Is it reasonable for me to expect that a new car I buy from a dealer should have zero miles on it?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a question about my last car-shopping experience, which was five years and
110,000 miles ago (the horror is still with me). I settled upon the purchase of a
new Mazda 626. The salesman happily informed me that there was one that exactly
met my specifications right there on his lot. When I went to look at the car, I
noticed it had 125 miles on the odometer as a result of test driving. I told the
salesman that since I was paying $16,000, and I only do this once every six or
seven years, I expected a "virgin" car (i.e. one that had not been driven). He
looked at me like I was crazy, and called over several of his fellow salesmen to
tell me that my request was totally unreasonable. I was harassed and belittled.
However, I did stand my ground and got my virginal car a few weeks later. In
anticipation of having to embark on a new round of car shopping in a year or so,
I want to know if my request was reasonable. -- Joyce

TOM: I think so. A lot of dealers will disagree, but I think that if you're
paying for a brand-new car, you're entitled to get a brand-new car. And while
technically a brand-new car is one that hasn't been "registered" to an owner
other than the dealership yet, I think of a new car as one that hasn't been
driven yet.

RAY: And those first 500 to 1,000 miles are very important miles. In my
experience, if you drive the car gently and properly during that break-in period,
the engine is less likely to burn oil later on in its life.

TOM: So 125 "test driven" miles is exactly what you DON'T want. Why? What do most
people do when they "test drive" a car? They plant their foot on the gas pedal to
"see what she can do."

RAY: Cars that have been used as demonstrators are called "demos" and typically
sell at discounted prices just for that reason.

TOM: In my opinion, if you're buying a brand-new car, and not a "demo," you're
entitled to a car with fewer than 10 miles on it. Your dealer may not agree. He's
eager to sell whatever he's got on the lot, because it's costing him money to
keep it there.

RAY: He also may tell you that the exact car you want has to be driven to him
from another dealership, resulting in some miles on the odometer. But he can have
it flat-bedded, or you can go pick it up yourself if you feel strongly about the

TOM: Or, of course, you could wait for a new car to be delivered from the
factory. That's your ace in the hole, Joyce. You're the customer, and your
preference is for a car with no miles on it. And if you're willing to wait, I
don't see why a reasonable dealer wouldn't try to accommodate you.

* * *

Is your spouse ruining your car? Find out once and for all. Get "Ten Ways You May
Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents),
self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One