How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

By: // Updated: August 29, 2020

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When it comes to starting a flexible driving gig, finding the right car is bound to be your biggest investment. The easiest way to save is by buying used, but without the guaranteed longevity of a brand new car, you need to get smart about your purchase to ensure your vehicle won’t let you down. So how many miles should a used car have? And what other factors should you look out for?

Learning how to identify a car’s true condition is a must when you’re going used car shopping. Used cars can actually cost you thousands in repair costs if you’re not vigilant. Excessive wear can even force you to buy another vehicle far faster than expected — sometimes so fast that you might as well have bought a new car.

In this article, we’ll help you avoid the worst case scenarios, so you can earn confidently in an old car that truly feels like new.

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How Many Miles Should a Used Car Have?

Parking lot full of cars with hoods popped

Experts generally agree that a vehicle shouldn’t have more than 12,000 miles per year it was in use, as this is the average number of miles traveled annually by United States drivers. For example, if you find a 10-year-old car model, it should have no more than 120,000 miles on the odometer. Any more than this and it’s considered a high-mileage car that has been used extensively.

If you’re able to speak to previous owners of the used car you’re interested in, it can also pay to ask about how a car was used. A car with 10,000 highway miles will usually be in better shape than a car with 10,000 city miles, as local road conditions can be rougher on cars.

Beyond these suggested guidelines, there’s no exact answer for how many miles a used car must have. Even if two vehicles have the same average annual mileage, the one with fewer total miles isn’t always the clear-cut choice. This is because a car’s overall condition is the result of a number of factors, and an odometer reading will only get you a small part of the vehicle’s story.

Other Important Factors to Consider

Looking beyond a car’s mileage is the only way to determine if a vehicle is worth your investment. In this section, we’ll walk you through five additional factors to consider, so you won’t be fooled by good mileage.

1. Age

How many miles should a used car have: Closeup of headlights

While we’ve already gone over how age should be considered in relation to mileage, age plays two particularly unique roles for prospective rideshare drivers. First, it can impact the amount of modern features available within a car model, including the availability of a must-have car charging port.

More importantly, age will affect how long your investment can continue helping you earn. Local requirements typically set the maximum age of rideshare vehicles at 10 to 15 years old, so purchasing a car that will only remain eligible for a couple years can actually be a waste of money.

2. Condition

Age and mileage will naturally have an impact on a car’s condition, but if a vehicle has been well-maintained, slightly higher mileage may not matter. Low mileage can actually be the result of a driver neglecting a car and not committing to regular maintenance.

To check for condition, rideshare drivers should start by checking the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Good condition is a cosmetic requirement listed by Uber and Lyft, so any damages to the seats or paint job can render a car ineligible — or at least lead to some repair costs. Of course, you can usually negotiate a lower cost if you find damages that weren’t noted by the seller.

Then, take a look under the hood. You’ll want to check for signs of negligence, like significant buildup, corrosion, or engine oil that’s too low or too dark. When you take the car on a test drive, listen for any off-putting noises, like rattling or squeaking.

You may even consider bringing an Uber or Lyft vehicle inspection form with you and checking the condition of all 19 items on the checklist — including lights, seat belts, and tread depth — to ensure the car meets rideshare standards. Taking an experienced car mechanic or inspector with you can also get you an unbiased professional look at a car’s true condition.

3. Vehicle History

Crashed police vehicle

A car’s history can prove to be extremely informative in the car buying process. Luckily, vehicle history reports are often provided by dealerships for free or easily accessible online for less than $40 through trusted platforms like CARFAX and AutoCheck.

Vehicle history reports will tell you about accidents the car has been involved in, reported repairs (usually service records from dealership service centers only), ownership history, and more important information. Car shoppers should avoid vehicles that are reported to have:

  • Salvage titles
  • Major accidents
  • Rolled back odometers (a sign of fraud)
  • A history of ongoing repairs, especially for the same part
  • Many car owners in a short amount of years (an average car has a single owner for at least six years)

4. Car Model

Car models are important to research when considering whether a used car is worth the investment. In relation to mileage, some models are known to handle high mileage far better than others. For example, many SUVs, pick-up trucks, and luxury cars are more likely to fare well than budget sedans when faced with extensive travels.

You should additionally check if there were any recalls or safety notices for your vehicle model before making a purchase.

As a rideshare driver, you’ll also need a car model that is eligible for the service you want to earn with. You can take a look at our Uber and Lyft car buying guide for an extensive list of rideshare car suggestions.

5. Price

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to remember that the true value of the car you’re considering is equivalent or greater than the listed price. Do your research and see what similar car models are selling for in your area to ensure you’re not being ripped off.

In addition, consider whether or not a vehicle’s maintenance needs are worth the cost. Luxury cars may last longer, but their car parts are often highly specific, so servicing may need to occur at the dealership. Older cars may also have parts that are no longer in stock, and therefore harder to get a hold of, though this is less common for the modern vehicles driven by most rideshare drivers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Group of black vehicles inside dealership

Understanding how many miles a used car should have is just the start of the factors you need to account for when used car shopping. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you get further acquainted with the car buying process:

1. Where should I purchase a used car from?

Used car shoppers primarily have the option to buy from dealerships or from private sellers. We typically recommend buying from a dealership, so you have more protections for your purchase, in addition to greater payment and loan options. Buying from private sellers, on the other hand, requires more caution and typically requires full cash payment. However, private sellers tend to have more affordable cars, since dealerships often do their own inspections and repairs before putting a used car up for sale.

2. How can I make sure my used car lasts as long as possible?

Regular maintenance is key to a long-lasting vehicle, regardless of whether it’s new or used. This is particularly important for rideshare drivers, who tend to drive in severe conditions, which include constant stop-and-go driving during rush hour and idling while waiting for passengers.

Proper maintenance includes consistent oil changes, tire rotations, car battery terminal cleaning, and wheel alignment checks. You can use our complete car maintenance schedule for rideshare and delivery drivers as your guide to proper car care.

3. Is my used car purchase tax deductible?

Yes, you can in fact claim your used car payment, in addition to any car loan interest, as a tax deduction. However, if you purchase from a private seller, you will need to make sure they provide a legitimate receipt or payment record so you have proof of your purchase to retain in your records.

You’ll also want to speak to your accountant before claiming the deduction, as the percentage of time your car is actually used for your work can affect the amount you can deduct.

Know What You’re Looking For

Making a smart used car purchase requires you to keep an eye out for more than lower mileage. You’ll need to take into account factors that range from age to ownership history to determine if the car is priced fairly and a good buy overall. Once you’re in full ownership of your car, your job is to take care of it well so it lasts as long as possible.

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