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I have been looking for an older van for a while, trying to get a sense of what I can get within my budget. And one thing that is not clear to me is, all things being equal, what is better -- a car that is 2-3 years older but with 20-30k less odometer or one that is newer, but with higher mileage?

I guess there's probably no good answer to that, because there're so many factors besides those two: first, obviously, there's no such thing as 'all being equal' especially when buying private party; then, different years even of the same model could have different features, safety ratings etc. But I wanted to hear what people who know about cars more than I do have to say.

closed as too broad by cory, CharlieRB, cdunn, tlhIngan, Chenmunka Jan 25 '17 at 9:58

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    Do you live in an area where cars have a tendency to rust? If so, I would avoid cars that are 2-3 years older and pick a car with more miles on the odometer. Also, rubber seals in old cars can fail. The valve cover gasket and power steering rack seals in my 1989 Opel Vectra failed, and of these the power steering rack couldn't be repaired and new parts are nowhere to be found. The old replacement part from another old vehicle failed after 1 year. If you have the option, I would choose a car with an electronic power steering. Also, prefer cars driven for long distances rarely. – juhist Jan 24 '17 at 18:49
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    If you're buying any older vehicle, buy a model known for reliability, and which was fairly popular ( sold allot ) so that you'll have an easier time getting parts. When looking at lists of top ten most reliable vehicles for any particular year, Toyota, Honda and Mazda usually take up most of the slots. – Robert S. Barnes Jan 24 '17 at 19:42
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    Purely anecdotal, worked for me personally but not scientific. When shopping for a used Toyota Sienna, I used the following data: 1) what is my budget? (for example, if I am willing to spend $15k every 5 years to buy my next car, then my budget is $3000/year). 2) How many years does this model typically last before it is scrap (I estimated Toyota Siennas can expect to last until they are 15 years old). 3) How many miles can it run before it is scrap (I estimated 265000 miles) 4) How many miles per year do I drive? – mbeckish Jan 24 '17 at 20:44
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    This allowed me to come up with two estimates for how long I will have the car - one based on age, one based on odometer reading + how many miles per year I drive. Using those figures, I estimate how long the car will last, multiply by my annual budget, and get the price I am willing to pay for the car. For what it's worth, I valued the car at $1500 for each year it will last before I scrap it. – mbeckish Jan 24 '17 at 20:45
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Maintenance records are key. Look for a large book of receipts, going back as far as possible.

Make sure you know what the main maintenance issues are on the car; e.g for Subaru, they need a timing belt service at 105,000miles (in the US); if the car is around that mileage, and there's no record of it being done, then walk away or negotiate a $1,500 discount. Other cars have similar issues, I'm sure.

Knowledge is everything!

  • That is really good to know. I can probably look up maintenance schedule for the particular model I'm looking at and ask if they have receipts. Hopefully it's easy to find those online for older vehicles. – Nikita G. Jan 24 '17 at 17:56
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Well its not a bad thing getting a pre-owned vehicle but some factors are to be kept in mind before spending your cash for the same.

  1. Kilometers or miles it ran
  2. Parts to be renewed or parts to be reworked upon without replacing -Check the fuel tank for damage. -Check the engine belt. -Check the gear box etc.
  3. Total budget structure for maintenance
  4. If covering all stays within your budget it a green sign for you to go for it. But if you are getting a new good catch with your existing budget that might go up a little then it will be amazing. Don't you think? :)

P.S. And not to forget to check the tyre tread for they will help you rule the road in the end ;)

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There are a few factors to consider.

  • Distance traveled indicates wear and tear on the vehicle. A younger vehicle with more distance on the odometer could indicate excessive wear, or might not be a big deal. Example: I drive a lot of low-stress highway miles on my vehicles. If you looked at my current vehicle and the miles you might be concerned, despite the fact that the distance (in my case) does not imply extra wear and tear (trips of hundreds of miles on smooth, fresh asphalt).

    However, a person who commutes a long distance in stop-and-go traffic with the same odometer reading could be the opposite: a younger vehicle with more distance might mean maintenance is due on the brakes and suspension due to frequent starts and stops. The transmission fluid might be worn out due to more frequent shifting.

    You also need to consider the climate. If you live in the U.S. up north with tons of potholes, a well-traveled vehicle may have more wear and tear than a vehicle that has lived its whole life in the warm and dry climate of Texas.

  • Age of vehicle is important in different ways. If a vehicle is older with a lower odometer, perhaps it sat in a garage for a while (this could be true of any vehicle but the risk is higher here). It is not good for vehicles to sit unused for more than a week or two. This could mean maintenance is due: battery might be damaged from discharge, tires could suffer from dry rot, et al (see the question I linked). However, if driven regularly but less distance, it could mean far less wear and tear on the vehicle and more useful life ahead of it.

  • Look at the condition of the vehicle as a whole. If you are not able to judge the condition of anything under the hood, at least look around the body for dings, dents and scratches; check the tire tread depth; look for worn spots and stains in the upholstery; check that the infotainment and other cabin systems work correctly. For example, it may be the dead heat of summer or the coldest part of winter, but test both the heat and air conditioning.

  • Ask for maintenance records, even if it is simply a list of things the dealer did when taking in the vehicle to prepare it for sale. Check against manufacturer recommendations and look for anything overdue. There is nothing wrong with asking the seller to perform routine maintenance. Worst case they refuse, and you walk away and find a more reasonable seller.

Personally: I look at the odometer first, age second. There are other factors such as trim and features, but those are more subjective and you did not mention those.

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