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Buying a Used Car: What's more important, mileage or age?

Are you shopping for a used vehicle? Well, some of the main factors that determine value are mileage, age and condition. But in the used car world, you might find a few surprises that might leave you scratching your head.



Here are two scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Say your family needs a second or third vehicle, and you come across an unbelievably low-kilometre cream puff. The car looks nearly new, there are only 60,000-km on the odometer, but the compact sedan is eight years old. The price is right, you feel like you have won the lottery, but you are wondering what issues might later materialize because of the vehicle's age. 


Scenario 2: Perhaps you're shopping for a used vehicle that has the latest technology, such as adaptive cruise control and cameras that provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings. You can't afford a 2-year-old model with average kilometres, but the dealer has the car of your dreams, and it's thousands less. There's one problem: This 2-year-old model has over 160,000-km. Should you stay clear? 


Here are a few tips to help decide on either one of these cars. 


The first thing to do with any vehicle is head to the internet and research that model's history. Check if there are repetitive problems, such as serious (and expensive) issues with the transmission, power steering, electrical system and engine. Replacing the engine's timing chain, for example, can run $3,000 to $5,000 CDN. 


Knowing a car's history is important. Ask the dealer to show you data that includes the vehicle's repairs, maintenance schedule, recalls, and in some cases, even oil changes. Third-party vehicle history report services are excellent sources for this information. Generally, a well-maintained vehicle should have a longer, potentially trouble-free-future compared to the car that has been ignored. 


Here's another consideration with modern cars: An odometer reading of 320,000-km is relatively not that high. Late-model cars just run, run, run, as long as regular maintenance like oil changes have been done, and they have not been an accident. So, in the case of Scenario 2, that high-mileage car could be a good buy. 


A much older car, such as the 8-year-old model in Scenario 1, has components that rust over a more extended period. The underside of cars from provinces that use salt to melt snow should be inspected before purchase to determine if the brake lines and suspension systems are safe. Besides, if scheduled maintenance has not been followed, shock absorbers, brake rotors and pads, tires and other components likely will need to be replaced. If the tires are old, they probably have dry rot, essentially cracking due to age, which makes them dangerous. 


Other age-related components include the radiator and heater core. For example, the heater core might be getting weak and suddenly blows out. Well, you fix the heater core, and the radiator might fail because suddenly you are pressurizing the system back up to specifications. 


In the end, there's always a risk factor when buying a used vehicle. In your mind, you can say, I purchased that 8-year-old car at a reasonable price if it is worth it. And if you bought the high-mileage vehicle, you can say, well, if it has gone this many miles, it probably will go a lot further because the vehicle was maintained properly. 


In the end, knowing as much as possible about a used car's history is the foundation of a confident used car purchase. 


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