The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Vehicle – Part 3: Top 10 Cars that Can Take You to 300,000 miles

3 The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Vehicle--Top ten cars that can take you to 300,000 miles

With so many choices of vehicles out there, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to even start. We believe that, if well maintained, all of these top ten recommended vehicles can take you to 300,000 miles or much more. 400-500k miles is actually a realistic target for vehicles that are well-built and then receive proper care and servicing. You can pick up a 2015 Toyota Corolla with 85,000 miles on it and drive it to 300,000 miles or more for less money than if you were to replace your vehicle every time it reaches 150k.

This post is one in a five part series. 

Part 1: What should the overall process look like from start to finish?

Part 2: How much should I expect to spend?

Part 3: What makes and models should I be looking at?

Part 4: Where should I buy a used vehicle?

Part 5: Why should I get a pre-purchase inspection?

Most buyers want practical, economical, and reliable transportation. We realize that there are those whose idea of the perfect vehicle goes beyond that mindset, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think you will still find helpful advice in these articles. However, the bulk of our clientele are looking for affordable, dependable transportation, so I am writing through that lens.

What kind of vehicle fits your lifestyle?

In part one, I suggested that a great place to start deciding what make and model to look for is asking yourself what your main use of the vehicle will be.

  • City driving?
  • Country driving?
  • Freeway driving?
  • Mainly home to work?
  • Driving kids around?
  • Frequent long trips?
  • Carrying a lot of cargo?

Sedans and Five Doors

If your main goal is to get from point A to point B with four or less passengers, this is all you need. If you will occasionally need to tote some extra cargo, you might be surprised by how much you can fit in a small but well-packaged 5-door vehicle (like a Honda Fit.).


If you find you need a little more space, an SUV might be a good option for you. Maybe you take frequent road trips with lots of luggage or you regularly carry lots of cargo for your job, you might find that the extra storage space in the rear will be an asset. If you are packing in the passengers and all of their stuff, you may want to look at a full sized SUV. Finally, if you live in a cold-weather area or do a lot of off-road driving, a four wheel drive SUV might be just what you need. Bear in mind that larger vehicles tend to cost a little more to maintain. Depending on how much cargo you’re carrying, you might do just fine with a well-packaged small SUV.


If you regularly find yourself hauling stuff more than people, a small truck might be the perfect vehicle for you. I’ve known people, like Andrew’s dad, who own a truck because they like to help others. There is simply no substitute for the ease of use and utility of a truck bed. Medium to large size trucks are also available with extra cabin space for passengers as well as the utility of a truck bed.

Keep in mind that larger vehicles can cost a little more to maintain.


Known by many as the “soccer mom” vehicle, these are really practical vehicles to own for driving around a larger number of passengers, and not just kids. Vans are also great for families that like to take trips as well people who just really like going places with lots of friends. In many cases, this is a great alternative to a full-sized SUV. If you are a “soccer mom” you may love having one, and even if you’re not, you might find one in a body style that you like! 

Specifics to Consider

There are specific components of the vehicle that you should consider when narrowing down what to buy.

  1. Timing chain vs timing belt:

Why? Timing chains last longer than timing belts. If engine oil service is sufficient, with good supplies and intervals, many timing chains will last 150-200k miles or further. However, timing belts commonly require replacement by 120k miles, if not sooner. Many timing belts also come due per age if mileage doesn’t make them due first, but this is not a factor with timing chains.

  1. Alloy wheels vs steels:

Why? When mounting and balancing tires on steel wheels there is no need to remove and apply adhesive wheel weights. This means less working time and may reduce service costs. However, adhesive weights are commonly used for alloy wheels. They always leave residue behind when they are removed, and it takes time to remove that residue and clean the surfaces for the new adhesive weights.

  1. Engine type: L4 vs V6 or V8:


L4 (inline four cylinder) engines cost less to service than their V-engine cousins. They have fewer leak points, moving parts, and maintenance parts. Unlike an L4, V engines use identical or similar parts on both sides of the V.

A few examples:

  • An L4 engine will have one valve cover gasket, but a V-engine will have two. On a V-engine, one of those gaskets may also be obstructed by the intake manifold. Therefore, it can cost a lot more to stop valve cover leakage on V-engines.
  • An L4 engine will have four spark plugs in a row. A V6 will have 3 in one bank and three in the other. Again, one bank may be obstructed by the intake. Therefore, spark plug (or ignition coil) replacement tends to cost more. Misfire evaluation can also cost more on V-engines. 
  • An L4 engine has one head gasket. A V-engine has two of them. This could mean two block decks being dressed during head gasket replacement and two cylinder heads going to the machine shop instead of one.
  • Failure on one side of a V-engine may be shortly followed by the same failure on the other side. Again, V-engines double up on parts, and those parts see all the same miles together.  Parts of the same composition, subjected to similar operating conditions, will tend to wear out around the same time. But on L4 engines, there is no “other side.”
  1. Two wheel drive (2WD) vs All wheel drive (AWD)

Why? A two wheel drive vehicle uses two wheels to propel itself. An all wheel drive uses (or can use) all four wheels. This is neat, but it requires additional parts to drive two more wheels. Those extra parts pose additional possible failure points. You go from two axles to four. And add a transfer case. And a transfer case controller. And a propeller shaft. And, you may have to replace tires in sets of four (or have replacement tires shaved) to avoid damaging the transfer case with differing tire circumferences and tread depths.

