By on May 16, 2011

Lewis writes:

So I have been debating my next car purchase and am wondering your thoughts.
Does it make more sense to purchase an older low mileage used vehicle or a newer vehicle with high miles. An example would be let’s say a 1997 Jeep Wrangler with under 30K miles or a 2007 Jeep Wrangler with 95K miles.


Sajeev answers:

Please believe it’s a bad idea to buy a “low mileage used vehicle” if it’s over 10 years old. Maybe even over 7-ish years. Because, much like a living creature, the ravages of time are no joke. Factor in the money lost if you put a dollar figure on vehicle reconditioning downtime, and such creatures are better left to speculators looking for a future classic or a weekend cruiser.

You may never see this truth on a more mainstream car forum, but if you moderated LincolnsOnline.com for the past 11 years, old cars that are “like new” show up on a somewhat-regular basis. Pristine used Lincolns, babied all their lives by older folks, are bought by younger folks foaming at the mouth for an essentially brand new luxury car for pennies on the dollar. Then the problems creep up: dry rotted tires blow up on the highway, fossilized gaskets/hoses leak, neglected fuel systems, overlooked and LONG forgotten recalls haunt the new owner. Not to mention vehicle specific problems: long discontinued electromechanical bits and rotted air suspensions get awful pricey to put right with OEM-quality parts.

None of which are present on a car with a long service history and high mileage. When I (much to my parents’ dismay) resisted new car in favor of an 8-year-old Lincoln Mark VIII as my college commuter, they were even more upset when I wouldn’t seek ones with less then 100k on the odometer. But I know better: receipts for newish tires, shock mounts, control arms, and a well exercised powertrain were key. I bought mine in such condition with 117,000 miles: 8 years and 60,000 miles later, I’m still comfortable with my decision. To put it mildly.

Of course, a 1997 minimalist Jeep Wrangler isn’t an air-sprung Lincoln with buttery leather seats. But some of the basics still apply.

Let’s bring it home: the only reasons to buy an older car with low miles are because:

1. You’re foolish enough to start a collection of masterpieces from a lost era in motoring history.
2. Newer, far more advanced, vehicles don’t exactly shake your Etch-A-Sketch. So to speak.
3. You cannot find one with higher miles with a clean interior: that’s expensive to put right.
4. You have the drive/skills to replace parts not expected on newer vehicles: the wear items mentioned above and (maybe) big ticket bits like plastic-infused radiators.
5. You know an affordable, honest mechanic and maybe have a parts car or two stashed around your property.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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50 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Fallacy of the Low Mile Original...”


  • avatar
    highrpm

    Agree 100% with Sajeev here. I run across new-ish high mileage cars all the time. Most of them drive like a new-ish low mileage car. It seems that nowadays, mileage doesn’t matter to a car’s condition as much as its age. And 100k miles is nothing for today’s cars. Most of them are easily capable of running to 200k miles and beyond.

    I always tell folks that you don’t really want to buy a car that’s more than 8 years old. At that point, it should have a recent set of brakes and tires. A new battery. Maybe a new alternator. And it should be pretty reliable for another 4-5 years.

    If a car is more than 12 years old, you really don’t know when a hose or gasket will blow. Fuel and brake lines may be rusting apart. All sorts of vacuum hoses and wires will start to fall apart from age. This will be a nice toy car, but you wouldn’t want to depend on it to go to work and pick up the kids every day.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    This can be a tough one. If you are looking for a daily driver, better buy as new a vehicle as your resources allow for the reasons stated above.

    For a 2nd or a weekend cruiser, use your best judgment. We bought a 1992 LeBaron convertible in 1999 with 101k. It needed work and the 2.5L was about shot. We put money into it because we could afford it, but when it blew in 2007, we let it go. Six months later we bought a 1992 Jeep Wrangler with 95k on the clock. Found out that I’m not 24 years old anymore. While we had fun with it, my wife didn’t like driving it and 16-19 mpg didn’t set so well, even for a weekender. The top was a real pain putting down and up, and when the clutch cylinder replacement necessitated major surgery, I found a buyer for it real quick in 2010. Lesson learned. A year ago we bought our 2007 MX5 with only 15k. Happiness!

