The potential poisoned chalice of buying a low mileage car

For most of us, buying a car is the second-largest investment we’ll make through life behind buying a property. However, the costs don’t just stop with buying a car. Rather, owning and running a car represents a significant financial drain entailing everything from fuel costs to MOTs, road tax, servicing, and repairs. 

Indeed, the costs of car ownership are so significant that a recent survey found 65% of owners cited running a car as their second-highest expense behind rent or mortgage payments. Consequently, when it comes to buying a car, you must buy a reliable model that isn’t going to cause you additional expenses and problems further down the line. 

Low mileage cars – a dream come true, right?

Most people are aware that two main criteria dictate the value of a used car – namely its age and mileage. Conventional wisdom may make you think finding a low mileage car should be a bonus when it comes to reduced wear and tear on the vehicle; however, lower run time can result in a world of other problems for cars, including:

Degradation of parts: Just because a vehicle isn’t being used doesn’t mean that its parts aren’t ageing and degrading. Rather, all vehicles require a regular run to stay in good condition and avoid developing problems. Cars don’t do well being parked for excessively long periods, and common problems frequently develop in vehicles that remain static – everything from dried out seals to flat batteries, heater/radiator issues, tyre dry rot, and tyre flat spots from sitting in one place too long. 

Problems with fluids and petrol: Fluids can also cause problems, including antifreeze or transmission fluid corroding or leaking out to damage other engine parts. It’s also quite common for oil or petrol to mix with moisture and cause damage to fuel/oil lines or the engine itself. 

So, all low-mileage cars should be avoided?

Not necessarily. As with most areas of life, taking sensible precautions, doing your research, and performing tests will let you ascertain if a car has suffered damage through low running. There are numerous online guides explaining the tests you should make when buying a used car 

Also, you should ask to see a comprehensive service history and do a free HPI Check to avoid other problems with buying second-hand.

In addition, if you feel the mileage is excessively low, consider taking the car to a known mechanic, ideally one that specialises in the particular brand you’re thinking about buying, and ask them to do a thorough inspection. 

Another key question to ask is the owner’s driving habits and why the mileage is so low. It may be that they ran the car occasionally or on short journeys – which is considerably better for a vehicle than simply sitting in place for long periods as at least the fluids will have had the chance to circulate, and the parts would have seen regular use. Nonetheless, be aware these types of short, stop-start journeys put considerably more wear on a car than longer motorway journeys.  

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