Any - Low mileage vs higher - argybargy

Earlier on today it was suggested on another thread that when buying, regulars here might prefer a car with a fair few miles under the bonnet rather than something which was very low mileage for its age, because lots of car parts benefit from regular use and deteriorate with lack of use.

This is a viewpoint I’ve never come across before, either here or in any other place where motoring matters are discussed, and it struck me as quite remarkable. I’ve gone along for years believing that low mileage is everything, and higher mileage is to be avoided if affordable.

Not saying this claim isn’t based on common sense, but I wondered whether regulars would concur with it?

The car I hope to buy has done an average of about 4k for each year of its life, and whilst that isn’t exceptionally low I wonder whether in general terms there’s any item which might particularly suffer from low usage, even in a brand which is considered to be pretty robust.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - RT

Some of my cars when I was working were doing 30,000 miles/year but maintained properly and at 4 years were genuinely better than a car doing 10,000 miles/year with average maintenance.

The reality is that a 200 mile journey from home wears the components the same as a 10 mile shopping trip - virtually all the wear comes during the cold-start and warm-up phases - with virtually none in the fully warmed-up state.

The only "rule" I use myself and advocate others to do the same is not to pay a penny more for a low mileage car than an average mileage car - both dealers and private sellers will try to get more because it's low mileage but I don't think they're justified.

Edited by RT on 14/01/2018 at 21:27

Any - Low mileage vs higher - John F

The reality is that a 200 mile journey from home wears the components the same as a 10 mile shopping trip

More like fantasy! Are you seriously suggesting that powertrains and suspensions after a thousand such journeys will be equally worn?!

Any - Low mileage vs higher - Engineer Andy

The reality is that a 200 mile journey from home wears the components the same as a 10 mile shopping trip

More like fantasy! Are you seriously suggesting that powertrains and suspensions after a thousand such journeys will be equally worn?!

I would say that components worn at least equally, if not more, for (say) 20x 10 mile (5 miles there and back) trips to the shops vs 1x 200 mile trip (100 miles there and back) mainly on the motorway are:

  • The battery, starter motor and alternator (much more);
  • Engine moving parts if the car is driven other than gently for the first 2-5 minutes (wear due to not being wamred up and oil lubricating all the components);
  • Tyres, brakes* and steering rack/power steering pump (more low speed manoeuvring putting grearter pressure on these components);
  • Suspension - faster moving trunk roads are far more likely to be better surfaced (less potholes, etc) than local roads/on shopping parks, as well as obviously not having speed humps which, unless you crawl over them at 5mph or less (and incur the wrath of fellow drivers), will damage the suspension and tyres.
  • Exhaust - especially for very regular low distance driving (under 5 miles/car not warmed up), water vapour won't be burned off the exhaust which will cause significantly more corrosion.

* assuming the car is used enough for the brakes not to bind (generally a problem for some cars when not used very often, including my own 11yo Mazda3), warp the discs and therefore require premature replacement.

Obviously the well-known issues with regular short trips and diesel-powered cars and DPFs etc are a given (and not the same as less but longer trips on faster-flowing roads, which aren't anywhere near as bad). I think its often more by luck (of the owner) than judgement that some diesel-engined cars don't suffer from DPF problems when predominantly using them on very short runs, given that the vast majority, if not all such cars don't have illuminated warning signs saying 'DPF regen needed in X miles/days' (from what I've read, HGVs often do) and that its pure luck that the driver is doing a longer run just when an active regen is required. Eventually luck runs out.

I would also comment that running a car (including driving) symathetically and keeping it well-maintained as per the manufacturer's guidelines and standards makes a huge difference, as it seems on certain cars with keeping them well-oiled, sometimes more so than the manufacturers state. I also believe that some manufacturers build more of a hardyness into their cars, as long as they are well-oiled, to be able to take low mileage and/or lots of short trips.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - RT

The reality is that a 200 mile journey from home wears the components the same as a 10 mile shopping trip

More like fantasy! Are you seriously suggesting that powertrains and suspensions after a thousand such journeys will be equally worn?!

Yours may not be as you don't change lubricants often.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - John F

Some of my cars when I was working were doing 30,000 miles/year but maintained properly and at 4 years were genuinely better than a car doing 10,000 miles/year with average maintenance.

Sorry - I just do not believe a four year old car with 120,000m on the clock would be 'genuinely better' than its twin with only 40,000m. I certainly wouldn't buy it!

Any - Low mileage vs higher - SLO76
“Sorry - I just do not believe a four year old car with 120,000m on the clock would be 'genuinely better' than its twin with only 40,000m. I certainly wouldn't buy it!”


I’ve seen Peugeot E7 Hackney’s that needed new engines at 150k and others that exceeded 500k, one I know of with in excess of 850k. The difference was down to maintenance, regular oil changes being key. I’d rather have a car with 120k and a full history than one with 40k that’s never seen fresh oil.

