How important is mileage when buying a used car these days?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

How important is mileage in buying a used car? Why would
highway miles be any different from other types of miles?
It used to be that 60,000 miles was high mileage. Now one
sees cars with 80,000 to 130,000 miles on dealers' lots.
One dealer even stated that 130,000 is low mileage on a
Volvo. True? -- David

RAY: No, 130,000 miles is not low mileage on anything,
except maybe a planet rotating around the sun. Granted,
Volvo engines can be kept alive for a lot longer than
130,000 miles, but you'll still have 130,000 miles on the
transmission, the front end and everything else.

TOM: But mileage expectations HAVE increased over the
years; 25 years ago, 60,000 miles was high, and 100,000
miles was miraculous. Now, 100,000 is expected, and 120,000
to 150,000 is not unusual. Why is that? Because we've
converted to the metric system and what was 60,000 now is

RAY: Seriously, what happened was competition from Japan.
The Japanese started building cars with much closer
tolerances than the stuff that Detroit was making at the
time. And those cars were more reliable and longer-lasting.
Eventually, everyone else was forced to improve quality and
catch up. And the big winners were car buyers like you and

TOM: In regard to your other question, highway miles ARE
generally better than city miles.

RAY: Why? Because on the highway (outside of L.A., anyway)
there are fewer starts, stops and potholes. And those are
the things that really shorten the lifespans of cars.

TOM: Of course, how do you really know the car's miles are
highway miles at all? You don't, unless you believe the
used car dealer (Q: How do you know when a used car dealer
is lying? A: When his lips move).

RAY: Dealers, please send all threatening correspondence to
my brother, Tom. Seriously, whether you're buying from an
individual or a dealer, you don't know what you're buying.
That Volvo could have 130,000 CITY miles on it. And that's
why it's important to get a used car thoroughly checked out
before you buy it.

TOM: A list of all the things your mechanic should look at
on a used car is included in our brand new-pamphlet (How To
Buy a Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You To
Know"). To get a copy, send $3 and a stamped (55 cents),
self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Used Car, PO Box 6420,
Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.). It's worth looking at if you're
buying a car this year -- new or used. Good luck, David.

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