    It all comes down to your resources. At 60 years old, I don’t even want to raise the hood on my car except to change filters and such, I just want to lovingly clean, wax and cruise in my ride and take immense pride in it. I do have the resources to have my cars worked on, but not the resources to afford what I really want, and that would be a Cadillac XLR or a Corvette or maybe a Camaro convertible – with my vision issue, the lack of outward visibility may put the kabosh on the Camaro too!

    Used Jeeps are a real crap shoot on a good day. If that’s what you really want, try to buy one new or one gently used of very recent vintage.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Great advice, Sajeev. Regular maintenance is crucial for most things, including those that may be little used.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    “Newer, far more advanced, vehicles don’t exactly shake your Etch-A-Sketch. So to speak.”

    Now that I’ve spewed Coke Zero all over my monitor and keyboard, I’ll admit that was one of the funnier things I’ve read this morning.

    I tried the same thing about 10 years ago with a then 10 year-old Grand Marquis; it was a frakin’ disaster. Bought it from an older couple who alternately towed their boat with it, but never bothered to change the oil in it, either. They neglected to do so much maintenance, I spent the next three years fixing tons of minor things, valve cover gasket leaks, radiator hose pinhole leaks, A/C recharge, etc. All the nickel and dime stuff that drives you crazy.

    I’ll admit I bought poorly, as I got excited about finding a Grand Marquis with relatively low mileage and nice cosmetic condition for such a low price. Now I know why it was priced so low…

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    Have to agree with the older vehicle with little mileage. As the car sits during extended downtime, things deteriorate. Condensation in exhaust system. Brake lines, fuel lines and rotors corrode. Higher mileage cars are getting their powertrain “excercised”.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Depends crawls in and sinks its venom-dripping fangs into exposed flesh.

    SOME conveying critters tend to yield more parts availability than others.

    OEM and after-market and from the all-American friendly, well-groomed, highly-trained and efficient intellectually curious gentlemen eagerly awaiting you at your local automotive dismantling and recycling firm referred to by the uncultured among us as the junkyard.

    That was one reason I opted for the Chevy pick-up.

    Long-term pieces and parts availability from a plethora of sourced assist in economical long-term ownership.

    That factoid will likely remain true despite the foul antics displayed by GMC via their dealerships and corporate behavior when I struggled mightily and mainly with futility to obtain warranty repair on anything but the most incredibly obvious easily-fixed defects.

    Sadly, even several inches of accumulated water on the passenger-side floor board and the shorting out of dashboard electrics/electronics resulted in the OFT-HEARD refrain/mantra of “Unable to replicate the problem.”

    Those in-the-know are aware that the typical bellowing of the brainwashed human herd infesting the USA of “Well…. sue ‘em” as if that is some magical panacea for every problem with no aspect of cost-effectiveness involved all-too-often results in nothing to be done but whimper and do one’s best to warn as many consumers as possible and obtain revenge if possible by reducing the offending firm’s sales.

    Then the **cough** ahem… free market steps in and “saves” GMC.

    And I was ready to delude myself my spreading the word had led to the mighty falling.

    Sniff.

    At the least, if I never buy a long-wheel-base cargo van for end-of-life dwelling, my aging Chevy pick-up will remain relatively cheep to keep with above-average parts supplies at below-average purchase prices.

    If you see an Old Coot with alms cup in hand please don’t kick me.

    And stay away from MY dumpster.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    One of the best cars I ever bought was a 66 Plymouth Fury III. I bought the car in 1987 and it had an honest 20K miles on it. Tires and battery had been replaced, that was it. It still had the old obsolete PDDC logo on the belts.

    This said, I immediately changed all underhood rubber. I also replaced all brake hoses and the rest of the brake hydraulics, as they were completely rotten. Change of all fluids, and I went on to drive 40K of the most trouble-free driving of my life.

    The problem is that cars today are a lot more complex than my 66 Plymouth. I did not have to contend with miles of vacuum lines or engine control electronics. I later bought an 84 olds 98 and had to replace a transmission shortly thereafter – my transmission guy reminded me that when the car sits about a week, the tranny was starting up dry every time. This is why I like Torqueflites better than THM2004Rs. But I digress.

