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What’s Acceptable Mileage When Buying A Used Car?

When you’re shopping for a used car, one of the questions you might grapple with is, “How many miles on a car is too many miles?”

Truth is, that along with maintenance history and general condition, overall mileage is an important factor when you’re trying to assess the quality of a used car. Read on to learn about what qualifies as “good mileage” and when too many miles might be a bridge too far when it comes to buying a used car.

Photo: Shutterstock/Hedgehog94

Average Used Car Mileage

Before the pandemic, the average American drove 14,300 miles annually, according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. Mileage numbers haven’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but Americans are still driving about 11,500 miles per year.

Determining whether the car you’re looking to purchase has average, below-average or above-average mileage is a matter of mathematics. For example, if a five-year-old car has 100,000 miles on it, that would be considered average mileage, based on the assumption that most people would have driven that car about 71,500 miles during a five-year period. Conversely, if a five-year-old car has 34,000 miles on it, that would be considered below-average mileage.

In general, a lower mileage vehicle is considered a better choice than a higher mileage vehicle, but there are exceptions to that rule. Consider the case of two identical 2019 Honda Civics, one for sale privately with 34,000 miles and one certified pre-owned (CPO) Civic with 58,000 miles.

• The 34,000-mile Civic has no service records, has an accident listed on the vehicle history report, and exhibits a shimmy when taken out for a test drive.

• The CPO Civic with 58,000 miles boasts a great service record, has a vehicle history report with no accidents, includes four tires with 2021 date codes, and features a well-maintained interior.

Given the choice between the two cars, the 58,000-mile Civic appears to be the better choice. Mileage, unfortunately, indicates very little about how a vehicle was used and maintained during ownership; that’s where the importance of service history and condition comes in.

Photo: Shutterstock/Artit Wongpradu

Not Just How Many Miles, But Where

Mileage numbers tell only part of the story; where and how a car traveled when putting on those miles is another important factor to consider.


Using the aforementioned Civics, assume that the owner of the higher mileage Civic drove 30 miles to and from work making use of the nearby highway as well as exits close to home and the office and that the bulk of the driving time was spent running the car at a steady 65 miles per hour.

Then assume that the owner of the lower mileage car consistently drove in stop-and-go city traffic, probably resulting in more wear-and-tear on the clutch, brakes, and transmission. It stands to reason that the lower mileage car might be in worse shape because it endured more demanding drives.

Photo: Shutterstock/Minerva Studio

Should You Always Avoid Purchasing A High-Mileage Used Car?

A car with 100,000 miles generally indicates that the vehicle’s original powertrain warranty has expired, but most used cars are going to be close to that expiration date. In the 1950s and 1960s, cars were considered used up, washed up, and ready to be ditched when they hit 100,000 miles, but that’s simply not true when it comes to today’s cars.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the average vehicle on the road in the United States is more than 12 years old. If you multiply that number by 12,500 miles annually (less than the average pre-pandemic annual mileage), the average U.S. vehicle has about 151,250 miles on it. What’s more, today’s cars routinely rack up about 250,000 miles on their original transmissions and head gaskets, while requiring nothing other than routine maintenance.

The upshot? High mileage isn’t always a downer, but it’s important to consider all of the factors when buying a used car, not just how far it’s been driven but also how it’s been driven.