I also once took a Toyota Carina 2.0 XLd taxi as a part ex with 450k under its belt yet it drove better than many cars we seen with a fraction of that mileage. Look after a car properly and they can cover interstellar mileages, neglect it and it can be done at 50k.
Any - Low mileage vs higher - SLO76
Proof of regular maintenance is the key to longevity. You’re far far better off with a 70,000 miler with a full service record from a legitimate garage than one with 20k and zero history. Each car has to be be looked at on its own merits and one simply can not rule one out purely on the basis of an abnormally low or high mileage. All too often owners service cars based on mileage alone so low mileage examples might not see spanners in 2yrs or more which is highly unwise. Every modern car needs fresh oil at least once a year.

I do get the argument though that cars which sit inactive for long periods especially those which sit outside can suffer from this. Best examples I can think of are Mazda MX5’s which are often used as second or third fun cars and might sit inactive for long spells in winter. Though it rarely affects the basics of the car sticking brake callipers are very common and not all that cheap to replace.

But there’s no reason to be put off by a very low mileage again as long as it has been properly looked after.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - gordonbennet

As said, so long as its had an annual oil change even if the more involved services were every other year, which goes some way to proving the previous owner(s) had a clue about looking after their car, then i'm rather more happy about a well looked after low mileage car than one thats seen lots of miles.

Regardless of apparent servoce history i still fully examine potential cars fully, underneath first stop, the most important area and which will show lack of care most, the paintwork unless its riddled in rust can be made very pretty even if it's not too brilliant by an experienced valeting bay.

I also never forgot what my mechanic friend told me some 40 odd years ago, if the windows and wheels are spotlessly clean the whole car looks clean.

Edited by gordonbennet on 14/01/2018 at 23:06

Any - Low mileage vs higher - Andrew-T

I think this topic has been done almost to death over the years. Basically the message is that a car - like any other machine - is meant to be used regularly. If it often sits idle, or just does short journeys, not often reaching full working temperature, it will need more frequent TLC to prevent deterioration. At the other end of the scale some cars will almost thrive on several hundred miles a week provided oil and filter are changed often enough.

Of course if you are looking to find an oldish car in showroom condition, low mileage may be more important. Those cars are not usually bought as daily drivers. But the price of a car usually reflects the apparent miles left in it, and little else.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - argybargy

Sorry for bringing up a topic which has been "done almost to death", but it was fairly new to me, hence my question.

Thought provoking responses, not least the fairly obvious but nonetheless easily ignorable fact that a higher mileage, well serviced car is likely to be a better bet than a neglected low mileage example.

Many thanks.

Edited by argybargy on 15/01/2018 at 09:34

Any - Low mileage vs higher - nellyjak

Despite the "done to death" comments, it is never a bad thing to be reminded of the basics.

Particularly those who are, shall we say, relatively new the world of car ownership/buying.

The general consensus is a correct one....and each vehicle should be judged on its own merits..or otherwise.

Irrelevant of mileage, if the vehicle has had proven good care and maintenance then it's worth consideration...but I do agree that one should not be led into overpaying simply because of low mileage.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - John F

The 'all the wear takes place during the cold start phase' is misleading. There will be just as many such phases in a car making two journeys of 5 miles a day as one making two journeys of 30miles a day, so I prefer low mileage oldsters to high mileage youngsters. I bought my Audi A8 at 8yrs old with only 49,000m - in four years it has cost me only an oil change and some roll bar bushes so far.

The best recipe for longevity is regular use ( at least once every two weeks if possible) and annual attention to maintenance and rust prevention. A cool dry garage also helps. Change the oil every 10-12,000m or five years. Annual oil change, so fiercely advocated by the garage trade, is completely unnecessary these days - my TR7 has had only four changes in the last 20yrs and is still in perfect working order at nearly 38yrs old. So is our Focus at 17yrs old - it takes nearly two years to do 12,000m these days.

A car is basically a machine - it either works or it doesn't. If it does, don't mend it. I am typing this listening to my 150yr old clock ticking away.......

Any - Low mileage vs higher - SLO76
Sorry John but while I agree with some of what you say scrimping on a £50-£100 annual oil change is ill advised on any modern car. I’ve seen the results and many cars have been ruined by infrequent oil changes. It doesn’t save money, every penny saved is lost in added depreciation without proof of annual servicing and oil changes.

I was offered a very tidy 57 plate Renault Clio 1.2 recently by a young(ish) lass but while she’d kept it spotless inside and out she hadn’t serviced it in years believing the MOT to be all she required. The engine was close to seizure with oil like treacle clogging its arteries so I passed on it and I pity the poor soul who does buy it.

