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THE USED-CAR BUYER’S GUIDE TO VEHICLE MILESTONES

Cars can’t talk. They can’t tell an owner in clear language exactly where it hurts and how badly. They can’t tell you clearly whether it’s not handling entirely sharply because it has the vehicle equivalent to a sore toe or a broken ankle that’s barely hanging in there.

Mechanics are the great translators of the automotive world, but buyers sometimes have to tell what they can about a used car or truck from its age and miles driven. Neither concretely represents a vehicle’s health; some used cars and trucks endure astonishingly well with the right tender, loving care and attentive annual maintenance.

A few milestones throughout a used car or truck’s life can speak volumes for what may lie immediately ahead, though. Practically without exception, mileage always factors into a vehicle’s price for just this reason. When eyeing the hard numbers on a pre-owned vehicle – even one that’s been certified with an extensive checkup and some basic care – these milestones are each fairly reliable indicators that various stages of maintenance are right around the bend.

* 30,000-40,000 MILES

This is about the range in which vehicles require their first major servicing in the $350 range. The factory brake components and tires are probably either approaching or ready for replacement. If you’re considering a buying a car in this range, recognize that several thousand miles before the 36,000 mark – along with three years, one of the standard limits on most bumper-to-bumper factory warranties – is about the point when owners are advised to sell. Check thoroughly that it has an up-to-date maintenance record to head off any surprises.

* 60,000-70,000 MILES

Expect escalating servicing needs, both in price and scope. This is where something such as a timing belt that catches a driver off-guard and snaps could wreck an engine to the tune of up to $300. If the vehicle hasn’t yet required new brakes or tires, bet that it will soon. Most vehicles probably should be traded in before hitting 60,000 miles, but circumstances sometimes just won’t afford that luxury. Know the major-service expectations for a make and model that hits this age and consider your decision accordingly if they haven’t yet been met.

* 100,000 MILES

Much the way modern medicine prolongs human lives to once-unheard-of degrees, maintenance technology can have a 100,000-mile car or truck still in prime condition. Here’s where you may have a chance to net a bargain: this milestone also carries a significant drop-off in a vehicle’s value – and its price.

Interestingly enough, this is also where servicing enters a “rerun” stage. You’ll basically be revisiting every previously described stage in a vehicle’s lifespan, but pairing it with increasing interior and exterior wear. It’s best to proceed with caution and take nothing for granted.

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