I need to buy a car and I can't afford a new one, and since my anticipated use is very light, I don't even want or need one. I live in the county (so no public transport) and I just need a second vehicle for the occasional times when my family has a transportation scheduling issue. I'd also like it to be a pickup truck so I can very occasionally haul dirty things like trash or mulch. My anticipated mileage is probably less than 1,000 miles per year. To emphasize: the truck would not be a primary vehicle for daily commuting, plowing, construction, etc.; it just needs to basically work.

Therefore, I'd like to buy one of the various used trucks I'm finding in the $2,000-$3,000 range, which is a vehicle that's 15-20 years old and above 100,000 miles.

For me, a successful purchase is to spend in that price range, have the vehicle pass inspection and run for two years and only a few thousand ow miles, and then, worst case, be sold for scrap. Best case, live a while longer with reasonable repairs and maintenance.

I am not a mechanic or knowledgeable about cars, so I would want to bring any vehicle to a local mechanic, perhaps the dealer for that brand, and pay them their standard rate to evaluate the vehicle and tell me what they think.

My question is: if the mechanic says the vehicle checks out okay, should I have reasonable confidence that the vehicle will meet my needs, or is it possible that a major failure can show up at any time and not be spotted even by the experts?

3 Answers 3


The mechanic can only test and observe, he cannot predict the future. So he can inspect the major systems and determine if there are obvious problems. He can run basic tests like compression and oil pressure and determine if these are within normal limits.

He cannot, however, tell you that the transmission will be good for another 50K miles or that the engine will not drop a valve or that the alternator won't go out.

There is always a risk when buying a high-mileage used car and the purpose of the mechanic is to help you make an informed decision.

A vehicle may look good to a mechanic and then throw a rod the next week.

So your question, "is it possible", is answered "Yes! Anything is possible!"

  • I understand what you're saying. Anything is possible. But maybe it's possible to rule out enough common bad outcomes that it would require some bad luck to be affected by the remaining, unpredictable bad outcomes. I guess then what I'm trying to answer is: for some reasonable requirement like "live another 2000 miles", how to have enough confidence in the vehicle meeting that requirement that I would go ahead with the purchase? Nov 14, 2021 at 20:21

One general indicator of potential vehicle life is the service records, if available. Regular oil change receipts every 5000 miles? Transmission oil changes on schedule? If those are available. the really increases the likelihood the vehicle has some life in it. Worst thing you can do is go 40,000 or 50,000 miles between oil changes.

  • Seen a set of service records shown to us by a customer who refused a car we were selling for this other car. Full service history he was bragging about - went very quiet when we pointed out to him that the whole service record was in the same color ink for 150K and same handwriting... not seen a pen last that long and it all looked "too fresh". Customer left looking unhappy... Then, 2 weeks later, we find out he had bought an ex-taxi with over 400K on it: smiles all around.
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 14, 2021 at 18:51
  • @SolarMike: You're saying that he tried to fake the records? What is the significance of the taxi here? Nov 14, 2021 at 20:15
  • @SolarMike: I was sort of assuming I'd get the maintenance records from Carfax and not trust anything from anyone selling a used car. Nov 14, 2021 at 20:15
  • @JoshuaFrank no, he did not fake the records for the car he bought … someone else did… And then he found out he had bought an ex-taxi… a real Homer Simpson.
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 14, 2021 at 20:24
  • @SolarMike: oh, now i get you. Was the odometer faked too, or did it just just roll over and not show the 400K? Nov 14, 2021 at 21:11

I will always take a high mileage vehicle over a low mileage vehicle. Regardless of service records or carfuct reports. My reason is simple: It’s still going. I won’t look at a vehicle unless it has at least 100kmi. Manufacturers now have service intervals of 30kmi, 60kmi, and 90kmi. GM has the first major service scheduled at 100kmi on many of their models. So, over 100,000 miles means the vehicle was cared for appropriately(rule of thumb). It’s a red flag if someone’s getting rid of a “low mileage”, seemingly immaculate vehicle. Besides, I don’t have to compete against other prospective buyers. When vehicles sit they have more issues than a vehicle in heavy use, wear items aside. If you’re planning on purchasing a vehicle to let it sit like a chia pet, maybe reassess your needs, finances, and options. 1000 miles a year is just a liability to store, insure, and maintain. IMO. Personally I’d shy away from 4x4’s. But midsize regular cab trucks should be a little softer on your pocket book than the large cabs with power everything. There are several “mobile pre-purchase vehicle inspection” company’s out there. I use them as a final decision maker. Before forking over the money. But, after the negotiation process. To me, it’s more comfortable than convincing the owner of said vehicle trust some shop I have a relationship with. Be aware, dynamics of trust and personal gain during a vehicle exchange become easily complicated. Most people only buy 8 vehicles in their lifetime. So practice!

When you start shopping, make it a point to look at a couple of vehicles you have no intention of purchasing. It’ll help you get comfortable. Emotionally investing in a potential purchase, is called “ether” in the business, because it blinds people to consequences.

Questions for private parties: Always ask why they’re selling the vehicle.(ask this one before viewing) Any answer except,”I need the money”(abort), will suffice. Ask how long they’ve owned it, as well. Oh and if you happen to to check the radio presets and the stations are country and/or rock, the transmission is about to fail ;)

I’d definitely find a local mobile inspection service. They don’t fix anything. But looking at used cars for sale, is valuable skill in bs detection. Get a checklist of the services they provide, in advance of requiring, to compare with competing inspection company’s.

Shops usually only get paid to do repairs, not estimates. If they miss sumthing but tell you to purchase the vehicle are they gonna be the ones you pay to repair(discounted)??? Mechanical shops as prepurchase consultants are in a conflict of interest IMO. If a shop inspection is your only option, get a checklist from them and make sure they’re experienced(if they don’t have a checklist preprinted for the occasion, prolly wanna skip) Hope this clarifies the issue for you?

  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! We're glad you're here and answering questions. Please be aware your "answer" really doesn't answer the question at large, but rather gives your opinion about used vehicles. While the question itself is borderline as far as whether it pulls for a subjective answer, your answer is solely based on your opinion and has very little objective fact in it. If you haven't done so, please take a look at the Help Center for what we're looking for here as far as answering questions goes. Nov 17, 2021 at 11:26
  • Thanks for this information. I've been reading up on how to buy a used car, but this still had a bunch of advice that I hadn't seen before. Just curious, what's the connection between liking country or rock and a bad transmission? That's like most of the people who would ever be selling a pickup truck! Nov 17, 2021 at 13:40
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2: Everything you say is true, but I still found it extremely helpful. I understand that the SO format is narrowly answerable questions, but sometimes a question that I have is a bit general, and answers that provide general guidance for thinking about the problem are very helpful. Nov 17, 2021 at 13:42
  • @JoshuaFrank - I understand where you're coming from, however, the format isn't completely about "narrowly answerable questions", it's also about answering with objectivity. If a question only brings opinion, it shouldn't be asked in the first place. If we want to talk about subjective things concerning your question, everyone could talk freely about it in The Pitstop which is MVM&R's chat room. Nov 17, 2021 at 13:52

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