There’s a lot of information to consider in the used car market, especially the right mileage. The right choice ultimately comes down to your priorities.

Buying a used car is a smart investment, but it can be a daunting process. You want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck, but many buyers lack confidence in their automotive knowledge and don’t feel comfortable assessing a vehicle’s value. There’s a lot of information to consider in the used car market, but the right choice ultimately comes down to your priorities.

Luckily, there are a few parameters to help guide you in the right direction. Paying attention to mileage is a big one. How many miles is too many?

Take It to the Limit

According to the US Department of Transportation, the average car is on the road between 12,000 and 15,000 miles per year. This should give you a starting point when looking at the odometer, just by doing a little math. For example, you can expect a 5-year-old vehicle to have around 60,000 to 75,000 miles. This is just an average though, as people use their cars for different reasons and no two commutes are the same. Because of this, it’s important to weigh that baseline mileage with another factor: usage.

How’s My Driving?

Conventional wisdom dictates that highway driving is easier on cars than city driving for a number of reasons, notes Consumer Reports, even if it puts more miles on the dash over time. (If you prioritize the best mpg for city driving, the Nissan Versa is a great choice.) A well-maintained vehicle that’s free of major accidents is—obviously—better than one that is not. The point is that you need to know the history of the car before you can really judge the mileage. Was the daily commute an hour on the highway or half an hour in stop-and-go traffic along pot-holed roads? It makes a difference. Do you find evidence that the previous owner kept up with small repairs and regular maintenance? Consistent previous care can extend the life of a vehicle by years. A surprising red flag is actually too few miles. Cars are built to be driven; a 5-year-old car with under 10,000 miles likely sat dormant for long periods of time, and probably hasn’t been well kept up.

The Tipping Point

With all that to think about, how can you know you’re making the right decision? The best advice is to use a combination of the baseline mileage calculation above, a complete vehicle history, and securing the advice of a professional. A thorough multipoint inspection from a certified mechanic will give you confidence that the number on the odometer is reflected fairly in the number on the price tag. US Auto Sales provides this service as standard on all used vehicles, ensuring your peace of mind and the reliability of your new (used) car.

It can be a little work, but if you’re up to it you’ll score big in the used car market. Knowing the baseline calculation of 12,000–15,000 miles per year can help other priorities fall into place. Add in a few thoughtful questions about the car’s history and you are on your way to a super deal. Enjoy the ride!

Blair Lampe

About the AuthorBlair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based freelance writer and mechanic.  She travels frequently and on a budget, which she documents on her website TheGreyBeyond.