Used car mileage vs age – which is important?

If you’re looking to buy a used car, you need to consider the vehicle’s age and mileage. We explain what this means and what to look for.

Which is more important when buying a used car – age or mileage? We unpack this much-debated question and share some insights.

If you’re in the market for buying a used car, you’re not alone. According to recent statistics, the demand for used vehicles in New Zealand continues to remain strong, with 20,647 vehicles registered this year – a 12% increase over last year.

However, second hand car sales isn’t the only figure seeing an increase. The value of used cars has also been on the rise, with Trade Me Motors reporting that the median asking price for a used car in New Zealand had increased by nearly $2,500. Despite this overall price rise, used cars remain a popular option.

On your journey to finding a used car, there are two key factors to consider: vehicle mileage and age. To help with your decision, we’ve broken down each of these factors to give you a better understanding of what the ideal mileage and age is for a used car.

Car age vs mileage

When it comes to used cars, mileage vs age has been debated amongst motorists for a long time. Is a newer vehicle with high mileage on the clock better than an older car with lower mileage?

It’s certainly a good question, but you shouldn’t automatically rely on just a vehicle’s mileage or age to get an overall idea of the car’s condition and lifespan; it’s worthwhile to do more extensive homework.

It’s important first-off to understand what mileage refers to. It’s essentially the cost of use; the more a vehicle is used, the less it’s perceived to be worth. This is because certain components in a vehicle are designed to last for a particular mileage. So, the more miles a vehicle’s been driven, the more likely it is to need repairs.

You should also bear in mind that low mileage isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially if a car has been sitting stationary for most of its life. Vehicles are made to be used, and not using them regularly can cause deterioration. For example, a lack of use can affect the car’s rubber and plastic components such as automotive hoses and tyres and cause them to become dry and brittle.

In terms of a vehicle’s age, it’s a critical factor in determining the car’s depreciation (how much value the car has lost over time). Age represents the cost of time, and the older the vehicle, the less it’s worth. This is because it’s more likely to need repairs at a point in time, but also because it will fall behind the standards of newer models.

If you’re looking at buying an older car, keep your eyes open for obvious signs of corrosion, particularly around areas that are trickier to see, such as hinges, latch panels, and roof rain gutters. It might also be worth considering an ex-fleet or lease car because, despite them having more mileage on the clock, they’re usually later models that have been looked after and they hold a detailed service history.

In short, both car age and mileage matter when buying a used car. They each affect the vehicle’s depreciation rate and they are both interlinked. Mileage is taken as being higher or lower based on a car’s age; the older the car, the more miles it’s likely to have driven.

The average mileage for a used car, by age

The average distance travelled by a car in New Zealand is around 14,000km a year. An easy way to calculate how many miles a used car should ideally have is to multiply its age by 14,000. For example, a five-year-old car should ideally have 70,000 km or less on its odometer.

If a car’s mileage is greater than the average, look deeper into its history. Look into factors such as how often it’s used and what it’s been used for, plus check its service history.

While the age and mileage of a car are key, it goes without saying that they aren’t the only factors to take into account before buying a used car. For example, body condition and maintenance history are also important. Make sure you spend some time doing the groundwork. Dig beyond the facts and figures to get a better understanding of the vehicle’s history.

You should also take it for an extended road test and, if you’re still unsure, get a pre-purchase inspection.