    On something fairly simple like a Jeep, I might be prepared to try it. Not on anything approaching a normal car, though.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1991 Mazda MX-6 GT on Ebay three years ago for about $1300. 72k on the clock, and located in Los Angeles. The seller thought it had a bad turbo, and put that in his Ebay listing. I flew from Minnesota to LA after winning the auction, and the seller picked me up at the airport in the Mazda. It was clean and totally rust-free, and drove fine, as far as I could tell from the passenger seat. Later I drove the car myself, and at anything over half throttle, the car sputtered and lurched. Looking under the hood, I saw new ignition wires and distributer cap, and a new fuel filter. The Seller told me he and his dad had replaced all of the ignition parts, filters, etc, but to no avail, and had decided the turbo was bad. I noticed the the rubber hose connecting the air filter box to the noise-reducing plenum inside the front fenderwell was pinched, apparently from a careless remounting of the box. Hmmm.

    I concluded the sale and started off for Minnesota. On the northern outskirts of L.A. as the elevation began to rise, I could see that the ‘turbo problem’ was going to be a big problem in the mountains to come. I got off the freeway when I saw a Wal-Mart, purchased 4 quarts of Mobil One 15w50, 3 quarts of Mobil One ATF, and oil filter and a drain pan. I charged the fluids in the parking lot, and while they were draining, I corrected the pinched intake hose. After donating the used oil at Wal-Marts auto service bays, I started out again, and the car drove like a bat out of hell. All those new parts were nice to have.

    I have about 89,000 miles now, and all I have done are oil changes, the replacement of the radiator which had a crack in the upper tank when I bought the car (common on these cars. $90 for a new radiator on Ebay), front brake pads, and a rack and pinion end boot.

    I often see examples my dream car tooling around (vivid blue 2005-2006 Acura RSX-S), but I tell myself that I just can’t justify spending $15,000 on such a (used) car, when my trouble free 1991 model cost less than $2,000 all-in, and is totally reliable.

    True, I would not want to buy a 20 year old American car and expect it to be reliable daily transportation, but a well cared for and low miles Japanese car from the Era of the Overbuilt can be quite a bargain.

    • 0 avatar
      M0L0TOV

      You make me miss my 1988 Mazda MX-6 LX. The car was a hoot to drive and had 54,500 miles when I got it in 96. The car was easy to work on and was relatively cheap to fix. What got me was after leaving it in Tampa, FL to get the ac fixed, my brother in law was driving it back for me, he hit the hold button on the tranny (it was auto), and blew up the engine trying to drive it like a bat out of hell (the radar detector on the dash was the dead giveaway). I still dream about that car from time to time.

  • avatar
    findude

    The answer to this question lies in how much you anticipate driving said vehicle. If you drive less than about 10k a year, the best deal may be to buy a relatively new but very high mileage vehicle. I once bought a Volvo 740 Turbo wagon that was barely 4 years old and had nearly 80,000 miles on it. Discussion with the owner revealed that these had almost all been accumulated on a 900-mile round trip repeated about 20 times a year to visit an ailing mother several states away. The local dealer had service records that convinced me it had been cared for properly.

    I put almost nothing into that car for the 6 years I owned it–years It only saw about 5k a year because I had a very short commute and it was not our long-trip car. At the end I sold a relatively low mileage 10-year-old car for a total capital cost of less than $4,000.

    Of course, if you drive a lot it pencils differently.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I am glad I read this, I have always thought the opposite was true, I never thought deeply enough about the affects of age compared to the affects of driving.

    I have been looking off and on at cars for my next teen driver, and was drawn to these older “creampuffs” with low mileage. I want to find a car in our target price range thats in excellent cosmetic condition, and my wife is obsessed with low miles… that was the way to meet both requirements. I personally dont mind high miles, but you know, gotta keep the wife happy. I will show her this and hopefully she will be more openminded about the newer high mileage cars we find in our price range!

  • avatar
    Towncar

    A rare case of insufficient Panther love here! I hate to disagree with the master, but I’ve had excellent luck with those babied, low-mileage Town Cars. I always shop for one about seven years old, with low miles and a maintenance history. It’s about as close to a sure thing as car buying gets, IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      I think the maintenance history is the key. If you can find the mythical old guy who drove the car less than 3000 mile a year, but always kept it in the garage and still changed the oil every three months whether it needed it or not, you’ll probably be okay.

