I’ve long been an advocate for high mileage cars as with the right research and a suitably cynical attitude you can quite easily find a bargain that will just as trustworthy as a similar vehicle with low miles. Take for example two identical E46s; the first is a one owner low mileage vehicle selling for $15,000 and the second is also one owner but has double the miles but a selling price of around $9,000. Most people would be drawn to the low miler but you shouldn’t dismiss the mega miler as the higher mileage car could prove to be cheaper to run and buy.
Most E46s are now at least 5 years old and almost all of them no longer have any factory warranty. A car with 70k on it might seem like the sensible purchase but there could be big bills lurking. The problem is that you have bought a car that is just getting to the end of it’s first ‘wear and tear’ cycle and there be dragons down there. Chances are your low mileage car has spent it’s life as suburban transport, perhaps the odd trip to the shops and no doubt it has provided sterling service on the school run. All those short journeys take their toll on the vehicle as it really never gets a chance to warm up properly and stretch its legs.
Now let us consider a similar car but with 120,000 miles instead, this car has likely spent it’s life bombing up and down motorways with plenty of time for the mechanicals to warm up. Not only is this less harsh on the mechanicals but a lot of people discard their cars once the odo hits six digits. This is one of the worst times to get rid of a car; the owner was probably upset at his or her first big money bill and figured it was time to get rid before it bankrupted them. Problem is that they paid that money already and now someone else is going to get the benefit. If you bought the low mileage car that big bill would be yours to deal with, so you not only paid more for the car but you have to pay for all those ‘wear and tear’ items.
Buying used cars is not without risk but with a canny head on your shoulders you can save big. A golden rule of buying used is to know the car’s history. Carfax only tells part of the story and there is no substitute for service history. Last year I bought a 20 year old Mercedes 300E with 160k on the clock. The “Check Engine” light was on, hadn’t been registered for six months. It didn’t start properly and was in an underground parking structure with very little light. Most people would have walked away from that but the history on the car told me a story that was too good to pass up. The car was a two owner vehicle, a mother and son. This car had been family transport and then passed down to the son who rarely used the car. The thing that sealed the deal was the husband was a technician at the local MB dealer and this 1990 car had only seen the inside of a dealership and OEM parts. I bought the car for a steal, replaced the dodgy oxygen sensor and it sailed through smog. I sold the car a few months later (to a friend!) and it is still going strong and the friend is still talking to me.
Recently I was asked to find a 330xi for a friend and he was adamant that he wanted a low miler. I drove three of them for him ranging from 60k to 75k. All three of them needed new shocks, a set of brakes and had sloppy handling indicating that the suspension bushings on the front had seen better days. All three cars were in a similar condition as my 200k version except with less history. I walked away from all of them and my friend finally ended up with a Volvo S40 in superb condition with a six figure mileage. The only reason the sellers were getting rid was because they were scared at what lurked around the corner on a 100,000 mile car and they were still smarting from the $3,000 service bill.
So when you are considering your next car, take a chance and get something that has been to the moon and back. It’s much easier on your car than incessant trips to Safeways!