For those who read our ramblings but rarely post themselves I feel I have to point out the error in your thinking. Oil should be changed every year on any car but I’ll agree (in part) that I can understand why a rarely used classic like your TR7 could be an exception though I would personally change it for all the cost that’s involved. Oil degrades over time and moisture builds up along with particles of unburnt fuel and metal from engine wear, this all conspires to cause damage.
Any - Low mileage vs higher - Andrew-T
Oil degrades over time and moisture builds up along with particles of unburnt fuel and metal from engine wear, this all conspires to cause damage.

I hesitate to disagree with our 'resident' guru SLO - and we are all running the risk of provoking a reply from Skidpan - but (as I think John F has said before) oil sitting in a cold dark sump will not degrade over time, nor will moisture 'build up'. With the important proviso that the rarely-driven car is always driven far enough to get its oil fully warmed through, and therefore relatively free of moisture. Moisture is the product of combustion, and we want it to leave via the exhaust, not to be mixed with lukewarm oil.

Cars which depart from this recommended behaviour can well end up like the Clio that SLO describes.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - skidpan

and we are all running the risk of provoking a reply from Skidpan -

Not going to react to the flamebaiting above but I will instead reply based on personal experiece.

Myself and dad bought new Golfs a few months apart. Both kept them about 7 years. I did 113,000 miles in mine and did 60,000 miles in his. Apart from the usual service items mine needed new bearings in the diff (cost £350 inc a clutch while it was in bits - daft not to after 100,000 miles) and dads needed nothing. Mine did most of its miles on trips over 35 miles, dads was used mostly locally.

Which would you have bought?

Any - Low mileage vs higher - RT
Oil degrades over time and moisture builds up along with particles of unburnt fuel and metal from engine wear, this all conspires to cause damage.

I hesitate to disagree with our 'resident' guru SLO - and we are all running the risk of provoking a reply from Skidpan - but (as I think John F has said before) oil sitting in a cold dark sump will not degrade over time, nor will moisture 'build up'. With the important proviso that the rarely-driven car is always driven far enough to get its oil fully warmed through, and therefore relatively free of moisture. Moisture is the product of combustion, and we want it to leave via the exhaust, not to be mixed with lukewarm oil.

Cars which depart from this recommended behaviour can well end up like the Clio that SLO describes.

Oil in a sump won't deteriorate from UV light but will still deteriorate from oxidation.

Moisture is also the product of condensation from the natural moisture content of ambient air.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - Andrew-T

<< Oil in a sump won't deteriorate from UV light but will still deteriorate from oxidation. Moisture is also the product of condensation from the natural moisture content of ambient air. >>

There isn't any 'ambient air' in the closed sump of an idle engine, and the small amount of enclosed oxygen will soon disappear, if it does react with the oil once that is cold. A cold closed sump is chemically similar to the container the oil is sold in. BUT of course the more the oil gets churned round in a hot engine, the more it is exposed to hot combustion products. Hence the need for regular changes of oil.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - SLO76
“I hesitate to disagree with our 'resident' guru SLO - and we are all running the risk of provoking a reply from Skidpan - but (as I think John F has said before) oil sitting in a cold dark sump will not degrade over time, nor will moisture 'build up'. ”

Feel free to disagree with me, I’ll not be upset I promise. But oil once out of its container and in an engine which is then used at all even on very low annual mileage will degrade. In fact pop the filler cap of many low mileage town runners and you’ll often see emulsified oil which happens when the moisture builds up as the oil never reaches full operating temperature. But yes, leave it in the container or in an engine that never runs and it will last I guess.
Any - Low mileage vs higher - fisjon

My old sprinter motor home has done 191,258 miles and it starts first time, purrs up the motorway at 70mph with ease, accelerates briskly to overtake when someone gets in the way and returns 35mpg.

It is powered by the legendary 2.9 five cylinder engine otherwise known as the 'million miler'.

At the end of the day it is all down to care and maintenance. If it doesn't get any, it won't last long!!

Any - Low mileage vs higher - skidpan
But yes, leave it in the container or in an engine that never runs and it will last I guess.

There is specific storage oil to put in engines that never run, its normally quite thick to stop it running off components and contains additives specific to storage. When I have built engines in the past that will stand a while before running I have coated the crank journals and cam journals with Graphogen (thick paste that will not run anywhere) and the bores with Torco assembly fluid which is sticky and easier to get a full coverage with on the bores than Graphogen. Never had a single issue. On my own engines that I know will run within a few weeks I have used Torco everywhere, less messy than Graphogen.

When I bought the crate Zetec for the Caterham the sump was filled with a thick green gloop that Ford had put there 6 years earlier. The instructions were to drain the sump, change the filter and refill with Ford spec 5w30. To ensure all the gloop was out after about 50 miles I drained the oil again and changed the filter, only about £16 for 5 litres of Ford spec oil so cheap insurance.

