06-20-2013, 03:08 PM
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It depends on so many factors, primarily the make/model of the car and how it's been maintained by the previous owner(s).
We had a 1975 Mercedes diesel. It was built like a tank. It was also my mom's baby. She changed her oil every 3000 miles, reviewed the maintenance check-list every so often to make sure she did everything they told her to do. After 300000 miles, we put a new engine in it and it kept purring along for another 200k or so before she sold it. That was a combination of a great-built car with superior ownership.
If that same car had been owner by someone who never changed the oil or washed road-salt off, it probably would have been lucky to make it to 100k.
Some cars are just lemons, and you're lucky to get them past warranty life of 50k, no matter how you maintain them. Some cars can go on and on if cared for. Poor maintenance can destroy any car.
My husband and I take good care of our cars. I have always had Subarus. He's a Chevy-man. Both are respectable car manufacturers. We've both found that at around 100k, little things start to fail: Oxygen sensors, window-motors, dashboard lights. Around 150-200k, bigger things start to fail, like transmissions, head gaskets, computers, etc. The components just plain wear out.
That state inspection doesn't guarantee you that the transmission isn't about to fall out of the car. It just guarantees you that it's working at the moment. It gives you a glimpse in time. It tells you that it should be safe to drive it off the lot right now. And I think it tells you that it's not stolen. That's all.
Be sure to do your homework and look up the reliability, safety, and consumer and test reviews for the exact car you're buying so you don't get a lemon.
When I buy used, I prefer to buy from an owner instead of a dealer. That way, I get the history of the car, and I get a feel for whether or not it's someone who's taken care of it. I usually ask to see their maintenance records as well. If it's a care with good ratings and it's been well-maintained, it may very well have more life in it. Just expect littl things to keep popping up with that kind of mileage, and don't be too disappointed if something major happens as well.