    • 0 avatar

      What Dukeboy said. And a bit more: Lincoln air suspensions all go bad after 10 years, no matter what the mileage. While a 7 year old Townie may not matter much, going back to the age disparity between the OP’s selected years is much different. Even for Panthers.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I have to disagree if we’re talking about the Panthers particularly I’ve got 2 20 year old models that the air suspension still works perfect and have had zero issues. The common failure point is the seals for the solenoids which are $10 per and only take 15min. Now if we’re talking about an VIII or a Conti with their air over struts or shocks then yeah I see those fail at 12-15 years old. Those aren’t cheap but then again you’re replacing the shock or strut and in the case of the struts the fact that it is an assembled unit means that the labor is lower and the net cost for aftermarket units isn’t that much more than a set of struts on a conventional steel spring system.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Two years ago, I bought a 5-year-old Scion xB with 22k on it. No regrets.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Wow, that’s barely used. I put 20K miles on my car in the first year I got it! Seven years ago I bought a 7 year-old Cavalier with 192,000 miles on it. It now has 248,000+ miles on the odo. Still gets 27 MPG in mixed driving, burns no oil (but it does leak a little from the sending unit) and accelerates like a, well, a Chevy Cavalier…

      Even with the old age stuff that is happening to the car now (electrical issues, trans starting to slip, body rusting away) it is still one of the best/cheapest to run/taken the most abuse cars I’ve ever owned. Me and my kids have driven it, but my kids put all of the dents on it…

      If it weren’t for the body rusting away, I’d be inclined to put real money into the other issues and keep on going. But there are a few HHR’s out there calling my name…

    • 0 avatar

      Buy a 10 year old car with that mileage and no service records. That’s the point. Or buy a different 5 year old car…like an E-class Benz.

      The devil lies in these gray areas.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ll disagree a little with Sajeev here.

    My Diplomat had under 100K when I bought it and it has been less of headache than my well-worn SSEi. You might have to do more initial work on an old low mileage car, but in my experience, it is a lot easier to replace things that wear out due to time than things that break/wear out due to high mileage. YMMV though.

    Also a ’97 Wrangler has the 4.0, the ’07 would have the 3.8L. That makes your decision much easier.

  • avatar

    The eight year old ’77 Corolla 1200 cc with 91k on the clock that I bought from David Albright, who would go on to be one of the Iraq weapons inspectors (but I digress) was not exactly low mileage. But David hadn’t driven the thing more than 2,000 miles in the two years before I bought it–for $450 in 1985 $. And it served me very well. However, the first thing I had to do to it was a brake job–for more than I had paid for the car–because the calipers were sticking. Undoubtedly due to the excessive down time.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I appreciate the premise, but with many vehicles, including the luxury makes, offering 5 year 50k warranties (5 yr/60k for Hyundai), it’s worth looking for something still under warranty. That means time and miles, but more often that not, cars hit the mileage barrier before the time is up. Getting at least six months to a year of factory warranty is solid piece of mind on any used car.

    If you are well outside that period, then I’d tend to agree and be more inclined to snatch up a car with 105k on the clock, with a new timing belt, plugs, brakes etc. than one with 75-80k that is due for that work soon, and probably costs more.

  • avatar

    I would also note that my impression is that Panthers that have served as police vehicles and even taxis are quite reliable, despite the often very high mileage. The engines have little wear because starting from cold is what’s hardest on the car, and they have much less of that per mile than family cars.

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    I’ve bought old vehicles with high and low mileage, so I can say most of what’s here is true. However, low mileage isn’t the full story. It’s whether the vehicle was regularly driven or not. A 10 year old vehicle driven regularly at 5,000 miles per year will be a low mileage treasure at 50k on the odometer. A 10 year of vehicle driven 25k for two years and parked for 8 would be a nightmare with the same total mileage.

  • avatar
    RobertR

    While in general Sajeev is quite right, I think 1: The specific premise of the 1997 vs 2007 Jeep is a significant exception to this rule, and 2: The real highlight of this post should be the importance of service history, not avoiding old, low mileage cars.

    Starting with number 2 and linking to some other comments, a regularly used, well maintained low-mileage car is a great opportunity. If the car has just been sitting for the past five years, rotting in its own fluids, there will be issues, but the rarity of these low mileage rides should help one reason out what type of garage queen you’re getting. Having to replace some hoses and flush the lubricants is a lot better than dealing with a 100k mile car with “lifetime” driveline fluid. Again, service history is the highlight.

