Buying a used auto with high miles

By glblguy

I drove home in a red Eddie Bauer Ford Expedition last night. The SUV is loaded: sun-roof, leather seats, premium sound (with CD changer), power and heated seats, climate control, trip computer, power pedals, alarm, and tons of other little gadgets. Guess how much I paid for it! $5,500.00 cash. No loan, no payments. The Expedition is all mine and I have the title sitting right here on my desk as I write this.

Deciding on a used auto with high miles

I wrote last week about how I had rented a new Ford Expedition for our house hunting trip to the mountains. We really liked it and it comfortably held all 8 of us. We returned home I did a little research and found that the sticker price for a new Ford Expedition equipped the way our rental was runs at least $40,000. That is way more than I am willing to pay for a vehicle. We decided to just stick with that we have, a 2004 Dodge Durango (2 wheel drive) and a 2001 Nissan Sentra.

I received an email a few days later from a friend of mine that had read my article. His neighbor had been trying to sell their 2000 Ford Expedition. They were asking $8,500 but had recently reduced the price to $6500.00. He sent me a couple of pictures as well (one of which is at the top of this article). It had all of the options we wanted and/or needed and I liked the color. The only problem, at least in my mind, was that it had 104,000+ miles on it.

My wife and I have been been talking about it since then, but we weren’t completely sold on the idea. After all, we already have one SUV and we’re getting ready to buy a house and didn’t need to be spending any money.

Over weekend, we went back up the mountains to look at a few homes our real estate agent found for us. Two of the homes we really like, and one in particular. The problem? Both almost required 4-wheel drive to get to. If they almost require a 4×4 now, once winter hits not having a 4×4 could be a big problem. We talked to the agent about needing a 4×4 in that area and his response was that it wasn’t required but sure made life a whole lot easier and less stressful. He did agree that the houses that we seemed to like would almost require a 4×4 in the winter. I noticed that he drove a 4×4 truck and that a number of the vehicles parked at the agency where 4×4 vehicles as well.

My wife  and I discussed options on the way home and both strongly agreed a new vehicle wasn’t for us. The 2000 Ford Expedition kept coming up, and we finally decided to go take a look at it yesterday afternoon when we returned.

Buying a used auto with high miles

I called the owners and asked if they would be available to let us see the vehicle. I also asked to key questions: 1) Are you the original owner? 2) Do you have the maintenance records? The answer to both questions in my case was yes. With that first hurdle out of the way, I made an appointment to meet the owners a few hours later

Before we left, I visited to see what their appraisal and True Market Value price was. quoted right at $6500.00.

The Expedition was sitting in the driveway when we arrived. It looked nice, nicer than I expected really. The outside had a few little bumps and scratches, but nothing major. It screamed “wax me”, but that’s something I can certainly take care of. The interior was pretty dirty. Tt showed some wear, but not bad. A good cleaning and shampoo would really make a huge difference. We decided to test drive it. It drove great and everything worked. I drove it on some bumpy side roads, took it on a gravel road to test the 4-wheel drive and even drove it on the interstate. No problems. The engine was smooth, the body tight, and no squeaks or rattles. All of the options and features worked as well.

When we returned, I opened the hood and looked for an visual signs of fluid leaks. None. The engine was clean and dry, and even had a fairly new Diehard battery. Fluids looked like had been recently changed and all were full. I asked the owners where they normally parked it, and they said right where it is. A quick inspection of the driveway showed no signs of fluid either. This is starting to look like an incredible deal.

The only item the Expedition needed was new tires. From experience with our Durango, new tires would run me about $500.00 or so. I was prepared of pay $6500.00 for it, but I make it a habit to never pay the asking price straight up. I also didn’t assume the asking price was still $6500.00. I asked the owner what they wanted for it. They surprisingly said $6000.00 instead of $6500.00. I discounted another $500.00 for new tires, and offered them $5,500.00 stating specifically that it needed $500.00 worth of tires. After some deliberation, they accepted.

A few minutes later, I drove it home. We now have a 4-wheel drive vehicle that will haul our whole family. No more riding in separate vehicles! We’ll be selling my Nissan Sentra in the next week or so, once I get tags for the Expedition and get the Nissan cleaned up a bit. I’ll also be visiting my trusted mechanic to give the Expedition a once over to make double sure everyting is ok with it.

Tips for buying a used auto with high miles

Here are few tips to follow when buying a used auto with high miles:

Buy single owner cars

Make sure the owner is the original owner. This will allow you to know the full history of the vehicle. Most likely the original owners will have all or most of the maintenance records as well. Remember buying a car with high miles is all dependent on the history of the vehicle. If it’s been well cared for and maintained, it will most likely last for a long time.

