Personal Finance

How Long You Should Expect A Used Car To Last

If you're planning to buy a used car, looking for certain brands and features can help ensure that your vehicle will last for years to come.

Used cars sit outside a BMW dealership.
AP
SMS

Although they're often considered assets as they have financial value, most experts don't view cars as investments because they depreciate over time. Instead, many money gurus say purchasing a used car is better than buying a brand-new one.

The moment you drive a new car off the dealer's lot, it starts losing value. By the end of the first year, the value typically decreases 20% to 30% and can depreciate by up to 60% over five years.

On the other hand, a used vehicle will have depreciated to some extent — but it will have a lower price so that you can get more for your money. (Used car prices did peak at the start of 2022, but prices have been falling and are expected to continue to drop.) In addition, some warranties may still be available, and a used car can be less expensive to insure.

But if you buy a used car, will it last long enough for you to get what you paid for?

Of course, every vehicle, car buyer and experience is unique, but if you shop wisely and maintain your car correctly, a used vehicle could get you where you need to go safely for many years to come.

Life Expectancy for Modern Cars

The good news is that cars have a longer life expectancy than they used to. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and IHS Markit, passenger vehicles built in 2016 or later last about 12 years on average. This is a significant improvement over cars on the road in the early 2000s, which had an average lifespan of 9.6 years.

You can also anticipate getting more miles out of your vehicle than previous generations of drivers could. While drivers were once happy to have a car that ran with more than 100,000 miles on it, the standard for most cars now is 200,000 miles. However, it's possible for an odometer to reach the 300,000-mile mark and beyond.

These improvements are thanks to rapidly changing technology, leading to improved performance, better fuel mileage, added safety features and more.

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How To Shop For A Used Car That Will Last

Several factors can contribute to a vehicle's life expectancy. For instance, the type of car you choose affects your expected longevity.

Every year, Consumer Reports collects data on its members' vehicles. For its most recent brand rankings, CR looked at more than 300,000 vehicles from the 2000 to 2022 model years. With this information, they determined that Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Mazda and Honda are the top five most reliable brands."It helps to get a good car to begin with," Fred Hellrich, who has had several cars pass the 200,000-mile mark, told Consumer Reports. "That way you know it'll probably go pretty far if you take care of it."

Certain features that a vehicle has can help, as well. For instance, advanced technology such as driver assistance and vehicle management systems can help avoid accidents and alert you to maintenance requirements or issues.

It's also helpful to learn what a used car has been through before making a purchase. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends getting a vehicle history report before you buy.

You can go to vehiclehistory.gov and order a vehicle history report, which provides title, insurance loss and salvage information. However, not all vehicle history reports are available.

The FTC also suggests considering a report from a third-party provider, such as AutoCheckCarfax or VinAudit. Using the vehicle identification number (VIN), these reports can offer additional information on a vehicle's history, such as accidents and repairs.

The climate where you live, drive and keep the car can impact its longevity. For instance, the exact vehicle might last longer in a moderate environment where it is usually in a garage compared with one parked on the street in a region with harsh winters or salty sea air.

Regular Maintenance is Key to Longevity

How long any car will last largely depends on how well it is maintained."It's not rocket science," said John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports' chief mechanic. "If you take care of your car, it will take care of you."

That means keeping up on maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotation and filter replacements. Refer to the vehicle's owner's manual for guidelines on when to perform maintenance. Most automakers provide manuals free online if you didn't receive one with your car.

The good news is that cars don't need maintenance as frequently as they used to.

"Ten years ago, you'd need to change your spark plugs probably every 30,000 miles — now it's every 100,000 miles," Jill Trotta, a longtime mechanic and vice president of industry advocacy and sales for RepairPal Inc., which certifies repair shops, told AARP.

However, it's essential to handle any problems right away. Ignoring warnings won't make them go away.

"It's critically important to address problems as soon as they appear," Matt Smith, senior editor of CarGurus.com, told AARP. "Don't ignore those lights on your dashboard."

Other actions like keeping an eye on your tires, driving carefully and even washing it regularly can also help extend your used vehicle's life.

By making an informed purchase and taking good care of your investment, you can enjoy a long and happy relationship with your used vehicle.