10 Tips for Buying High Mileage Used Cars

Buying a used car can be a tricky proposition under the best of circumstances. But when you throw in certain factors, like high mileage, it’s easy to end up with a car you would have been better off without. To help you in your search for a quality high mileage used car, we’ve compiled 10 common industry tips you can use.10 tips for buying high mileage used cars

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As you read through our 10 tips, keep in mind there is no such thing as a perfect used car. Just about every pre-owned vehicle has at least a few quirks and issues with which you’ll have to contend. Your goal is to find a used car that meets your needs, yet won’t cost you a ton of money in repair bills.

Tip #1 – Verify the Mileage

When you first peer into the driver’s side window you can get a glance at the odometer, as long as it’s mechanical rather than digital. Don’t automatically be scared away if it reads in excess of 100,000 miles.

With the quality of today’s engines, there could potentially be plenty of life left in the car as long as its owners took good care of it.

On the other hand, if you see an odometer reading that seems a bit low in relation to the age of the car, don’t automatically assume the car is a gem. There are a number of factors that go into determining the truth behind the numbers you’re seeing on the odometer, and how those numbers relate to the quality of the vehicle.

You should verify with the car’s owner that the odometer reading is correct. You can do so by looking at service records, getting a CarFax or CarProof record, and checking with the owner’s primary mechanic. Most states have laws in place, similar to those in Ohio, that make it a crime to tamper with the odometer or falsely represent mileage when selling a used car.

Tip #2 – Check for Oil Leaks

10 tips for purchasing high mileage used carsOne of the most important aspects of long automotive life is optimal engine performance. When an engine is leaking oil, there could potentially be a serious issue under the hood. Almost every engine will begin to leave a drip or two once you get around the 100,000 mile range, but if an oil leak is anything more than a drip, don’t take the risk.

The obvious first place to look for an oil leak is the ground underneath the engine compartment. Also, discreetly look around at the owner’s driveway for potential oil stains. Sometimes owners will move a car from its usual parked location in order to show it to a potential buyer.

Finally, pop the hood and look for oil on top of the engine compartment. Get on your back and check underneath for signs of oil leakage on the transmission and throughout the engine compartment.

Tip #3 – Check for Transmission Leaks

Though transmission leaks tend to be less frequent than engine oil leaks, they can be just as costly. If the transmission is leaking, you may see a light pink fluid on the ground underneath the car. But you’ll also need to get under the car and feel around with your fingers where the transmission meets the engine.

If you plan to check the level of the transmission fluid using the dipstick, remember that the engine needs to be warm to get an accurate reading.

Oil levels are just the opposite. So perhaps you can check the oil dipstick first, then start the engine and let it run for a few minutes before checking the transmission fluid. Neither fluid should be dark or cloudy in appearance.

Tip #4 – Look for Smoke

You want to start the engine of a high mileage used car and let it run for a few minutes. Then stress the engine by hitting the gas for a few seconds while looking in the rear-view mirror for smoke. Obviously, you should not see any; if you do, pay attention to the color.

10 tips for buying high mileage used vehicles

According to O’Reilly Auto Parts, a Missouri-based auto parts retailer, black smoke is an indication of a potential fuel leak. Black smoke is caused when gas flows to the cylinders more quickly than the combustion process can handle.

If you see the white smoke, accompanied by a faintly sweet odor, there’s a good chance anti-freeze is leaking into the engine compartment. This could signify a blown gasket or a worn head. If you see blue smoke, that’s a sign of an oil leak.

Tip #5 – Check Tire Wear

When everything is working properly, the tires on a car should wear out pretty consistently across all four wheel positions. In addition, each individual tire should wear evenly across its entire surface.

If tread wear is uneven on any single tire, or from one side of the car to the other, there may be a problem with the suspension or alignment.

AutoZone’s ProCar Care website explains how to read and interpret tire wear patterns. If tires are worn just in the center or on the edges, it may just be an issue of under or over inflation. But if tires are cupped, feathered, or worn on just one side, there’s a high likelihood that something in the steering or suspension is out of whack.

Tip #6 – Look for Rust

Looking for rust is more important in cold weather climates, especially where road salt is used during the winter months. Surface rust can be eliminated through minimal bodywork, so you’ll need to look in other places like the wheel wells, the trunk, and the engine compartment, along the bottoms of doors, around the gas cap, and underneath the car.

ten tips for buying high mileage used carsUnderneath the car, you should be looking for rust along the frame rails, on the gas tank, across the exhaust system, and along all the fuel line. Pay special attention to the brake lines, as excessive rust could cause them to rupture without warning.

Lastly, pick up the floor mats and check for rust underneath them. In cold weather climates where road salt is used it is quite common for floorboards to rust from the inside out. It’s okay to find a little rust under the mats, but it shouldn’t be anything excessive.

Tip #7 – Check Interior for Signs of Water

In most states it is a legal requirement to classify a flood-damaged vehicle as either salvaged or a wreck. It’s also illegal, whether you’re a dealer or a private seller, to sell a flood-damaged vehicle without providing full disclosure to the buyer. As a buyer, there are two ways you can check for signs that a car was previously flooded.

The first method is to check the interior for watermarks. Once a car is flooded, it’s very difficult to get rid of watermarks without replacing the entire interior. If you see watermarks on the carpet or the seats, or the interior looks exceptionally new compared to the rest of the vehicle, this should be a red flag.

If you suspect flood damage, you can run a VIN (vehicle identification number) check at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website.

If the car’s owner was compensated by an insurance company for flood damage, that information will show up in the NICB database.

Tip #8 – Take the Vehicle for a Test Drive

10 recommendations for buying high mileage used carsOur last three tips are just a few common sense things you should do before you purchase a high mileage used vehicle. The first is to simply take the car for a test drive, if possible. A few minutes around the neighborhood should be sufficient.

During your test drive, be sure to challenge the acceleration and brakes; be safe, of course. Also pay attention to unusual noises, vibrations in the steering wheel, engine temperature, etc. If the car is not registered and insured, you may have to settle for just a brief test drive on the owner’s property.

Tip #9 – Take the Car to Your Own Mechanic

If the car is currently registered and insured, insist that the owner allow you to drive it to your own mechanic for an inspection. A mechanic may charge you $50 or so, but it’s well worth it if he can save you from making a mistake worth several thousand dollars. If the car isn’t registered and insured, bring your mechanic back for a second visit.

Tip #10 – Take the Time to Think

A good rule of thumb when buying any used vehicle is to never make a decision right away. For better or worse, sometimes our first impressions of a car cloud our rational decision-making mind.

what are some tips for buying high mileage used carsAfter you’ve seen a vehicle, take a day or two to think about it. During that time you might be able to ask advice from your friends or do a little research.

If you just recently purchased a high mileage used car, now is a great time to enter your ZIP code into our FREE search tool to find the best deals on car insurance for it!

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