Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

Two rows of used cars are shown at a used car dealership near you.

How Old Is Your Car, Really?

Some things really do get better with age. We hear that little saying all the time, but most of us don’t think to apply it to cars. In fact, you probably will hear more often than not that only new cars are any good. Sadly, this agenda to get new cars off the lots has left many great used cars sitting and waiting for their next drivers. We’re here to tell you why used cars are just as good and sometimes even better than new vehicles. This unpopular but true opinion comes from a couple of different factors. Sometimes to get the best vehicle, you should shop at the used car dealership near you; they’ll have cars there that you can look at to decide whether or not they’re the right kind of “aged” vehicle for you. Upon further inspection, you may be surprised that older used models offer a reliable vehicle at an affordable price. Here’s how to tell your vehicle’s age and know if it’s at the prime of its life.

The Date of Manufacture (Your Car’s Birthday)

The first and probably most obvious indicator of your vehicle’s age is the date it was manufactured. Now, many will think that vehicles that were made in 2022 are going to be the best quality models and that there’s nothing better than new. For some, this could be the case. For others, the best year probably isn’t going to be 2022. Let’s look at this in terms of people for a minute. Those born in 2022 are just babies right now. For the most part, they’re drooling and whining, and if they’re moving, it’s rough and jerky movements. Now apply this to cars. Cars manufactured in 2022 have stiffer suspensions because they haven’t been worked in at all. That means they’ll be rougher on the road until they get some miles on them. There are also some manufacturers that have changed their 2022 models. These changes are going to affect the way the vehicles run, so they could have some problems that even the manufacturer doesn’t know about yet. The models that get big, chassis-altering changes are more prone to having problems, and because they’ve not been out on the roads for very long, that means recalls and safety concerns will happen down the road when those problems are finally identified.

The sweet spot for vehicle manufacture will probably be anything in the last 10-15 years in terms of age. So you’re looking at 2007 to 2021. These vehicles have been out and used enough to work in that suspension without being used so much that those parts will need immediate replacements. They’ve also been out on the market long enough that any recalls or concerns around them are well known and have already been addressed. These vehicles are well past being babies, toddlers, and aggravated teens and are more akin to the mature and stable adults of the world. As in every group, there may be one or two experiencing a midlife crisis, but for the most part, buying the used models from within the last 10-15 years is a reliable way to ensure that you get a vehicle that’s in its prime!

The next group of vehicles is anything 16 years or older. These are the considerably-aged vehicles, depending on how they were cared for. They could be a 28-year-old truck that runs as well as ever or a 16-year-old car that barely runs. These vehicles are equivalent to the ages of older adults to elderly usually. Because of that, they may be in the market for some part replacements. They’re still great vehicles with a lot to offer, but unless they’ve been well loved and taken care of, you may hear some groaning and complaints from them. If you’re interested in buying a model year from 16 years ago or more, you’ll want to consider the next category on vehicle age to help you make your decision.

A person is shown looking at a grey car.

Mileage (Your Car’s Experience on the Road)

The next step to determining how old your vehicle may be is to consider the miles. Your 0 to 10,000-mile vehicles are going to fall into the baby, toddler, and kid categories. They’re less coordinated and smooth on their driving, they may be less responsive to steering because that stiffness has not been worked out, and you may get some whining and complaints if you try to rush them down the street. They’re going to be stiff and jerky when going over bumps or potholes, and their seats probably aren’t as comfortable either because they’ve had less time with people in them. These vehicles haven’t had as much time out on the roads as their older peers, so they’re just not as experienced at being on them.

Your next mile group is going to be between 10,000 to 190,000 miles. This is the group of cars that are cool and confident on the road and can handle all the stress that the road throws at them. These cars have smoother suspensions, their seats are cushier, and they know how to be flexible when going on bumpy roads. This is the ideal mileage range for your vehicle. It’s high enough to be broken in without being so high that it’s ready for new parts. These vehicles have plenty of engine and transmission life that lets them be their best self.

The last mileage group is your 200,000 miles and above. This group has passed its prime, and if they’ve not been properly maintained and serviced, you should expect that there will be some upcoming mechanic bills in your future. They’re always those in this group that will surprise you because they are running even better than some of those with less than 10,000 miles, but for the most part, the vehicles with mileage this high don’t have a ton of life left in them. Usually, the engine will function fine, but the rest of the vehicle will likely need to be replaced, one part at a time. We also want you to consider whether they run on a diesel engine or a gasoline one. Diesel engines will last closer to 375,000 miles than 200,000, but the other parts, such as wheel bearings and u-joints, will still need to be replaced around that 200,000 mark.

Maintenance (Visits to the Car Doctor)

The last big player in your vehicle’s age is how well it was taken care of. The vehicles that have aged the best, and are therefore the best to invest in, are the ones that have received their regularly scheduled maintenance, keeping them running at peak performance for as long as they’ve been on the road. It’s the human equivalent of taking your vitamins and getting enough rest. Taking good care of your vehicle helps it last longer, and those that have been well cared for are in the prime of their lives.

Vehicles that have not been well maintained and/or ignored their mechanic’s orders and ran without changing their oil are less gracefully aged than others. These vehicles, unfortunately, haven’t been taken care of well enough to ensure that they’ll run well for the next few years. Dirty oil, worn-out brake pads, and unchanged air filters play a huge role in engine and vehicle health. Vehicles that haven’t been well maintained don’t function as well, significantly shortening their life spans.

A person is shown shaking hands with a car salesperson.

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number

Most people will have you believe that the best year is always the current year when it comes to cars, and for some, this may be true. But for others, the best year was last year or the year before. These slightly older used vehicles can be real treasures for drivers and knowing how to tell how old your car is can be very helpful in knowing whether or not it’s time to upgrade your vehicle or if the vehicle you’re looking at will last you for years to come. Sometimes, like fine wine and cheese, cars really do get better with a little bit of aging.