    As for the Jeep, a quick search on autotrader puts 95k mile 2007s in the $12-15k range. If you can grab a TJ at 30k miles at that price, one, you should, and two, that should not be a daily driver. The ’97s are superior in a number of areas to the 2007 (interestingly both first model years designs), and a quality low mileage TJ survivor is a really hot ticket in some circles. I should know; my stock ’97 TJ just ticked over 100K, and I’ve received some humorously high offers, always unsolicited.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I’m going to have to disagree with Sajeev a bit on this as well. Assuming you are OK with the lower safety equipment level of older vehicles, going with a pre-OBD-II emission-equipped vehicle is going to be an advantage cost and complexity-wise, especially if you maintain the vehicle yourself.

    OBD-II emissions came into force in the mid-1990s with enhanced system monitoring (eg loose gas cap, a second O2 sensor to monitor catalytic converter performance, etc) that can needlessly cost you a lot of money. Example: P0420, catalytic converter efficiency code (typically requires converter replacement which can easily exceed $1000) – on OBD-II cars, at least in my state, they don’t even sniff the tailpipe. So if you have an active P0420 code you can’t pass emissions, EVEN THOUGH if they bothered to sniff the tailpipe, your emission levels would most likely still be far below the limits. This will never happen on an OBD-I car.

    I just bought a 1990 F-350 with 97K original miles on it, to use as my occasional-use (yeah, at 11mpg!) home-despot-run rig. Just like has been said, it suffers from some age-related issues: leaky plastic radiator tank ($350 part), freon all leaked out (somebody did a questionable R134a conversion it looks like, may require a new compressor and system flush), dried-out window channels, old tires, hoses, etc. Nothing I can’t handle, chipping away at it one weekend at a time, just flushed the brake fluid last Saturday (yeah, so now I can’t bleed the RF caliper due to a broken-off bleeder screw, D’op!).

    • 0 avatar
      forestcasey

      Can we all agree now that TTAC is the best auto site on the internet?

      And it’s all because of comments like this: Well-written, concise, informative. Not standoffish in the least, even though it disagrees with the source material. And no phony contests to goad commenters into bringing TTAC some ad money.

      Speaking of which, can someone bring TTAC some ad money?

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed on the pre OBD-II assessment, but its so detailed that I must ask: how many people actually buy a car with that level of understanding? OBD-I is dumber for “our” benefit, but I wonder how many will see a financial gain between well maintained cars using either system.

      FYI: my Mark VIII is OBD-I, but honestly, the newer ones with OBD-II aren’t on my forum with annoyed owners having a hard time getting things diagnosed.

      Plus, its only a matter of time before shops charge MORE to diagnose an OBD-I car, on knowledge alone.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Sajeev, your advice is killing the resale value of my 1995 Altima with 52,000 miles! Not that it’s for sale, and for the record, I bought it in 1996 with a rather high 17,000 miles over the 9 months the original owner had it. My 7 mile commute includes 6 miles at freeway speeds, I change the oil every 6 months, and each yearly tuneup includes some belt and hose replacement, though I tend to ignore funny little noises.

    My car’s not for sale, though – I run my cars til only the junkyard wants ‘em, so I agree low miles older cars are not a good idea. I got my money’s worth from a newer high mileage car, and would have even if I’d put 15k a year on it, though the trip to the junkyard would have happened long ago. Go for the high mileage newer car (of decent reputation) with receipts.

    • 0 avatar

      Sell it with all your service records, a list of things you “might” think will be problems and you will find a buyer almost immediately.

      Oh, and for your sake, if the tires are 5+ years old, replace them.

  • avatar

    6. You don’t want anything with an Event Data Recorder or “Black Box” in it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Event_data_recorder

    I’m too lazy to look up model years but after about year 2000 every domestic car has them. Police are using them more and more when there are accidents to determine fault and/or bring charges against drivers.