Inspect the maintenance records

Look for any major maintenance work and when it was last performed. See how often the oil and other fluids were changed and look for any evidence of damage or repair due to accidents. The Expedition I purchased had the oil changed ever 3,000 miles and they followed all of the dealer recommended maintenance. Within the past year it received new shocks, brakes, and bushings.

Look for leaks

In a vehicle with high miles, one of the key things you need to look for are leaks. You don’t have to be a car expert to find them,  Just look under the vehicle for any signs of fluids dripping off the engine, transmission, and 4-wheel drive components. If you see them, run away or take the vehicle to a mechanic to have it inspected.

I recommend always taking a used car to a trusted mechanic before purchasing. I didn’t do this as I know enough about cars to find any major problems and the owners had a documented inspection from a shop down the road. Spending $50 – $100 for a routine inspection is well worth it. If the owners won’t let you do this, don’t buy the car.

Listen for funny noises

Another common sign of problems are unusual noises. Does the engine tap or make out of the ordinary whirring noises? Does the suspension squeak? Does the body rattle when riding on rough roads? How about the transmission? Is it smooth an quiet?

If you hear any noises that you think might be unusual, take the vehicle to a mechanic who can determine the cause. It might just be normal wear and tear, but it could also be something much more costly, like a bad engine.

In Summary

Don’t shy away from used autos with high miles. They can be a source of incredibly great deals. Cars these days are far more reliable than older cars used to be and can run for 200,00+ miles. I fully expect to get another 100,000 miles out of this Expedition, if not more. Just be careful and make sure you do your homework. Watch for signs of any major problems and make sure the vehicle was well cared for by the original owners.

Once we get the Expedition cleaned up, I’ll post some before and after pictures along with some tips on how to clean a used car up after you’ve bought it. I also write about how to effectively sell a used vehicle as I go through the process of selling my Nissan Sentra (anybody interested? Only asking $4,000.00)

Do you drive a vehicle with high miles? Have you ever purchased a vehicle with more than 100,000 miles on it? How did it work out?  Add a comment!

29 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Buying a used auto with high miles”

  1. Frugal Dad Says:

    We picked up a Chevy Tahoe in similar fashion a few years ago. The previous owners had relocated from N.Y. and many of the miles represented long interstate trips back to visit family a couple times a year. It was a little newer (at the time), so we paid a bit more for it, but at the time it was about $15k less than what the original owners paid. I think they probably had to put a little with our offer to pay it off completely. The husband told me during the deal it would be the last “new” car they ever bought!

  2. kick_push Says:

    nice purchase! i think buying used is the only way to go.. think of how much money you saved in payments and interest! although i’d be weary of those explorers.. the higher mileage the more problems

    i bought a used lexus gs400 (1998) six years ago.. it had 60k miles on it.. those cars back then were almost 50k brand new but i got it for half the price.. i still had to finance but was able to pay it off in 3 years

    there was one guy in the lexus forum saying his car went 300k miles easily w/ regular maintainance.. i have 167k miles now w/ no major problems.. i plan on keeping this car for at least another decade

  3. Single Guy Money Says:

    Sounds like you got a great deal. You should be able to sell the Sentra pretty easy these days. You may make almost enough to pay for the Expedition!

  4. John Says:

    I purchased a 2000 Blazer for my kids to drive to school last summer. I paid $35 to pull the carfax report and it had two owners each who drove it high miles in new england. It was a solid buy and we got it through the first inspection for $35. Since then I’ve put in a new radiator and it will need tires this fall, but overall it’s a great buy. 160,000 miles and under $4000.

  5. Tracy Says:

    My last two vehicle purchases have been high-mile vehicles, both Ford Explorers. First one was a 1993 with 186,000 miles. I did some minor repairs, about $400 in parts, bringing my total expenditure to $1900. Last week, it blew the head gasket, which meant a long weekend fixing it myself, or spending $1000 to have it “professionally” done. With (now) 195,000 miles on the engine, I couldn’t justify either one, so I “junked” it, getting $200 from a local salvage yard. I replaced it with another Explorer, this one a 2000 model with 179,000 miles. No rust, no engine leaks, runs great. Pinion seal on the rear differential is leaking a bit, but that’s a 2 hour job to fix, not a big deal. I paid $1900 cash for this one, book value is over $4000, but nobody wants SUV’s right now, so the guy was getting desperate. I was happy to help him out! :-)

  6. Anne Says:

    I love these articles. I’m not a big fan of driving and I don’t particularly like highway driving. So I get a little confidence boost when people who seem to really know/like cars are pro-used.

