High-mileage user cars need a tad more attention—here’s how to make them most appealing
Used cars ticking over 150,000 miles are a pretty safe bet these days thanks to increased demand brought on by the car inventory shortage. Many dealers don’t even flinch at 200,000 miles on the odometer, or as much as 300,000 or more in the case of extra-stout vehicles like a Prius, Tahoe, GX 470, and others.
The average age of cars on America’s roads is over 12 years old and even OEMs like Honda and Toyota are certifying used vehicles up to a decade old. As we pointed out in our guide, The dealer’s inventory shortage playbook, stocking up on used cars—even those with high mileage—is a reliable strategy.
Follow the advice below to get the most money on high-mileage used cars and make the sale as quick as possible.
1 Catch up on maintenance and mechanical repairs
Your existing prep list likely covers a quick maintenance and mechanical shakedown, but high-mileage vehicles might need more attention. Thinking they may have to plan for costly repairs, buyers might already be researching common problems or high-dollar maintenance schedules for their preferred vehicle.
Water pumps, timing belts, clutches, head and intake gaskets, radiators, shocks, and even larger items like transmissions may be approaching high-mileage failure or standard scheduled replacement by the time a vehicle reaches a couple hundred thousand miles. If a buyer sees these items have been proactively addressed, they can strike that concern from their list of hesitations.
Flushing the transmission, differential, brakes, power steering, and other fluid-reliant systems can also stand out. So can servicing four-wheel-drive components and recharging the air conditioning system.
A brand new battery is great—and even better is a fresh set of tires. Costing, at minimum, a few hundred dollars, this can stand out to a buyer as something they won’t need to deal with replacing for a few years.
All of these larger maintenance and repair tasks can not only add value to the car you’re selling, but make it stand out against other cars the buyer is comparing.
2 Extra-deep cleaning, inside and out
It goes without saying that a thorough interior and exterior detailing is paramount to used car sales success. But high-mileage cars are different. You may need to give some extra cleaning love to high-mileage cars. Bust out the elbow grease to tackle places like carpets, door jams, storage cubbies, and exterior spots like the engine bay, underbody, suspension, and wheels.
For large components like the seats and upholstery, extra help may be required. Upholstery specialists can bring old, cracked leather back to life and get the truly worrying stains out of cloth seats. If the upholstery is just beyond saving, consider reupholstering or sourcing replacement seats from a similar model. That’s even an opportunity to upgrade a cloth car to leather or drop in heated or power seats.
Back outside, get out the glue solvent to remove bumper stickers, old dealer decals, and anything else affixed to the paint that wasn’t there when the car was new.
3 Replace and repair high-touch interior surfaces
Armrests get caked with grime after years of, well, resting someone’s arms. While they can often be successfully deep-cleaned, that might not be enough for a like-new appearance. Consider replacing or recovering armrests, along with other high-touch surfaces.
Buttons on the dashboard, radio, and console are also subject to wear. The labels and icons can wear off after years of button-pressing, making the interior feel worn and limiting usability of interior features. New labels, button faces, or even replacement modules—like an A/C control unit or radio head unit—can bring these back to life.
Look around closely. Shifters and the rubber or leather boots surrounding them can wear out, but can can be easily replaced. So can dash pads, window switches, seat belts, and even steering wheels. Think about key fobs, too—are the buttons worn off? Replacement key fobs are easy to come by and can even have the internals swapped into a fresh body to avoid reprogramming. Try to offer two sets of keys, too, like a new car would come with.
4 Tackle exterior imperfections
The exterior of the car is going to make the first impression—so an investment here should pay off well. A quick walkaround can easily identify opportunities for improvement.
Start at the front. Can the headlights be defogged or replaced for like-new clarity? Does the grill need cleaning, repairing, or replacing? Is the bumper cracked or scuffed? Check the windshield carefully—is it chipped or cracked? Is the rubber around the edges cracking off? If so, repair and replace.
Head to the side. Door dents, scratches, or scuffs can be overcome with paintless dent removal and touch-up paint. Are the window tints peeling and bubbling? Remove them or fix them.
If the wheels are curb rashed, give them an extra good cleaning or source a replacement. A single wheel can often be swapped in, but if you can’t find a match or all four are trashed, a fresh set of OEM or aftermarket wheels will make a big difference in appearance.
As you head to the rear, look for trim pieces that need reattaching or replacing. Check not only that taillights are all working, but that they’re not broken or cloudy. Look for a level, fully attached bumper. Check the exhaust, too—often, a good hard scrub can remove a decade-plus of carbon buildup on the tip and surrounding bumper.
5 Make reasonable, attractive upgrades
We mentioned a new set of wheels as needed. But what else could be upgraded to entice a would-be new car buyer into a high-mileage used model?
