage automobile is more likely to need repair work. Eventually, a necessary repair may cost more than the car’s value, at which point you may want to consider buying a different car.
Depreciation: A new car typically loses 20% of its value in the first year; then 60% by the 5-year mark. By buying an older, high-mileage car, you don’t have to worry about such large depreciation hits. Safety: A car with high mileage is likely at least a few years old, so it won’t have the industry’s latest safety technologies.
Ease of purchase: You can likely drive a high-mileage car off the lot as soon as you sign. Wait times for some new cars, however, have reached as long as four months in 2022. In addition, you may be able to purchase a high-mileage car with cash, meaning you can skip the credit check and financing discussions./td>

Financing challenges: While paying with cash is an option for a higher-mileage car, the price may still be too steep for your bank account. Because of the increased chances for mechanical issues, lenders might be hesitant to offer financing for cars with more than 100,000 miles on them.

Recommended: What Credit Score Do You Need to Buy a Car?

11 Practical Tips for Buying a High-Mileage Car

If buying a high-mileage car is right for your budget, the following tips for buying a used car could be helpful:

1. Having a Budget

Before researching used cars, it’s smart to have an idea of what you are willing to spend. This might involve analyzing your savings or discussing your car loan options with a lender.

Once you have settled on a budget that you can afford, respect that limit. Even if you see a must-have car that’s slightly over your budget, remember that you set a max number for a reason: It’s what you are comfortable paying.

2. Researching Makes and Models with Good High-Mileage Ratings

While most cars can make it to 200,000 miles and beyond when taken care of, not all cars are created equal. Research makes and models that are well-known for lasting beyond 200,000 miles; Consumer Reports is one solid, objective resource for this.

You can also use resources like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and Cars.com to understand fair prices for the specific make and model you have chosen, given its mileage and condition.

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3. Researching Reviews on the Car Model

Next up when thinking about what to look for when buying a high-mileage car: What do the experts have to say?

Once you have selected your preferred car model, read independent reviews from popular car sites (like Edmunds, Consumer Reports, and Car and Driver) and actual drivers on car forums. Doing so may help you get a feel for how this model performs, particularly once it has 100,000 or more miles on it.

While it might not cover the specific year, make, and model of the car you are considering, J.D. Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability Study can give you a good idea of automakers that excel at designing long-lasting vehicles.

If it appears that the vehicle you have chosen may not be as dependable as you thought, you may want to start your research over, focusing on a different model.

4. Researching Risks and Costs

No matter which high-mileage car you are considering, there will be inherent risks as far as reliability goes. It’s wise to familiarize yourself with the potential problems associated with a higher-mileage car. This may provide you with a better understanding of what could go wrong.

Knowing the common issues that high-mileage cars encounter can help you calculate how much to save for car maintenance.

5. Researching Car Insurance

Before you drive home in your used car, it’s a good idea to have car insurance figured out. In fact, every state but Virginia and New Hampshire legally requires you to carry car insurance if you own a vehicle.

Check out minimum car insurance requirements for your state as you research. Often, the minimum level of coverage is an adequate amount for a high-mileage vehicle.

That said, determining the right amount of car insurance coverage is entirely up to your discretion. Think about what will make you feel safe and well protected.

6. Not Being Impatient

Patience is important when shopping for a used car (as it is for many big purchases, this is especially if there is a specific model you have in mind. It might be tempting to buy the first high-mileage car that meets your basic criteria, but it is a good idea to take your time, view multiple options, and compare them before making a decision.

If your current vehicle is nearing the end of its life, you might want to start car shopping before it is totally out of commission. That way, you are less likely to be rushed into a decision.

Recommended: Leasing vs. Buying a Car

7. Test-Driving the Car

Test-driving a car is a good idea whether you’re buying new or used. When buying new, it allows you to determine if the vehicle is right for you. Are the seats comfy? Are the controls intuitive? Can you work around its blind spots?

Checking these things for a high-mileage car is also important. On top of that, a test drive in a used car allows you to monitor for potential problems. You can visually inspect the car, but you can also feel how it drives, listen for weird sounds, and even smell for things like water damage.

8. Getting a Vehicle Inspection

Though paying a mechanic to inspect a car you don’t own might sound like a waste of money, it can be a good idea when considering a used vehicle. Private sellers and dealerships might not disclose (or even know about) every small issue. An independent mechanic inspecting a high-mileage car, however, will be able to point out potential problems and estimate your costs for repairing them.

If a dealer or private seller is unwilling to let you take the vehicle to a mechanic during your test drive, consider insisting upon this — and even offer to follow the private seller to your mechanic. If the seller is still unwilling, it is probably wise to pass on the vehicle. There might be major issues lurking under the hood.

Assuming your mechanic does uncover problems and they are expensive to fix, you may want to skip the purchase and continue your search.

9. Getting a Vehicle History Report

Whenever you are purchasing a used car, whether it’s high- or low-mileage, it is a good idea to get a vehicle history report. Some dealerships and private sellers may have already ordered a vehicle history report for you to review. Even if they haven’t, consider proceeding. The cost is often negligible, typically between $25 and $100.

Why get a vehicle history report? These reports contain information about the number of previous owners, any major accidents, mileage accuracy, potential flood damage, and more helpful info for determining if the vehicle is worth the cost and what issues it may have faced in the past.

10. Paying Cash If You Can

When buying high-mileage cars, you may be able to use cash to negotiate a better car deal. Paying with cash also means you can set aside any money you would have used for a monthly car payment to use for car repairs, as needed.

Cash is also a good way to keep within your means — and the original budget you set for yourself.

11. Having an Emergency Fund for Your Car

A high-mileage car is more likely to encounter regular problems requiring potentially costly repairs. It can therefore be a good idea to have an emergency savings fund held as a savings account, ideally earmarked to include any car-related issues. Repair costs can rise significantly at the 100,000-mile mark.

Banking With SoFi

Saving up to buy a used car with cash and setting aside money for potential repairs mean you’ll need a high yield bank account with good savings features. When you open a Checking and Savings account with SoFi, you’ll have the convenience of spending and saving in one place, plus features that help you save automatically. What’s more, when you open an account with direct deposit, you’ll enjoy a competitive APY and pay no fees, both of which can help your money grow faster.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


What is the most reliable high-mileage car?

In general, Honda and Toyota manufacture the most reliable high-mileage cars — a distinction that extends to other Japanese automakers when you read reviews from credible automotive sites. Some other high-mileage cars that rate well include the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Subaru Outback, and Nissan Maxima.

What is the highest mileage you should buy for a used car?

While mileage limits can vary depending on the vehicle’s maintenance records and the brand, it can be wise to make 200,000 miles your max limit when shopping for a high-mileage car.

Is mileage more important than age?

It is important to consider both mileage and age when shopping for a used vehicle. In general, the more miles a car has, the more likely it is to need repairs. However, a newer car with the same high mileage as an older car is more likely to have newer safety systems, which can be reassuring to many drivers.

Photo credit: iStock/HABesen

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