  • avatar
    crinklesmith

    I used to view low mileage cars the same way I viewed cars with no service history. A roll of the dice, mechanically. Against my better judgment, I purchased a 97′ HPP Grand Marquis with 45k miles about 2 years ago, due to the fact it was flawless, garaged, and it’s 1 owner was a retired engineer who followed the service schedule to a preposterous level of detail. I replaced the rear airbags w/ springs, put on 4 new shocks, got new tires, changed all the fluids, and greased and lubed all the suspension and brake parts I could. Everything else is stock and original. After 15k miles, I have had no problems, and the only plans I have other than maintenance for it is to replace the intake with an updated unit. (Ford TSB, the plastic manifolds explode at 50k miles.) Being that it’s a Panther, I expect it to go at least another 200k miles with no major repairs, and believe that in this particular case, low miles was definitely an asset.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    RobertR hit the nail on the head… it comes down to maintenance history and records. A few years ago I bought a 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera with 50k miles on the clock and receipts for maintenance and some small repairs regularly during it’s life. I still took it to a specialist and had it inspected before buying it to confirm the actual condition. After buying it, I immediately drove it back to that specialist and replaced every belt, oil-line, and older piece of rubber in the engine compartment. The tires were old so I replaced them as well. It ran perfectly for the two years I drove it. I budgeted for the minimal deferred maintenance but did pay a bit of a premium for the amazing original condition of the body and interior.

    Frankly, this is one of the primary reasons I prefer to buy used cars through a private party than a dealer… dealers usually toss all of those old receipts found in the glove box in the trash (or it passed through three wholesalers and two auctions before they got it) so you have no idea what happened to it in the past.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Sajeev is correct to buy newer with more miles when it comes to the Lincoln. In the case of the Wrangler, he is mistaken.

    Wranglers, after ten years of age, must always be purchased on condition, not miles. Condition, not miles.

    Please, with Wranglers, ignore the odometer entirely. It’s irrelevant. Go through the vehicle, top to bottom, front to back, and check for rust, wear, abuse. Those 30,000 miles on the older Jeep could be the hardest 30,000 miles ever encountered in the history motoring. Those 100k miles on the newer Wrangler could be all be on-pavement, while it slept indoors every night.

    Jeeps is different. Some Jeeps get hooned and abused and drowned and slopped and broken and rewelded and twisted in ways a grandma-driven Panther never dreamed of. You don’t know till you look. And if you don’t know what to look for, have a PPI done by a shop specializing in off-roaders.

    Wranglers: Condition, not miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Good point. Some people actually do take their ‘off-road’ vehicles off road, and that could have a very wide range of possible outcomes for the vehicle.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I would INFINITELY prefer a low-mileage old car than a high-mileage old car. This is assuming that the low-mileage car has a mint interior and an exterior that has not been ravaged by the passage of time. I would far prefer to have to replace seals and hoses and such than try to track down 15-20yo broken interior parts. At least when you are done all that stuff is a known quantity.

    I recently bought a 100K mile ’79 MB 300TD that had sat in a barn for 10 years. Needed the brake system going through, all the hoses replaced, and all the fluids flushed. But the interior is PERFECT! All the controls feel like a 5-6 yo car, not the usual shagged out 350K mile diesel MB. No play in the steering, drives and rides correctly, etc. You will spend FAR more trying to get that than you will bringing a low-miler up to snuff.

    Conversly, I also have a ’95 Volvo 945 that I recently picked up cheap. 210K on it, very well maintained but still, you can tell she has done big miles. Luckily I don’t care on this one, it’s mostly a winter beater.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    A guy I know bought a 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis with 50K miles for $300 from a little old lady’s estate sale. The car had sat garaged for 7 years. It needed new brake lines, calipers, and pistons. The tires were dry-rotted and needed replacement. The engine ran fine at first, but the next time he tried to start it, sludge had caused the hydraulic valve lifters to collapse and it would not run at all. He put about $1,500 into the vehicle, doing all the labor himself. He now has a low-mileage granny-car transportation special for under $2K.
    Sajeev, geozinger, 67dodgeman, Bridge2farr, all speak the truth about low-mileage cars.

