Is It Bad to Put a Lot of Miles on Your Car?

High mileage odometer

There are a lot of opinions floating around when it comes to the mileage of your car. Some people think that cars should be kept in a garage and driven infrequently. Others want to max out their odometer and see the biggest possible number. So, is it bad to put a lot of miles on your car?

It’s not bad to put a lot of miles on your car. In fact, the function of your car is to survive as long as possible and be a reliable vehicle for you. If you have a desire to put a lot of miles on your car, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you.

I’ll be answering this question. I’ll define what it means to have a lot of miles on your car, look at the benefits and drawbacks, and come to a final answer.

What Does “Putting Miles on a Car” Mean?

The phrase might seem a little funny if you haven’t heard it in context before. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, putting miles on your car means driving it on the road.

If you drive 5 miles to the store, you just put 5 miles on your car.

When you get in your car and start it, look on the dashboard. You’ll see a digital or physical counter that counts the miles you’ve driven. This is called your odometer and displays the total number of miles you put on your car.

The Truth About Car Mileage

The truth is, car mileage doesn’t really tell you a lot about the car’s future or its current state. It used to be when a car hit 100,000 miles, it had one foot in the grave.

Nowadays, it’s a coin toss. Some cars easily live upwards of 300,000 miles while others die promptly at 150,000.

Technology is getting so much better and the precision that goes into these car parts is unreal. Why? It’s all a matter of how you drive, not how much you drive.

One caveat is some vehicles are poorly designed which means parts will start to fail prematurely without warning. Whether it’s intended or not by the manufacturer, I recommend this site to see what the most common failures are for your specific year, make, and model.

High mileage odometer 2

How You Drive Means More than How Much You Drive

If you’re a cautious and controlled driver who doesn’t have a heavy foot, your car should last longer. Cars that die quicker are driven rougher and harder. Their gas pedals are stomped more often which leads to faster wear and tear of the engine.

In addition, short car trips and stop-and-go traffic is bad for a car. A car with 10,000 backroad miles will be internally better off than a car with 10,000 New York City miles.

I just wanted to point this out, so you don’t have the same misconception about a high-mileage car. Putting a lot of miles on your car isn’t a bad thing anymore.

When Is a Car Considered “High Mileage”?

Speaking of which, when can you start calling your car a high-mileage car? It’s a matter of dividing your total mileage by how many years you owned the car.

If you put on more than an average of 15,000 miles a year, many people would consider that high mileage.

For example, a car bought in 2019 with 40,000 miles is considered high mileage whereas a car bought in 2010 with 110,000 miles is not considered high mileage.

High Mileage vs Low Mileage: A Numbers Game

Still, the difference between a high and low mileage car might not be what you think it is. At the end of the day, it’s just a numbers game.

Assume you have a certain percent chance of something going wrong for every mile that you drive. Statistically, the more miles you drive, the higher your probability of something going wrong.

Irving Gordon’s (rest in peace) 3,000,000-mile Volvo had a rebuilt engine, new clutch, and ran through 20 sets of tires. Over time, mechanical things wear out and need replacement.

Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon – Volvo P1800

Spark plugs and brake pads have a usable shelf life. Once that time comes, it’s time for a replacement.

Your engine, on the other hand, doesn’t have a shelf life. If it’s used correctly and the oil changes are regular, then there’s nothing stopping an engine from lasting forever if it can avoid wear and tear.

Some peoples’ cars get totaled at 500 miles, and other ones get totaled at 400,000 miles. However, many more cars get totaled at higher mileage because their price is lower and there’s a higher probability since it was on the road for longer.

“Totaled” means the vehicle has been written off by an insurance company due to the repair cost being too high. This can be as a result of a vehicle collision, or when it comes to a high mileage vehicle, a mechanical or overall problem that leads to an engine or structural failure.

If the insurance deems the repair cost too high in comparison to the value of the vehicle. It’ll most likely be written off as, “totaled.”

The Benefits of Putting More Miles on a Car

Let me start by explaining the good parts of high-mileage cars. At least, the benefits of putting more miles on your car. This isn’t a trick to convince you to do it, I just want to tell you everything you need to know.

More Miles for Your Buck

Let’s say you and your neighbor buy the same type of car at the same time for the same price. For a simple number, let’s say you spent $10,000 each.

Your neighbor looks to minimize the miles he uses. He keeps his car in the garage for most of the time and maybe takes it out a few times a week.

At the end of five years, he put 25,000 miles on his car and you put 100,000 miles on yours. Your neighbor effectively paid 40 cents per mile while you paid 10 cents per mile.

Car driving on the road 2

Again, you both paid the same amount for the car, so it’s just a matter of how many miles are put on the vehicle before it dies, or it’s sold.

Sure, there are some added maintenance costs that go into the higher mileage, but it won’t come close to the money wasted by committing to low mileage.

More Usage Without Going to a Dealership

If you can’t stand the car buying process, you’ll also benefit from maxing out the mileage on your car. The longer you go with your current car, the less often you’ll need to get a new car.

For a lot of people, this is reason enough to put a lot of miles on your car.

