During the COVID-19 pandemic, many car shoppers who were reluctant to buy are starting to realize they need transportation once the restrictions are lifted. The used car market may have taken hits, but there are still some excellent opportunities out there. You can easily save a ton over buying new if you're smart. But what year vehicle should you buy and how much mileage should you comfortable with as you shop?

A 2018 Mazda CX-5 with 40,000 miles driven in a rural area could be a gem of a buy.

Everybody wants to spend less on a car, not more, especially these days with the financial crisis going on. It's not just about saving money at the time of purchase, though. Numerous factors play a role in the mileage beyond just the actual odometer reading. Let's take a closer look at these when you're considering buying a used car.

What's the Average Annual Mileage?

2012 honda pilot
A 2012 Honda Pilot in good condition might have high miles, but it could also be a steal.

Average mileage per year still remains at about 15,000 miles annually, so that number is your first consideration. A three-year-old car with 40,000 miles shouldn't scare you because that's a little above average. So, should you worry about a 2012 car with 100,000 miles on it (about 16,000 miles per year)? High mileage shouldn't automatically send up a red warning flag to buyers. If it looks like it's in good condition and has been taken care of, don't rule it out. You have to dig a little deeper. Let's go to the next step.

Where and How Was the Vehicle Driven?

open road driving

While overall mileage is something you should always look at, it's only an overly simplistic view. Let's say you can get a great deal on a used car with high miles. The price looks right for your budget, but you're a little dismayed by the fact that there are six figures on the odometer.

We would recommend finding a seller who hasn't driven in mostly urban environments in stop-and-go traffic. That equates to wear and tear. Constant stop-and-go is hard on a vehicle, and components wear out sooner, including crucial engine components from the constant changes. If you can find out from the seller where the car was driven (highway? urban commute? few stops?), it will be to your advantage when considering the purchase. If you can get this information, you're in a better place to decide.

High Miles, Low Years vs. Low Miles, High Years

That 2018 Camaro isn't very old, but how many miles are on it? 

Let's say you are comparing two cars. One is a 2018, the other a 2016. The 2016 vehicle has 30,000 miles on it, and the 2018 has 50,000 miles on the odometer. The 2018 seems more appealing since it has more features, a slight refresh in the design, and it has more modern infotainment and safety technology. The 2016, however, has a lot fewer miles on it. Both of them are within a few hundred dollars of each other, and they both appear to be in similar condition. Which one should you choose? Here's where doing a bit more digging will help you decide. 

Are There Good Service Records? 

car service records

For instance, a couple of years ago, we bought a 2008 Toyota Highlander Limited with over just over 100,000 miles on the odometer. The asking price was higher than we wanted, but the car came with all the service records from two different owners. The records were excellent, and we could tell it had been given all the regular oil changes, tune-ups, and wear-and-tear repairs/replacements.

The existence of really good service records for the Highlander made a big difference in our decision to buy it over something with fewer miles and bad record-keeping. An 80,000-mile car with three owners and spotty or non-existent service records might be a worse buy than one with more miles and full service records from a single owner.

What Brand is the Vehicle?

lexus rx
Lexus was the most reliable brand of 2016. The RX 350 would be a great choice.

If you're pitting two different used vehicles against each other, and they're from different brands, do your homework. Top contenders in terms of reliability come from brands like Toyota, Lexus, Honda, and Audi, especially over the past few years. Models from these brands can easily approach the 150K to 200K miles mark without a lot of maintenance costs. Avoid high mileage models from the likes of Jeep, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volkswagen. They generally hold up as well over the long haul with more repair costs over their life. 

Also, keep in mind that models from the more reliable brands will cost you more than models from other brands with comparable mileage on them. This is because they generally have fewer problems, last longer, and hold their resale value better. 

At the end of the day, you have to be willing to ask questions about the used vehicle you're considering. Low miles don't equate to a complete picture, unless it's only been driven for a week and then returned, which is rarely the case. It's not just about the mileage. Consider all the factors above, and also get the used vehicle inspected by a mechanic.