How Many Miles Should a New Car Have?

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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? 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 to 50 miles on its odometer.

The Ideal Range

When it comes to purchasing a new car, it’s essential to be aware that even brand-new vehicles will typically have a few miles on the odometer. These few miles are a result of various factors, such as short-distance driving within the factory, transportation to and from the dealership, routine maintenance, inspections, and parking within the dealership lot. Therefore, it’s quite common for a new car to have around 10 or more miles on the odometer when you’re closing the deal. However, if you notice that the mileage exceeds this range significantly, it’s advisable to discuss the situation with the dealership. They should provide an explanation for the higher mileage and, in some cases, you may want to negotiate for a discounted price or consider looking at other new cars with lower mileage. When purchasing used cars, it’s even more critical to scrutinize the odometer reading to ensure that you’re getting the value you expect from your purchase.

Why Are There Miles on a New Car?

  1. Factory Testing: Before leaving the factory, each car undergoes rigorous testing to ensure it meets quality and safety standards. This process can add a few miles to the vehicle.
  2. Transportation: Vehicles are often driven onto and off transport trucks and ships, contributing to the mileage. Additionally, the dealership might relocate vehicles on the lot or to other dealer locations.
  3. Dealership Preparation: Dealerships perform their own pre-sale inspections and test drives to further guarantee the vehicle’s condition. This can also add a small number of miles.
  4. Customer Test Drives: Though not applicable to all new vehicles, some are taken on test drives by potential buyers, adding to the odometer reading.

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.

woman buying a car from the dealer

When Should You Be Concerned?

While 10 to 50 miles is generally considered standard for new cars, seeing a bit more isn’t necessarily a red flag. However, if a new car has significantly more miles — let’s say, over 300 miles — it’s worth asking questions. A higher mileage could mean the car has been used extensively for test drives or even as a dealer loaner vehicle. While not inherently problematic, vehicles with higher mileage might warrant some form of compensation or reassurance from the dealer, such as extended warranties or service packages.

Negotiating Based on Mileage

If you encounter a new car with higher-than-expected mileage, consider it an opportunity to negotiate. Dealerships may offer discounts, additional warranty coverage, or complimentary maintenance services to compensate for the added miles. It’s important to communicate openly with the dealer about your concerns and expectations.

Test Drives and Breaking In

salesman showing dashboard and explaining automobile to customer

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

Before car purchase you have to decide will you use it for or not. If you decide to use your car for a car title, you will have to use your new vehicle title as collateral to obtain funding.  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 are 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.

Other Factors to Consider on Car Mileage

Understanding these factors can help you set realistic expectations and prepare you to ask the right questions when discussing a potential purchase with a dealership. Remember, a new car’s mileage can tell a story of its journey before you own it, and knowing this story is part of making an informed buying decision.

  • Model Year: For current model year vehicles, expect the lower end of the mileage range. However, if you’re purchasing a new car from a previous model year, it might have accumulated more miles due to longer time spent on the dealership lot.
  • Popularity and Availability: Highly sought-after models or those with limited availability might have fewer miles due to less frequent test drives and shorter durations on the dealership lot.
  • Delivery Distance: Consider the geographic location of the manufacturing plant in relation to the dealership. Vehicles manufactured domestically may have fewer transport miles compared to those shipped from overseas.
  • Dealership Location: Cars at urban dealerships may have more test drive miles than those at rural dealerships due to higher traffic and more potential buyers.
  • Special Offers: Dealer-driven events or promotions might lead to more test drives and consequently, a higher mileage on some new cars.
  • Dealer Trades: Sometimes dealers trade vehicles with one another to meet customer demands. This process can add miles, especially if the trading dealerships are located far apart.
  • Pre-Delivery Test Drives and Inspections: Dealers conduct pre-delivery test drives and inspections to ensure everything functions correctly, which can add a few miles to the car.
  • Vehicle Type and Use: Demo cars used by dealership staff or for promotional purposes can still be sold as new if they haven’t been titled, yet they may have higher mileage.
  • Manufacturer’s Shipping Method: The method used for shipping the vehicle from the factory to the dealership (e.g., driving vs. transporting via truck or train) can impact mileage.

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.

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