If You Don’t Use it, You Lose it

My mentality for cars has always been that they’re there to be used. If you don’t drive your car into the ground, then you’re just wasting the vehicle.

Cars are meant to be driven, and you shouldn’t refrain from using them just to keep the mileage down.

Something to be Proud of

There’s a certain level of pride you’ll find in a vehicle that has high mileage. It becomes a bragging point.

That’s because it’s impressive to keep a car alive and put a lot of miles on it. Once you hit some milestone odometer readings like 250,000, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Closeup of a dashboard instrument cluster odometer

The Drawbacks of Putting More Miles on a Car

Now, I want to spend some time talking about the downsides of putting a lot of miles on a car. Again, I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other, just laying out all the information.

Higher Probability for Something to Go Wrong

As I mentioned earlier, the probability of something going wrong increases the more miles you drive in the car.

A car that’s never left storage doesn’t have to worry about a random person rear-ending them, a gasket blowing, or a tire blowing out.

More Wear and Tear

With more miles comes more wear and tear on your vehicle. This is just a general term that explains the damage that gets done to an object just through typical use.

Common areas for wear and tear are the body, engine, and transmission of your vehicle. Of course, these are also among the most expensive parts to repair and replace.

Hurts the Resale Value

Mileage will hurt the resale value of your car. Buyers will use mileage to calculate how many years they can own the car. The higher mileage a car is, the shorter the new owner will own it.

If you’re planning on selling your car and you want the highest possible price, then maybe you should limit the mileage.

Out of curiosity, I ran a quick price check on KBB.com. I looked at what my fake car’s value is depending specifically on its mileage. I’ll be using the 2018 Honda Civic LX 4-Door sedan, as an example in good condition, which is super reliable so this isn’t unrealistic.

The price for the car with 15,000 miles is $19,080, and the price for the exact same car with 150,000 miles is $9,427. An enormous difference of around 10 grand.

KBB Honda Civic 2018 LX 4-Door Good 15,000 miles
15,000 miles
KBB Honda Civic 2018 LX 4-Door Good 150,000 miles
150,000 miles

Small Problems Start to Propagate

When you have a little problem with your car and drive it another 50,000 miles without fixing the issue, it will undoubtedly become much bigger.

For example, a tiny chip in your windshield can eventually shatter your entire windshield after enough miles.

The same is true for a little tick in your engine, a weird feeling in your steering wheel, or any noise you might hear while you drive.

The easy solution is to fix whatever problem you run into as soon as possible. Still, there’s a temptation with a short-term lease to ignore the problem and just turn in the car as-is or to sell the car to someone else if you own it.

Big Problem for Leased Cars

Speaking of leased cars, putting on a lot of miles is usually not an option. Most leases have a pre-defined limit of miles that you can put on the car every year.

The highest limit that I’ve personally heard of was 15,000 miles. Anything above that each year and you’ll wind up paying something like 25 cents per mile that you go over. If it was a 20,00- mile year for you, that’s another $1,250 that you owe the leasing company.

Run Out of Warranty

When you’re signing paperwork for a car, you’ll hear things like a 3-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty. Maybe a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.

In this game of either-or, it’s always the option that comes first. In the first scenario, the warranty ends at either 3 years or 36,000 miles put on the car.

If you put 36,000 miles on the car in 1 year, that’s when the warranty ends.

Car warranty icon 2

As such, putting high mileage on a vehicle will void the warranties quicker than originally anticipated. They assume drivers are putting on 12,000 miles a year.

If you bought a car that doesn’t have any warranties left, then you don’t have to worry about this idea.

More Miles Means More Maintenance

This is a great alliteration to remember the real impact of more miles. As you drive your car further, you’ll have to put in more maintenance. This means oil changes, changing air filters, rotating your tires — all that good stuff.

Just remember, more miles means more maintenance. Is that a bad thing? Not in my opinion.

The Catch-22 of Buying a Used Car with High Mileage

I also want to point out the idea of buying a used car with high mileage. Besides the point that the vehicle is going to be less expensive since it has more miles, there are two facts about the car that both counteract each other.

First, the car has proven that it’s reliable since it drove so many miles without a problem.

Second, the car has a statistically much higher chance of something bad happening to it and resulting in a large repair since it drove so many miles.

How can a car be more reliable and less reliable at the same time? That’s the Catch-22. I wouldn’t recommend buying a car with high mileage, but I won’t stop you if you want to do so.

Mazda Speed Driving on The Road 2

Is It Bad to Put a Lot of Miles on Your Car?

It’s really not bad to put a lot of miles on your car. In fact, I would highly suggest it.

It’s like buying a pen and only using it once a month because you don’t want the pen to run out of ink. You just wasted money on a pen.

When I buy a car, I plan on driving it into the ground until it doesn’t function anymore. Even then, I’ll still repair it as long as it’s worth it.

When you buy a car, your goal should be to put as many miles as humanly possible on the car.

Conclusion

After learning about high mileage cars, you might want to max out your own mileage. To do that, make sure you read the rest of my blog posts so you can see more tips to keep your car alive for longer. Also, be sure to stock up on the right Car products to keep you running.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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