Just like Sweet 16 or the Big 4-Oh, a used car has significant turning points in its lifetime. In the case of a used car, these aren't birthdays but instead mileage milestones, and they can affect the car's value. If you're planning to sell or trade in your car soon, keep your eye on the odometer and sell before hitting these significant mileage points. If you're buying a used car, you should also know about these milestones and understand that extensive maintenance may soon be due — or should have been done already.
While the mileage always affects the price of a used car, and is factored into the Edmunds.com True Market Value (TMV®) appraisal tool, three mileage markers have a greater impact on a used car's price. Here's the breakdown.
First Turning Point: 30,000-40,000 Miles
Most cars come with a bumper-to-bumper factory warranty that expires at either 36,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first. This is the point at which many cars are returned to the dealer from the first "owner," meaning the person who leased the car.
In addition, a car's first major service visit usually comes in the range of 30,000-40,000 miles. This is when the carmaker calls for more than just an oil change and tire rotation, and it's not uncommon for this major service to cost more than $350. In addition, certain "wear items" may soon need service. Wear items are things such as brakes and tires that are expected to wear out, as opposed to things that break and need to be repaired.
With this in mind, anyone getting ready to sell a car would want to put it up for sale a few thousand miles before the 36,000-mile mark or before the major service visit. Anyone shopping for used cars in this range should check that the required maintenance has been done. A savvy buyer could use the fact that the service hasn't been done yet as a bargaining chip to make a lower opening offer.
To find out more about the major service visits for different cars, check the Edmunds.com Maintenance Guide.
Second Turning Point: 60,000-70,000 Miles
The second major service visit is sometimes even more expensive than the first. This is particularly true of cars that have timing belts, which coordinate the turning of the pistons and the camshaft. If this belt is not changed, it will eventually snap and could cause engine damage. This service item alone costs at least $300.
By the time a car has 60,000 miles it will almost certainly need tires and brakes, although more modern cars are going farther with less maintenance. Still, a seller can save money by selling or trading in a car well before this work is required. Edmunds' article, "Fix Up or Trade Up," can help guide the decision.
A buyer shopping for a good used car should look up the major service visits for the specific make and model and make sure the work has been done on the car under consideration. Also, buyers should check tires and brakes and use the information on their condition when negotiating the price.
Third Turning Point: 100,000 Miles
Twenty years ago, if a car had 100,000 miles on it, it was likely to be running on borrowed time. But cars are becoming more reliable and long-lived, so today's 100,000-mile car is likely still in its prime. Perceptions haven't kept pace with engineering, however, and at the 100,000-mile mark, there is a significant drop in a car's value. For example, CarMax, the used-car store, will buy cars with 100,000 miles on them, but it won't resell them to consumers. It will send them to used-car auctions, where other dealers might buy them at deeply discounted prices.
With this information in mind, consider selling your car while it still has fewer than 95,000 miles on it. By doing so, shoppers using online sites will find your car if they set mileage limits below the dreaded 100,000-mile mark.
To Infinity and Beyond
Once a car hits 100,000 miles, the service schedules begin to repeat themselves, requiring a major service every 30,000 or 40,000 miles. But by this time, the car's interior and exterior condition begin to overshadow other factors. After 100,000 miles, the paint might be showing its age. There's likely to be some wear and tear to the seats and other parts of the interior. In many cases, it will need other repairs as well, so the standard milestones become less important.
Knowing a car's milestones and anticipating when your car will reach them can help you get the maximum value for your car when you sell it. The milestones are also important for used-car shoppers, helping them make smarter decisions when they're negotiating and buying. By keeping an eye on the odometer, both seller and buyer can strike a better deal.