  • avatar

    Ive just bought a main strike used car I wanted economy comfort and a good drive into the bargain I got a 1 owner Citroen xsara turbo diesel 230k kms runs A1 drives beautifully handles like a go kart and is smooth an comfortable I can repair it myself it is a 1905cc motor not a common rail diesel Gas here is $210 per litre Diesel $151 and this will do 54mpg according to the manual I know how to drive a Diesel and know it will do that in town the engine pulls well at 1200 rpm so 5th gear in town driving This car has had regular servicing and recent rebuilt injector pump to cope with low sulphur fuel new tyres and is very well kept though it is a 97 its the last model fitted with the bullet proof XUD motor easily capable of 500k kms with regular maintenance.Regular use and sevicing is what to look for I believe

  • avatar
    jj99

    If you are buying new, you gotta go Toyota or Honda.

    But, if buying used, go for the Ford, Mercury, or Buick.

    Often, you can find 5 – 8 year old Ford, Mercury, or Buick vehicles with under 35,000 miles that no one wants to be seen in. You purchase it for a song, then drive it into the ground. Don’t waste any money on oil changes and only fix what breaks. You can park these anywhere, and no one will break in. That is how you save real money.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      “Don’t waste any money on oil changes”

      Well if you do em yourself, that’s typically about 15-20 bucks depending on how aggressively you shop oil/filter sales. Probably not the best way to cut corners IMHO.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I bought a 7 yr old Caddy with 15k miles last year. The thing looked like it just rolled out of the showroom. Put another 25k on it since. I’ve experienced none of the “deterioration” effects mentioned above. I think a lot of the polymer stuff is mucho improved vs 20 yrs ago.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      While I agree with your point, I dont think a 7 yr old car was really what they were talking about. The OP mentioned a 1997 compared to a 2007, the 2007 is already almost 5 yrs old at this point. Your 7yo Caddy is too new.

      Sounds like you got a real creampuff though, I see a lot of Caddys here in Florida; elderly owned, garage kept, truly showroom condition with super low miles, and they can be found for a song. Since Cadillac was considered the most premium GM brand, I think they used better quality interior components, they seem to age well.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I respectfully disagree…

    Buying the low mileage car is better if you plan to keep it for a long time. The condition is that it not be over 10 years old and it MUST be garage kept. Get it with under 30,000 miles and pay the premium. Search the car model for known problems to make sure you are not getting built-in future problems. Only buy a proven drivetrain.

    The only difference is that you need to add $2000 to the purchase price to keep it real. Then when you buy the car you change every fluid and maintenance item on the car along with a set of tires.

    This low mileage car will be more reliable and total lower cost over time.

  • avatar

    So true! I bought a 99 Avenger at auction two and a half years ago with 50k (now has 60k) on it. Gov’t issued car that had obviously sat for a while. Changed out the gaskets and hoses, turns out the rear main seal was also shot. The leak is still slow (don’t need to add oil between changes). The good thing is I only paid $1500 for it; the bad is that I get to smell burning oil on longer trips and my fiance won’t let me park in the driveway. :)

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Put me down in the conditional “disagree” column as well. My 23 year old Merkur Scorpio only has about 87,000 miles on it and I recently revived it after 5 years of slumber. It starts and runs as well as any new car, trans shifts nice and firm (thank you trans-go shift kit, installed circa 1998) and the brakes are as strong as ever. This car simply will not be killed. Believe it or not, it still has the original radiator hoses and they are still fine. If memory serves, Ford used high-silicone content hoses on this car, so they are much better quality than usual. I bought the Merkur when it was around 10 years old and with around 65,000 miles – all it needed was an A/C hose repaired at the time.

    I also own two low-mile Wranglers, niether of which have given me any issues. My recently aquired ’06 (bought April of 2010) had 9,300 miles on it and was babied by it’s previous owner. Here’s where the conditional part comes in – the car already had 3 oil changes under it’s belt and it had been waxed to a far-thee-well. I do plan on changing the coolant and the manual trans fluid this year though. So, this car (as well as my ’02 Wrangler) was well maintained prior to my purchase.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Like planes, the “cycles” play an important part. A old(er)Garage queen that gets used every other week and has low miles is the car to buy. What you don’t want is a car that gets used almost every day for 4 or 8 miles a day. The number of operations on, say, the starter, the window regulator, etc will be nearing the accepted failure rate for the design. By the time a car like this hits 60K miles, these parts will have cycled far more times than a car that racks up 12K a year. On the only old car that I bought that fit the high cycle profile, I had to replace the starter, the ignition lock, the door handle door springs, the power antenna, and various other parts. That was the first and last starter I ever replaced.

