Mileage: How Much Does It Really Matter?

At first blush, this seems like a simple question with a simple answer. That is, it seems only logical that a vehicle with lower mileage is worth more and is "better" than the same exact vehicle with higher mileage. Some things are pretty cut and dried when it comes to mileage. An obvious example is tire wear. Clearly, a tire with 40K miles on it will have less tread than one with 10K miles. But some mechanical items are not affected by mileage at all, like a suspension arm, for example. And yet other items are purely time-dependent, like brake fluid flushes.

If you were in the market for a 2-year-old Ford truck, you would want to buy the one with the lowest mileage possible, all other things equal. In the case of a 2-year-old Ford truck, it is pretty easy to find others that are identical (all other things equal), except for mileage—and therefore make an apples-to-apples comparison. But when it comes to buying a Vanagon or Eurovan, it is not that straight forward because they are much older. The newest Eurovan is a 2003 model, the newest Vanagon a 1991 model. The older the vehicle, the greater age becomes as a factor when comparing one vehicle to the next. Simply looking at the mileage, or even factoring it highly to determine value, becomes less important.

For example, a 1987 Vanagon with 80K miles probably needs no less mechanical work than one with 180K miles because both are so old. This is due to the fact that some mechanical aspects of a vehicle need to be renewed simply due to age. For example, even with only 80K miles, all of the rubber coolant hoses on either would need to be replaced. In fact, a very old vehicle that was not used “normally”, and sat for long periods of time might actually need more work than one used normally. In the example above, the lower mileage 1987 Vangon might have not gotten regular coolant flushes as would the higher mileage one—would not necessarily be less, and maybe even more likely to have pitted cylinder heads and engine block due to corrosion. It could turn out that buying the one with “normal” mileage is for substantially less money would be a much better buy. The bottom line is that a vehicle with low mileage doesn't necessarily mean it will be mechanical reliable.

When it comes to physical (exterior/interior) condition, though, low mileage usually becomes much more important. A low-mileage vehicle typically has less wear and tear on both the interior and exterior. But, that's not always the case. We have seen vehicles come to GoWesty with only 50K miles on them that were way, way more hammered than some with over 250K miles. So, here too, paying more for a low mileage vehicle may not produce a better vehicle to start with. We once purchased a 2003 Eurovan that was only 18 months old at the time—and because it came from Arizona and was parked in such a way the sun was constantly blazing into the rear window—the whole cabinet assembly was completely ruined. This is really the tough part of buying a good candidate for what we do at GoWesty. We have to screen the vehicles we purchase very carefully to make sure we are not paying too much, regardless of mileage—high or low. Things like body condition (dings, rust, poor re-paint), undercarriage condition (rust and damage due to improper lifting on a hoist), interior (stains, tears, wear, smell)—this much harder to pin down and represents by far the higher risk—and are in fact more important than mileage alone.

You will notice when looking our sales history, there is not much correlation between total out the door price and mileage. That is because extraordinary effort goes into every vehicle we prepare for resale here at GoWesty to make sure that it is mechanically sound—regardless of mileage. It goes way, way beyond just rebuilding the engine and transaxle. We also replace every maintenance item (filters, belts, fluids, etc.), which essentially puts the vehicle back to "zero" miles maintenance-wise. We also know from experience what items are typically failure prone, and replace them preemptive as part of are “reliability items” page. We do it all the time, and we stand behind what we do—because we know it works. Our vehicles leave here no more or less reliable irrespective of the mileage figure on the odometer.

The bottom line is that every one of these vehicles—and really any other older vehicle—is unique and must be examined on a case-by-case basis. In general, though, it probably doesn't make much sense to spend a lot of money on a vehicle simply because it has low mileage. If there are two vehicles side by side that are the same in all respects except mileage, then sure, why not go for the lower mileage vehicle? There may not be any remarkable difference, but probably no negatives, either. But, this scenario is typically not the case when it comes to Vanagons and Eurovans. In general, when two of these vehicles of the same year and model are sitting side by side that appear “identical” except for mileage—if one has a lot lower mileage than the other, the owner usually wants a lot more money for it. And, generally speaking: To do what we do here at GoWesty, it is not worth the extra money.