My Story: Buying a Low Mileage Used Car

contributed by This Old Housewife

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One reader says she can afford a car note, but doesn't want to get tied down in case the economy tanks further. The solution? A used car with low mileage on it. They are out there and do exist. In fact, I own two of them. She needs to be prepared to do a lot of homework (on foot, via internet, etc.) until she finds a car with about 10,000 miles per year of age. This may take many dealer lot visits, but the hunt is well worth it.

Here's an example: A four year old brand X car (year, make and model don't matter) with 50,000 miles on it would be too high for me. I'd be looking for a four year old with no more than 40,000 on it. It takes time and effort, but they do exist. Don't forget to check out lease returns; these cars are gently-used and well-maintained. Not everyone has a one-hour one-way commute these days, so low-mileage cars do exist out there.

Here's how This Old Housewife buys cars:

  1. I use the "10,000 miles per year of age" test.
  2. I make a list of features, options, and whether or not the car is a "limited," "deluxe," "sport" or some other version that would make a difference according to Kelly Blue Book or the NADA used car guide. Does this car have A/C, air bags, CD or cassette player, two or four doors, hatchback or trunk, hard top or vinyl, anything that might add or subtract value in the eyes of the used car "valuation bibles"? Also make a note of condition. Is it dented and scratched, just dirty, or in near-showroom sheen, because the used car guides will have separate valuations for condition.
  3. If the car is priced near what it's truly worth in current condition, with current mileage, with current options and features, and passes the "mileage test" above, then and only then do I consider a test drive. I take it right to my mechanic for a quick once-over.
  4. While at the mechanic, I unleash my final weapon in the used car-buying "caveat emptor" arsenal. I ask him/her if they would recommend this car for an out-of-town college-bound son or daughter. If the mechanic says that he/she would (and some do), then I go back to the dealer and prepare to talk turkey. Otherwise, I just take it back and go on my merry way to the next car candidate. Please note that the words "certified used" mean absolutely nothing except that the dealer certifies it was a used car. All reputable used car dealers will perform the 30-point (or whatever) checklist because it's required by federal law. They may not fill low fluids, but they must perform the safety check (brakes, blinkers, headlights, etc.)
  5. If and when you've bought the car, take it back to your mechanic to perform a more thorough examination, and replace/refill whatever needs replacing and/or refilling between right now and six months from now.

Financially speaking, never buy a used car that's less than three years old. You'll lose money on what depreciation's left on it. After three years, most of the depreciation's gone already. It's somebody else's loss, not yours!

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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