In the world of used cars, two factors, in particular, will always play a role in the price you pay: mileage and age.

As a rule of thumb, higher mileage usually goes together with a lower price. This is because key features like parts, suspension components and other mechanisms are created to last for a set time. The longer a vehicle is used, the more wear and tear happens to these features.

While a ten-year-old car is almost always less expensive than a three-year-old car, it is important to consider its odometer and the type of miles that have been racked up behind the wheel.

Below, we explain how much mileage is good for a used car and how types of mileage differ.

What type of mileage has the vehicle done?

A vehicle that has done the majority of its miles in a city will likely carry a lot more wear and tear in certain areas compared to one that's mainly been used for motorway driving.

If the car you're interested in has been used for lots of short trips, then its oil may not have been regularly given enough time to warm up before driving to these destinations, ultimately affecting the way it drives over time.

There will also likely be more wear and tear within its clutch, gearbox, suspension and brakes, especially as most engine and gearbox wear takes place when the engine is cold during stopping and starting.

On the other hand, a vehicle that has been frequently used for motorway driving will likely spend the majority of its life in fifth and sixth gear on smooth-surfaced roads. Cars that are used for these types of long-term journeys become more susceptible to clutch and brake damage but breakdown far less frequently.

Try and get an idea of the kind of mileage a car has done in the past as early on in the buying process as possible. This can be difficult when buying used cars from a dealership, as you may not know much about the previous owner, but an up-to-date service history is always a good start.

The average mileage for a used car, by age

On average, a car should have around 10,000 miles per year. So, for an easy way to calculate how many miles on a used car is too much, just multiply its age by 10,000.

For example, a five-year-old car would ideally have 50,000 miles or less on its odometer.

If a car’s mileage is far larger than the average, then you will have to take a deeper look at the car’s history. 

However, calculating what is considered “high mileage” for a used car can be difficult as it differs so much on a case-by-case basis depending on the brand and model.

Do some cars last longer than others?

Broadly speaking, yes. Certain brands will last longer than others due to better design, engineering and manufacturing standards.

So, while a 10-year-old car with just over 100,000 miles may sound like a good deal, if that model starts shutting down at 125,000 miles, it’s likely only to last another 2-3 years.

While some outliers within brands do occur, it is better to err on the side of a good reputation when buying high-mileage cars.

How many miles is too many for a used car?

While mileage is an important factor to consider, the number of miles recorded is never an accurate impression of the vehicle you're looking at.

For example, you need to consider if the vehicle has been regularly maintained and has a clear service history.

As you can see, it's not all about miles on the clock.

Like we touched on before, remember to ask the owner or dealer of the vehicle about its mileage, highlighting whether they have primarily come from city or motorway driving based on any previous owner knowledge.

Get all the information you need when buying

While the importance of mileage may differ on a case-by-case basis, it’s important to get all the information you need before buying. Considering if it is wise to buy a car with high mileage depends on context, research and the prevalence of information.

As much as the information about a potential car is important, so is your ability to understand what you’re presented with. Keep up to date with our blog for the latest motoring tips.