You might assume a new car would have zero mileage, yet in practice this is rarely the case – leading to the question, how many miles are acceptable on a vehicle you’re buying new from the dealership? A smart car buyer finds out the odometer reading on an offered vehicle during the process of closing the deal to ensure their new ride hasn’t been used excessively.
Every new car has a few miles on the odometer, but there is an upper threshold beyond which you should ask for either a discounted price or a replacement. All cars have at least 2 miles on them due to short-distance driving around the factory floor during finishing, moving them onto and off of transport when they are sent to the dealership, and during routine maintenance, examination, and lot parking at the dealership itself. Usually, a new car has 10 or more miles on its odometer.
Slightly higher odometer readings appear on cars with upgraded options packages installed. These cars were driven back and forth to different facilities at the factory a number of times to complete the installation of the upgrades. A base trim vehicle with no upgrades may actually have marginally lower mileage due to this factor.
Car Buying Guide: Save Time and Money By Learning How to Find the Best Car Buying Opportunity and Negotiate the Best Price While Avoiding the Car Dealer's Attempts to Get the Most Money Out of You
How to buy a car: Ultimate guide to buying a new or used car. How to get the best car and negotiate for the best price
Test Drives and Breaking In
It’s important to insist on a rechecked odometer reading at the time of the actual sale because the car you test drove weeks or months before is extremely unlikely to be the same car you end up purchasing. The stock at an active dealership turns over rapidly, so unless you are buying the same day (often a poor purchasing decision), don’t assume that the car you tried out initially is the one you’ll drive off the lot.
The dealership may, however, try to match you up with a car that’s been taken on several test drives by other potential customers. While most test drives are short, at around 5 to 6 miles or even less, more careful shoppers may put the vehicle through its paces over 10 to 15 miles of road. A few test drives by other new car seekers adds up to considerable wear before you seal the deal and park the car in your garage.
With that said, a test drive or two may actually benefit you by starting the break-in process before you acquire the auto. Driving a fresh-off-the-assembly-line car vigorously seals the piston rings firmly in the cylinders, ensuring they can stand up to the immense pressures of regular operation. Someone else test driving your vehicle a few times before it’s handed over to you can start this sequence, making your break-in quicker and easier.
Dealer Trades and In-Service Dates
When purchasing a new car, you should ask the salespeople whether or not the automobile you’ll receive is a dealer trade. Dealer trades occur when dealerships decide to swap cars between themselves in order to acquire vehicles they believe will sell better at their location, while ridding themselves of stock that isn’t moving. In most cases, once the dealerships agree on an exchange, the trade car is driven from one business to the other by an employee, who then gets behind the wheel of the swapped car and drives it back.
This is not a problem if the dealerships are located a few miles apart, but in some cases, they separated by dozens, even hundreds of miles. Dealer trades have been known to put 200 to 300 miles on an otherwise brand new car’s odometer.
This highlights the issue of “in-service dates” as well. The warranty on your car begins at the “in-service date” specified by the dealership. In the great majority of cases, this date is the same as the date you buy the car and take delivery of it. However, a dealership sometimes starts the in-service date at the moment a dealer trade occurs or the car is otherwise used to some degree. This could cut months off your warranty period if the car has spent some time unsold on the lot. Ask about the in-service date during closing and obtain the answer in writing somewhere on the documents.
What is Acceptable Mileage?
There is no precise answer to the question of how much mileage is acceptable on a new car. This is your decision to make based on personal preferences, but there are a few guidelines you may want to apply when making your choice.
No new cars are completely “pristine” with zero mileage. Even the least driven will typically have 6-10 miles on its odometer at the moment of sale. Four short test drives or two longer drives – not an unreasonable amount – could add up to 25 miles to the total. Therefore, any odometer reading of 35 miles or under might be considered normal for a completely new car.
However, if the odometer shows more than 100 miles, you should seriously consider asking for a different car or for a discount. A new car with a three-digit odometer reading has either been on the lot for months while being used often as a “test driver,” or is a dealer swap transferred between two dealerships via highway. In either case, you’re fully justified in politely demanding either a lowered price or a fresher, newer vehicle. After all, there can always be some kind of problem, from the battery to the engine.
Also make sure you plan for your car maintenance needs down the road.