One chap on another forum ignored the instructions on Fords data sheet and that of the seller (he got his from the same seller as I did) and insited it was fine to simply use the oil in the sump. The daft part was he had to remove the sump to fit a raised one to suit his car, he then put the thick gloop back. He did about 30 miles before the engine blew. He blamed everone including Ford, the chap who he bought the riased sump off etc, every one but the idiot who had ignored all the advice. He ended up fitting a used one off ebay.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - argybargy

Many thanks for subsequent posts: a fascinating discussion.

Haynes has it right for me: "Frequent oil and filter changes are the most important preventative maintenance procedures which can be undertaken by the DIY owner".

Whatever else I personally might have neglected or handed over to a professional because I lack the equipment to carry out the job, I've always made sure oil is changed regularly.

Its perhaps the first advice I would give to anyone new to the road and aspiring to do their own maintenance, regardless of mileage.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - John F
“I hesitate to disagree with our 'resident' guru SLO - and we are all running the risk of provoking a reply from Skidpan - but (as I think John F has said before) oil sitting in a cold dark sump will not degrade over time, nor will moisture 'build up'. ”

Feel free to disagree with me, I’ll not be upset I promise. But oil once out of its container and in an engine which is then used at all even on very low annual mileage will degrade. In fact pop the filler cap of many low mileage town runners and you’ll often see emulsified oil which happens when the moisture builds up as the oil never reaches full operating temperature. But yes, leave it in the container or in an engine that never runs and it will last I guess.

Yes, of course it does. I have never seen mayonnaise on the TR7 filler cap. I should have added that when it does get driven and the engine gets warm, it's driven hard. Never letting an engine go much above 2000rpm is not good. Occasional 'Italian tune-ups' should be part of everyone's maintenance schedule! You will be pleased to know that I intend to change the oil this summer, even though it has done less than 5000m since its last change in April 2013. No top-up has been required.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - corax

Change the oil every 10-12,000m or five years. Annual oil change, so fiercely advocated by the garage trade, is completely unnecessary these days - my TR7 has had only four changes in the last 20yrs and is still in perfect working order at nearly 38yrs old. So is our Focus at 17yrs old - it takes nearly two years to do 12,000m these days.

That regime is acceptable on an engine like your TR7, but I would not want to leave it that long on a modern turbocharged petrol chain cam engine with tiny sump and variable valve timing.

Any - Low mileage vs higher - skidpan

Occasional 'Italian tune-ups' should be part of everyone's maintenance schedule!

Back in the days of carburettors, chokes and clockwork ignition even I used to give the car a good thrashing every couple of weeks if it had not been on a good long run (even then it was no bad idea) but with modern cars with fully mapped fueling and ignition I have yet to see a fouled plug. When I stripped a Mondeo Zetec with 63,000 miles the pistons tops and combustion chambers were pretty much like new. Even on a Mondeo Zetec of undetermined mileage (it had had one cam belt change for certain so if the Ford schedule had been followed it had done over 100,000 miles) it was still pretty clean but the facts that a couple of lifters and cam lobes were quite worn showed it had done some serious miles.

All an italian tune up does is waste fuel on a modern petrol, on a modern diesel it produces more soot to block the DPF.

Drive normally and follow the service intervals, its all a modern car needs.

That regime is acceptable on an engine like your TR7

Even on a less than classic classic like I TR7 I would never allow the oil to stay in 5 years. It does not need mega expensive POA synthetic, any good mineral is perfect and will cost well under £20 for a change.

Edited by skidpan on 16/01/2018 at 11:55

Any - Low mileage vs higher - RT

Occasional 'Italian tune-ups' should be part of everyone's maintenance schedule!

Back in the days of carburettors, chokes and clockwork ignition even I used to give the car a good thrashing every couple of weeks if it had not been on a good long run (even then it was no bad idea) but with modern cars with fully mapped fueling and ignition I have yet to see a fouled plug. When I stripped a Mondeo Zetec with 63,000 miles the pistons tops and combustion chambers were pretty much like new. Even on a Mondeo Zetec of undetermined mileage (it had had one cam belt change for certain so if the Ford schedule had been followed it had done over 100,000 miles) it was still pretty clean but the facts that a couple of lifters and cam lobes were quite worn showed it had done some serious miles.

All an italian tune up does is waste fuel on a modern petrol, on a modern diesel it produces more soot to block the DPF.

Drive normally and follow the service intervals, its all a modern car needs..

Assuming that "italian tune-up" doesn't mean trying to bounce the revs off the rev limiter, I'd agree with John that an occasional one does every car good, especially those driven gently the rest of the time, for whatever reason.

I've found it a good policy with my two diesels once they got over their first 1,000 miles, mind you they get one anyway as I use full throttle during overtakes on single carriageway to minimise the time on the wrong side.

 

Value my car