Consider adding a bluetooth aftermarket stereo and upgrading the stock speakers, especially if they sound blown. Floor mats, especially all-weather ones that can be hosed off easily, will entice some buyers. If you’re in a hot climate, consider adding professional window tints to give the car not only a sharper look, but a cooler interior on hot days.
Don’t go overboard, but put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think, what would help them fall in love with this vehicle?
6 Provide maintenance documents and a vehicle history report
You did all that preventative maintenance upfront—make sure you have the receipts to back it up. You can also gather past maintenance receipts from the glovebox or dealer databases to round out a full history of proper vehicle care.
This documentation, combined with a reputable vehicle history report, will head off any negotiations around maintenance or vehicle condition concerns. They’ll give your buyer more confidence in the vehicle and can make it easier to sell for a higher price.
Be sure to showcase thorough maintenance and clean vehicle history reports in your advertisements and listing details.
7 Take lots of high-quality pictures and offer a virtual tour
High-resolution photos of every angle, every nook and cranny of the vehicle go a long way in building buyer confidence. Not only will they get to see just how much wear the car may show, but they may feel less concerned about lingering or hidden issues.
These photos can culminate in a video or 360-degree tour to offer a full virtual vehicle tour, if you’re leveraging a robust digital automotive retail tool. Customers already want to spend less time at the dealership, so allowing them to view every part of the vehicle virtually can progress the sale before they even reach out to you.
These pictures also allow you to show off how well this vehicle has been reconditioned, helping it stand out in a sea of similar used vehicles for sale.
8 Write an honest ad that highlights excellent condition
Speaking of showcasing your high-mileage vehicle’s condition, your sale listing can do a lot of the heavy lifting. Remember to be honest, since these buyers may already have their guards up in approaching a vehicle with plenty of miles on the clock.
List out everything that’s been updated, replaced, or repaired recently. Call out any special upgrades, such as stereo, wheels, or window tints. Be transparent about the vehicle’s condition, so a buyer doesn’t experience any unpleasant surprises when they enter the showroom. You may also choose to call out things that may need to be replaced or repaired in the future, and how your list price reflects that.
9 Call out options, special features, and modern technology
Older, higher-mileage cars may not have all the latest new-car tech, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have appealing features. Leather upholstery, sunroof, high-end sound system, active safety features—all of these may be available in these used models and appeal to certain buyers.
Be sure to also call out top-tier trim and options packages. If the model you’re selling has all the contemporary bells and whistles, that’s a reason to command a higher price and extra attention over lesser-equipped alternatives. Some vehicles, especially in the luxury segment, may be equipped with features like blind spot monitoring, active cruise control, a backup camera, electric hatch, and other features common to new cars.
Does the vehicle have the biggest engine? Or maybe the most fuel-efficient powertrain option? Tell the buyer so in your listing. Even something as simple as automatic windows or power mirrors can be a selling point to a buyer coming from a vehicle without such features.
10 Offer an appealing warranty and return period
High-mileage buyers might be worried about their car’s reliability, especially if they originally had their sights set on something new, complete with bumper-to-bumper warranty. That’s where dealerships can once again stand out from private-party sellers: they can offer a warranty and return period.
This may or may not already be part of your dealer’s policy. If you sell certified pre-owned, it definitely will be. Honda, for example, offers HondaTrue buyers a 100-day, 5,000 mile warranty three-day or 300-mile exchange policy; plus a free oil change, roadside assistance, and other safety, reliability, and convenience perks.
Consider adding a safety window for the buyer to help them feel more confident in their purchase and to be competitive to OEM certified programs. And whatever you choose to offer, be sure to make it clear in the car’s listing, positioned as a perk alongside standout vehicle features.
11 Emphasize in-house finance options
Used car buyers can of course come into the deal with their own financing. That’s more common if they’re cross-shopping with private parties. But many consumers won’t have financing lined up yet or are planning to lean on captive new-car financing.
Being a dealership, you of course have lender relationships that private parties don’t. It’s worth mentioning this in your high-mileage car listing, especially if you offer incentives or special rates for certain vehicles. Recently risen used car values, combined with constantly improving car reliability, mean it’s easier than ever to finance used vehicles without busting LTV ratios.
12 Leverage technology for a customer-centric experience
With customers in some cases paying near or above new-car prices for used alternatives, treating them exquisitely will help sweeten the deal. These days, that means creating a seamless, omnichannel digital experience. With 95% of buyers starting their car-buying journey online, bringing as much of the car shopping process to the digital arena is paramount to sales success.
A full-suite digital automotive retail tool like Upstart Auto Retail handles everything from a virtual showroom and inventory listing all the way through to e-contracts and mobile document uploads. Customers may appreciate being able to start their car-buying journey online, seamlessly continue that experience with a salesperson at the dealership, and customize their financing deal in real time—all from an intuitive tablet experience they’re used to.