What's Better, An Older Car With Lower Miles Or A Newer Car With Higher Miles?

Illustration for article titled What's Better, An Older Car With Lower Miles Or A Newer Car With Higher Miles?
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As Jalopnik’s resident car-buying expert and a professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve picked a few of your questions and will try to help out. This week we are discussing whether age or mileage is a key factor for a used car and what to do if your lease is up and you don’t like any potential replacements.

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First up, should you prioritize age or mileage when buying a used car?

All things being close to equal....safety features, cosmetic condition etc....what is a better value: an older 4-5 year old car with low miles or a 1-3 year old car with high miles?

Good question, but difficult to answer because there are still more variables to consider. Typically the 1-3 year-old car is going to have more updated safety tech and other features. Also, while mileage is an indication of wear, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. You can have a well-maintained 100,000-mile car that is in much better condition than a beat-to-hell, 50,000-mile car. This is a good time to remind everyone that your car will not blow up once it hits the six-figure mark, and this obsession with one-owner cars isn’t helping anyone find a “better” car.

Furthermore, I would also imagine that there is going to be a price gap between the newer car and the older car, despite the mileage differential. So it really comes down to what is the nicest car you can get for your budget that has the equipment you want?

Next up, what is the best plan when your lease is up and you don’t really like any replacements?

“I’m currently leasing a 2019 RDX - FWD tech package. It has about 38k miles on it (I drove it from CA to IL when I moved), has original tires and brakes. It’s in good condition with no mechanical issues and nothing on the body besides a dent from a shopping cart - not my shopping cart (grrr)

The lease is up in June. The residual is 24375 and I’m thinking about keeping it. It’s a good car and has the power I want. I’m planning to put 3k down and I have excellent credit.

Here’s the thing - I’m on the fence. I find an SUV is handy to have for lugging crap around. I’ve test driven just about everything: CRV, Rav4, Cx-5, Forester, X5, XC40. Besides the XC40 (honestly, it was a nice and boring car) I didn’t like any of them. Ok.....the X5 was great and I liked it but not enough to pay the price they wanted. I want to keep payments below 500.

I’m honestly over car salespeople as well - one of them actually told me the CRV had a big enough console for my purse! I mean, yay, but really I want to know about performance and safety. Another one yelled at me in an email (all caps) when he couldn’t figure out how to get the residual from Acura.

Am I doing the right thing by keeping and refinancing the car? Or is there something out there that’s a better purchase??

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While normally, buying out your lease is not the smartest financial move when you look at the total cost, that really only applies if your goal from the start was a lease-to-buy. Sometimes at the conclusion of the lease, the best play is to just keep the car you have, this is especially true if the market value of the vehicle is greater than the buyout on the lease. You are essentially buying a used car directly from the leasing company, but it’s a used car that you took care of. I would say to check the market to see if you can find a similar car at a cheaper price, though given the current market conditions that probably is not likely.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

DISCUSSION

hammerheadfistpunch
HammerheadFistpunch

At a certain point age and mileage become separate items when it comes to condition. There is mileage which is wear and tear (easy miles and hard miles both exist) and there is age which is deterioration. You can have a high mile car with no real issue, such as those high mile delivery cars that do 1,000,000 miles in less than 10 years and then there are 30 year low mileage old barn finds that was going to eat you alive in maintenance because everything is dry rotted or hard, or worn unevenly.

If I had to choose between a 200,000 mile 25 year old vehicle that has maintenance records and sees some regular use, or a 55,000 mile version of the same thing but has been stored for 10 years...I’d probably choose the high mile vehicle.