How old is too old for a pre-owned car?

pre-owned carpre-owned car
pre-owned carpre-owned car


How old is too old for a pre-owned car?

Making the decision to browse pre-used cars for sale already means you’re going to be saving money compared to buying new. But at many secondhand car dealerships in South Africa, there is such a wide range of car models that it’s tempting to choose one of the cheapest, but oldest, cars. It must be in good condition because it’s being sold, right? Not exactly.

The first rule of buying pre-owned cars is to make sure that it is a certified car dealership selling certified pre-owned cars. And the second rule of buying secondhand is to not choose a car that’s too old. But how do you decide how old is too old for a pre-owned car? Well, you take into consideration the mileage, wear and tear, availability of parts and safety features.

Just because it’s the cheapest car to buy, doesn’t mean it will be the cheapest car to maintain. You need to consider all the factors and make sure you aren’t buying an old car. Because, believe it or not, pre-owned cars aren’t necessarily old cars. And, obviously, the newer models will still be quite expensive, but it will be a better price than buying it brand new. That’s the best part about buying pre-owned.



Mileage is usually what sets the price for most used cars. This is how far the car has travelled since it was first sold and gives the secondhand buyer a good idea of how “old” a car actually is. The higher the mileage, the more wear there ought to be under the bonnet and the more services the car would have been for. That’s something you can and should track in the service history as it may affect the vehicle’s warranty.

With the range of possibilities that are parked at pre-owned car dealerships, you could find a car that’s five years old but with only 60 000km on the clock. This type of car would likely be in a better general condition than a three-year-old car with 120 000km on the odometer, even though it’s the older model. It would just have less of the popular features and, if it’s any older than about 10 years, it might give you trouble when looking for parts.


General wear and tear

The general wear and tear of a pre-owned vehicle is a good sign of its age as well as how well it was looked after. The older the car, the more wear and tear issues it might have. Include in your car inspection a test of the wiper blades, a look at the steering wheel and upholstery and a raised eyebrow at the tyres.

Take a closer look at the paint on the car to see if there are any large scratches or sun damage that has temporarily been disguised by a proper polish and wax. Not that that would really add to the age of the car but it would definitely require the need for more money to fix it up down the line.

When it comes to wear and tear, it’s not impossible to keep an older model car in “good as new condition”. But when you choose to buy that older car, you will need to work as hard as the previous owner to keep it that way.

But, again, if you’re shopping for pre-owned from a certified dealership, their cars should be in the best possible condition. It would mainly be original upholstery damage that can’t be replaced but isn’t bad enough to turn away most buyers.


Availability of parts

It’s no secret that as cars get older and are pushed off the market, manufacturers slowly stop producing the spare parts for those cars. This is what makes buying a cheaper (but older) car more expensive. When it comes to handling any repairs, you’ll need to do it through the certified dealership who’ll have to ship in the necessary parts specifically for the make and model of the car.


Safety features

And the final consideration that adds to the age of a vehicle is the lack of safety features. Did you know that it was only in 2007 that all cars made had to have stability control? And that dual airbags and antilock brakes were only implemented in all vehicles after 1998. And now, with cruise control, assisted reverse and parking, blind-spot alarms and automatic emergency braking, there are so many new safety features that are necessary on today’s roads.

So, in terms of safety, a car can be considered “old” if it doesn’t have some of the new or standard safety features.

At the end of the day, you cannot simply look at the year model of a car. You need to take into consideration all the above aspects, despite the standard “three-to-five-years is a good age for a pre-owned car” advice.

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