Used cars and mileage

heycar editorial team

Written by

heycar editorial team

car mileage odometer
  • Why checking a used cars mileage is crucial
  • Is clocking still a problem with second hand cars
  • How to make sure a car's mileage is legitimate 

Every car has what’s known as an odometer on its dashboard. This records each mile that goes under the car’s wheels. So the odometer should give an accurate representation of a car’s mileage.

The number of miles a car has done is important. The greater the number, the less it will be worth compared to an identical model that’s done fewer miles. This is because parts wear during every mile that’s covered.

So mileage is important, particularly for the used car buyer. And that’s why a large number of used cars have their mileage tampered with.

What is the average mileage for a car?

UK Government figures show that the average mileage for a car is around 8000 a year. However, this really depends on the kind of car. For city cars such as the Fiat 500, it’s more likely to be 5000 a year. For bigger models such as the Ford Mondeo or BMW 5 Series it’s probably going to be more like 12,000 annually.

What’s a good mileage for a used car?

A good mileage for a car depends on the age of the car, the type of car and the kind of miles it’s covered. You might consider a 10-year-old Mercedes E-Class that’s done 80,000 miles to be quite low mileage. On the other hand, a 10-year-old Smart ForTwo with that number of miles would be thought of as high mileage.

One of the reasons for this is that a large car that’s done lots of miles is likely to have done those on motorways. Cruising at speed means less wear on components such as steering, brakes and suspension. A smaller car will probably have spent more time around town where its components will have been used, and therefore worn, more.

According to Guinness World Records, the highest mileage car ever is a 1966 Volvo P1800. It’s covered more than three million miles and is still going strong. So next time you look at a car that’s done 150,000 miles, don’t assume it’s about to give up on life.

How do you do a mileage history check?

The easiest way to check a car’s mileage is to look at past MOT certificates. These record the miles covered every year. If a car’s current mileage is less than on any previous MOT, it’s had its mileage tampered with.

If you can’t check the MOTs for whatever reason, there are companies that specialise in car history checks. These should be able to verify and guarantee the number of miles a car has covered.

What is clocking?

Mileage correction or ‘clocking’ is where miles are wound off a car’s odometer. This is usually done so the car appears to have done fewer miles. It can therefore be sold for more money. Data company HPI claims clocking can add up to £4,000 to the price of the average family car.

Astonishingly the act of clocking is legal. Selling a car that’s been clocked without telling the buyer is most definitely illegal.

Who clocks cars?

Clocking used to be reserved mainly for car dealers. Now almost anyone can buy the technology to clock a car online for a couple of hundred pounds. Depending on the age of the car, winding miles off could make it worth a lot more than the cost of the equipment needed to do it.

According to vehicle data company HPI, in 2018 one in every 16 cars it checked had been clocked. That means there could be 2.3 million clocked cars on UK roads.

How do you clock a car?

Back in the day, you used to be able to tell if a car had been clocked because there would be screwdriver marks around instrument cluster. This was where the odometer had literally been wound backwards to make the miles disappear.

The advent of digital instruments made that impossible – at first. But now crooks simply hack into the car’s computer to ‘adjust’ the mileage. If you know what you’re doing, it takes minutes.

A simple search on the internet will bring up plenty of companies specialising in mileage correction. Some are perfectly honest, requiring a legitimate reason to correct a car’s mileage. Others ask no questions…

Is clocking on the increase?

Sadly, clocking has seen a resurgence. This is for two reasons. First, it’s easy to do. Second, it’s linked to the popularity of running cars on finance. Personal Contract Purchase deals or leases have payment structures that rely on cars only covering a certain number of miles. Go over the agreed mileage and there are financial penalties. However, reduce the car’s mileage by clocking it, and you can avoid the consequences of doing too many miles.

Why is buying a clocked car dangerous?

Many of the parts on a car such as brakes, tyres and engine components have a fixed life span. When you have a car serviced - usually every year or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first - these parts are changed to ensure the car remains as safe and efficient as its maker intended. The work done at these services is recorded in what’s known as the service history.

When you buy a car that’s been clocked, its service history becomes meaningless. Those parts might have done 60,000 miles and need changing. But with the mileage reading 30,000, you think they’ve got plenty of life left in them and carry on driving blissfully unaware.

See also: 

Best rated family cars on heycar

Best cars for reliability

Cars that are built to last