    I’m currently driving a 1996 Toyota Corolla that my parents gave me. It has about 79k miles on it; they bought it used about 7 years ago with 30k miles on it. I expect it to keep happily chugging along until used hybrids and my bank account meet in 5-7 years.

  7. Nikki W Says:

    Buy high mileage is VERY green…. and frugal. We have done this for our entire adult lives (50/60 yrs old). Currently have 1 Ford van w/ 300K, 1 Toyota w/ 275K. Religious about changing oil. Both one owner cars; both had 50-100K when we bought them. Get that independent mechanics report; look at the history in CarFax. No car payments – ever – is very freeing for us.
    One thing you didn’t mention again was rentals. When we have a big road trip, we rent for the occasion. We actually have been renting Prius (Toyota Hybrid) for our overnight road trips in the flat lands, although we have rented an SUV vehicles when traveling to the snow. Two + to rentals: 1) prolongs our current vehicles – that 1500 extra miles is not going on our old car. 1500 miles is about 30 weeks of regular commuting for me. 2) No fears on unexpected repairs – it is someone else’s car – we can return to AgencyX anywhere (for example) and get a different one if something goes wrong with it, and continue our trip immediately. 3) We can tailor the vehicle to the need – Prius for a long long road trip; SUV to the snow; pickup for the trek to get that antique table of Moms. We don’t own a bevy of flexible vehicles that broad – so we can flex when we need it. 4) Also allows us to “shop” for our next vehicle – we’ve already decided that we don’t like the leg lenght for the back seat in the one smaller Dodge vehicle we tried; we found the seatback not comfortable for my tall DH in the Subaru.
    Congratulations! And, to be green, I just drive 55, and plan my trips carefully, and do errands in off hours (heavy traffic here); and get the same mileage my co-worker with the extremely expensive Camry Hybrid has.

  8. KC Says:

    In Aug of 05 I bought a 2001 Acura TL with 50k miles on it. I paid cash (a little over $16k). My parents kept saying you need a newer car than that, 50k miles is a lot of miles. But I kept telling them I’m paying cash (a new concept to them) and I only put 10k miles a year on a car anyway. So I’m still in this really nice luxury car that’s fun to drive. It’s still worth about $10k and it has only 80k miles on it. Plus, I’m able to save that car payment and put it towards the mortgage and towards the next car that I’ll buy in 5 years or more. Although my husband always buys new cars (but not as nice ones), I’ll never buy a new one unless I have more money than I know what to do with.

  9. Seattle Car Accident Attorney Says:

    I purchased a Beretta for $3500 with 104K+ miles on it and aside from the standard engine maintenance didn’t have any trouble with it. Had it for over four years before finally deciding it was time to move on to the next vehicle – a 2001 Saturn with 40K miles on it.

    It is important do research, as you’ve rightly suggested and laid out. A little looking can go a long way in saving some money!

  10. John P Says:

    I just bought a 1998 Lexus ES300 with 186,000 miles on it for $4,800. I gave the owner a $150 deposit and the balance the next day, after my mechanic gave it a thorough inspection and a clean bill of health.

    Over the years I’ve bought 10 cars and 4 motorcycles; two of the motorcycles I bought new, everything else was used. The only lemon was a BMW 328ic which I bought from a dealer.

    I don’t buy cars through dealers anymore.

    If you look at Craigslist, you can see the premium that dealers put on cars; if you’re reasonably careful and use a mechanic to vet the deal, you can easily save $500 – $1,500 by buying from the owner. Often the buyers underprice the car or will move significantly off their initial price to get it out of their driveway.

    I pay $24 for an annual subscription to Consumer Reports online; when I want to buy a car I always look at their “Recommended Used Cars” section for the amount I want to spend. I’m strongly biased to Toyotas, Hondas, and Lexus’– over the years they’ve proven themselves to be completely reliable. (My wife drives a 2004 Toyota Avalon, which we bought used and she loves.)

    Although 186,000 miles is a lot, if any car was built to put 300,000 miles on it, it’s a Lexus. If you look at the wikipedia entry for the Lexus ES, it shows (1) J.D. Power and Associates named the 1998 ES 300 the “Best Entry Luxury Car in Initial Quality” and (2) Kelley Blue Book gave the 1998 ES its “Best to Hold Value.”

    I live in northern Virginia and commute four miles to work. Two or three times a week I drive twenty to thirty miles to see clients.

    I used Craigslist to find the car by searching for cars with a maximum value of $12,000.

