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Buyer's Guide: Can age go the distance?
By Jack Biddle • 01/11/2015
The milleage v age dilemma
Glenn asks: when choosing between vehicles of the same make and model, but with a difference in age and odometer reading, which way should buyers lean if asking prices are similar?
For example, is a 10-year-old vehicle which has travelled a low 90,000km a better buy than a six-year-old lookalike that’s travelled around the 140,000km mark?
No right or wrong answer here, Glenn, and buying decisions could very easily go either way.
First up: while on a quick glance both vehicles may not look too different in terms of outward appearance, it is likely there would have been at least a couple of significant upgrades during their model life.
In the example provided, a four-year age spread could indicate a particular model was either new to the market or coming to the end of its production run.
The one closer to its finish date is highly likely to have an improved specification level.
Manufacturers do this to keep a particular model fresh and competitive as their competitors launch all-new and improved models. Though the engine and driveline dynamics don’t usually change too much, most upgrades normally centre on body cosmetics and driving aids such as reverse cameras, parking sensors and navigation plus added safety features.
So it could be argued that it’s better to go for the one with a higher specification level and simply bite the bullet on the higher odometer reading.
One of the downsides is that future resale values are likely to suffer once that odometer heads over the 150,000km mark, regardless of the specification level.
Though most well-maintained mainstream vehicles still have a lot left to give at this odometer reading, anxiety levels can rise for potential buyers.
And the higher the specification level, the more chance there is of something going wrong. Reliability in general has improved out of sight with the introduction of on-board electronics but the reality is, if something does go wrong, then it’s usually expensive to fix.And don’t forget, regardless of how well a vehicle has been serviced, a higher than average odometer reading means all the running gear such as transmission, suspension and driveline has been exposed to a lot more of on-road use, meaning additional general wear and tear.
So is the older and lower mileage option a better road to head down?
Possibly, if you are prepared in some cases to accept a lower specification level and fewer driver aids. But others may not agree with you when it comes time to sell. Fast forward a couple of years of ownership and the vehicle could be quite outdated in the eyes of some potential buyers.
The other consideration is where a vehicle sits in the market.
If it sat at the bargain basement level when new, with little to no improvements during its model life, the older example with the lower odometer reading is probably a good option. Buy cheap and sell even cheaper can mean not a lot to lose. And more buyers may be drawn in by the lower odometer reading at resale time.
If it’s the top end of the market that buyers desperately want to break into, getting the best features and latest upgrades can win the day even if it means a purchasing a vehicle with a high odometer reading. Buy today and worry about resale and potential problems later could be the best mindset in this case.
Make sure you compare apples with apples, including used imports v NZ-new.