  • avatar
    210delray

    So what do you think of mine?

    I have a ’98 Frontier that I bought from my employer back in August of ’98. It now has a total of 75,500 miles on it, lately accumulating about 4K miles per year. I drive it 35 miles round trip once or twice per week on my commute (mostly highway) and use it for occasional hauling duties on weekends. I’ve changed the oil and filter every 6-7 months, antifreeze on a 4-5 year schedule, and brake fluid every 5 years. I replaced the manual transmission fluid once, at around 60k miles.

    The original tires still looked fine at 56k miles, but I replaced them at 9 years of age as a precaution. I’m only on my 2nd battery, which is now nearly 8 years old. The truck was garaged for the first 7 years, and now has a shady parking space in my driveway (I am diligent about cleaning off bird droppings). The paint still shines nicely, and I’ve kept the interior clean.

    No other fluids have been touched (power steering, differential, clutch), and I’m still running with the original drive belts (3 conventional ones, not a serpentine) and hoses.

    The truck is quite simple, with crank windows, manual locks, 2wd, regular cab, bench seat, the famous Nissan 2.4-liter 4, 5-speed manual, and a 30-watt (!) 2-speaker AM/FM/tape player. The only luxuries are A/C and power steering.

    I check under the hood weekly and keep the engine compartment clean. The belts and hoses all look (and feel) fine. The only items beyond normal maintenance that I’ve replaced are the oil sending unit (leaking) and the O2 sensor (check engine light would come on intermittently). The only leak is now from the oil pan gasket, not enough that I need to add oil between changes. I have noticed some cracks in the rubber suspension bushings, but nothing major.

    So, am I skating on thin ice, or should I just keep on keeping on?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My sons just returned from a trip to Buffalo 1000 miles RT. They were driving my 500$ ’88 528e. It has about 150k miles on it. I base lined the engine before I put it on the road. I replaced 300$ worth of tuneup stuff plus some hoses and belts. I bought it with a dinged nose and some other rust issues , but it only had 117k on it. I maintain a pair of them as daily drivers. The other one was a 73 k mile cream puff. It has given me more trouble.

  • avatar
    Forty2

    So much is: it depends. I picked up Mom’s 1994 Camry LE (4C/4A) last year with 35K miles. It needed about $1,000 worth of work because it’d been sitting for so long. But once I did that it hasn’t needed ten cents worth of work besides a deserved oil change after a long drive from Los Angeles to Boston. This car will last another ten years even in the salt horror that is New England. In my case, yeah, low mileage + rust-free SoCal storage = win.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    A word of warning on low mileage and ‘relatively’ new. I once bought at auction a 31k mile (UK) 2001 Ford Fiesta back in 2007. You’d think that a car that was still quite young with low mileage and ‘some’ service history would be alright? No. It was a money pit. The previous owners were obviously morbidly obese. Evidence of this came from the grease covered seat bolsters which had been squashed into oblivion, the hidden McDonalds packaging under the front seats and the shocks which ALL blew within a couple of months of owning the car. The car needed new rotors, pads, new front suspension swing arms and the steering alignment was completely out. By the time I had got the damn thing up to scratch – including new wash wipe pump, recharge the air-con system and replaced the front seats – it had cost me as much in parts as the car did. The kicker? The River Trent flooded and took my Fiesta with it 8 months after I had finished my ‘upgrades’. B*stard insurance company gave me less than half of what I’d spent on it. From then on I’ve only bought new. If anyone is going to trash a car in its first few years, it was going to be me.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    Oh snap! That’s why I’ve had such a hard time selling my low mileage ’05 996 TTS cab.

    I thought $15,000 was too high since it has only 2100(sorry, that’s twenty-one hundred. I know,I know)garage-queen miles on her. Even with all my maintenance receipts, I have people walking away in disgust-“not used enough” they mutter; “We’re looking for something a little more rough” is the universal lament.

    That’s it! Can someone please take this white elephant off my back-I’ll GIVE you the car AND $10,000 for all the trouble you’ll have replacing all the not-rotting hoses and rubber.

    And in the future, I promise to drive the ever lovin piss out of my Enzo and Carrera GT. Two hundred thousand miles or bust baby!! Just so you’ll feel comfortable if you’re looking for a good USED example of those.

    BD


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