    Part of what I’m interested in when I look at a used car is getting a feel for the owner. When I met the owner at his house, he was a friendly guy with a well-maintained yard and home who’d just bought another (used) Lexus. He’d already printed out the CarFax report for me, which was a positive sign. He’d owned the car for 7 years and had bought it used himself. He had a good reason for selling the car and a good reason for the high miles — he has a 100-mile round trip commute each day.

    The car was immaculate. The interior was spotless, the vinyl was spotless and looked like it had been regularly cleaned with ArmorAll. The floor was clean and unworn — very hard to do over ten years. The body had no dings and minor scratches, and the engine compartment was spotless.

    When I took it out for a test drive, it felt tight, smooth and quiet; there was no vibration through the steering wheel. When I took my hands off the steering wheel the car didn’t move. When I found a quiet street and slammed on the brakes, it didn’t slew at all. Braking was firm, not soft or spongy.

    As Clint Eastwood tells us, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I’m no mechanic, but I have a good one. The owner agreed to knock off the price of the inspection, and let me have the car for the evening and next day so my mechanic could look it over.

    My mechanic gave it a clean bill of health.

    So for $4,800 I have a good-looking car with a clean title, no payments, low insurance, power everything, cruise control, and a great sound system. I’m looking forward to getting it to 300,000 miles, primarily through changing the oil every 3,000 miles and listening to my mechanic’s advice.

    Good luck to all of you —

    John P

  11. amy Says:

    i have had two higher mileage vehicles and have been disappointed. i have four young children and need something that will not leave us on the side of the road. i am not a “car person” and haven’t had good luck when choosing i guess. as a result, i feel like i have to purchase a newer, lower mileage car just for the safety factor. just don’t want to risk sitting on the highway waiting with three kids in car seats, my 9 yo and the neighbor’s kid for the police to arrive, only to have them say, “call us if anything happens.” didn’t come in too handy when a scary guy with a scary car and “molester glasses” on approached our car. nothing happened but it could have turned out differently. am in the market for another minivan and feel like i have to spend more to get that reliability. the posts here have given me some good info to ponder before purchasing though.

  12. Ila Sinner Says:

    Antiques is a smart, fun and fulfilling expense and antique hunting is the best way to spend your time. Whether you are purchasing antiques for attractive purposes or for profit, antiques are terrific assets that last since way back when. Antiques are collected for several different reasons depending around the person who is gathering them.

  13. Arvilla Runfola Says:

    You will also want to be sure that the piece of furniture you happen to be considering buying is structurally noise.

  14. Nate Says:

    I have a 75-mile drive one way to work every day, so not counting any running around, I drive 36,000 miles per year. I have a 1998 Z-28 with 294k miles on it, and a 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager with now closing in on 150k. The reason I don’t get anything newer? I am afraid that what I get wouldn’t be anywhere close to as reliable. The secret to making them last that long? 1) Know where they came from! I’ve had the Camaro since it had 34k and my Mom bought the Voyager with 24k and I bought it from her at 90k. 2) Take care of them! Specifically, keep the fluids changed and the engine RPM’s down! Romans 12:1. –Nate

  15. moncherion Says:

    Sounds like you got a great deal. You should be able to sell the Sentra pretty easy these days. You may make almost enough to pay for the Expedition!

  16. Sheila Cain Says:

    I am so happy I found this article! I’m a single mom with 2 teenagers. I have been trying to find a used 6 cyl. SUV for weeks now! I don’t know why I thought that $9000 in cash should buy me something with low mileage (well, not LOW but at least under 100,000 miles!). I have already passed up a couple of really good deals because I keep holding back on vehicles with 105k or 108k miles on! Hoping that Ford Explorer with 105k miles on it is still available from the original owner. :)

  17. Rebecca F Says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! We are looking for an SUV that will hold our growing family (just a little 10 month old for now), and we’ve been searching for something reliable under $10K. In Frederick, MD, that is hard to do! Although we are still looking, your article has really revved up our engines (no pun intended :)) to continue our search. My husband is a huge advocate of buying things in cash and/or not over-extending ourselves. This just re-affirms our beliefs. Thanks again and good luck with the house!

  18. Matt Deutscher Says:

    I have a 95 ford f250 5.8 gas engine with 322,600 miles on it use good oil and change every 3,000. Still going strong. Very very happy with the truck.

  19. ba Says:

    When I started to read the article, I was picturing a vehicle with 200K+ miles, not 104K miles. I guess I’m just used to driving older cars. I have a couple Hondas that have 223K and 140K miles, respectively. My 223K daily driver (’92 Acura Legend) that I’ve owned for 15 years has no mechanical issues, and I absolutely love the car. Cosmetically, it’s in very good shape for its age.