  1. CVT vs “regular” automatic transmissions

“Regular” (gear-shifting) automatic transmissions have been around for a long time (multiple decades).  Lifespan past 200k miles is not uncommon. In some cases, the transmission lasts as long as the vehicle does.

CVT’s are newer, and they work differently. Instead of shifting gears, they vary gear ratios. Therefore, they must deliver power but also slip to desired gear ratios. They vary in quality and longevity, and they have less of a track record.

CVT lifespan may be improved by an aggressive service approach, but an aggressive approach means a higher number of services and the costs attached to them.

  1. Extra’s that could break but won’t disable the car

Why? Have you ever driven a vehicle and just thought, “I’m so tired of this old car!” Nothing reminds you of the fact your car needs constant attention like those extra features you thought were really neat in the beginning, but now would cost hundreds of dollars per item to fix.

  1. Tire Size and Type:

Why? Tire costs are affected by the type and size of the tire. This applies to purchasing replacement tires and to the lifespans of the tires themselves. Low profile tires are more susceptible to curb impacts, and rims with low profile tires are more susceptible to pothole damage. Vehicles with staggered tire fitments cannot receive tire rotations. Unusual tire sizes can limit your brand options, but tires vary in quality, affect the vehicle’s safety, and may be one of the single greatest factors in how much you enjoy driving your vehicle. Tire sizing is heavily dependent on rim size so if you want to convert to something else after you’ve bought the vehicle, it could cost you!

  1. Simplicity of Vehicle Systems:

Why? Because the more complex the system, the more potential failure points it has. For example, a vehicle with a more refined suspension may be more pleasant to drive, for a while, but may also incur additional service costs beyond a more simple design. There are more parts in the complex design that might wear out. Perhaps you would even be more satisfied with the simpler design working well than with the complex design being inhibited by fatigue or component failure. (You may also be more satisfied with how the simple design feels on great tires than with the complex design on substandard tires.)

Electrical systems are another example. Is your window function controlled by a simple switch? Or is it controlled by a module? If controlled by a module, and that module fails, your repair cost will be higher. If your vehicle ages to the point that it needs a module, and that module is not readily available, what will happen then?

Does your seat have a power adjustment or a manual one? The power adjustments are convenient, but the manual adjusters are less likely to fail. 

 This is not to say that comfort and convenience don’t matter and that refinements won’t be continued, but there can also be joy in owning and caring for something that is simple and effective, less likely to break, and long lasting.

  1. Front A/C vs front and rear A/C

Why? Often Air Conditioning systems have interior components which are tucked so inconspicuously into the vehicle you never would know they exist. For this reason, removing these interior components often requires significant disassembly in the interior. Now, imagine putting an entire additional unit in the rear, which significantly increases the cost to fix if it breaks.  

Year and Mileage

I commonly hear people say, “My vehicle just reached 100,000 miles. Time to replace it.” In reality, if you replace your vehicle every 100-150k, you are looking at spending a lot more money than if you were to continue driving it to 300,000 miles or more. In fact, once you have reached that 300,000 miles (or beyond), buying a vehicle with 100,000 miles on the odometer and taking it to 300,000 miles can often be a wise financial decision.

Check out this spreadsheet that breaks down how much you are spending to keep your vehicle versus replacing it.

Top 10 Cars that Can Take You to 300,000 miles

Compact Sedan

1. Toyota Corolla

  • Why?
    • Toyota build-quality coupled with effective and straightforward vehicle design. These cars blend build-quality and reliability with enough simplicity that they tend to last and tend not to require excessive costs when repairs are necessary.
      • For example, the engines are (commonly) inline four cylinder timing chain engines. Inline four cylinders cost less to service than their V-engine cousins. And unlike timing belts, timing chains do not require maintenance replacements. 
      • Chassis (suspension, steering, and brake) setups were not overly complicated and were limited for possible failure points.
      • We are not aware of a “bad” generation of these vehicles.

Note: You might also consider a Corolla adjacent, such as a Toyota Matrix, a Toyota Yaris, or a Pontiac Vibe.

2. Honda Fit

  • Why?
    • Another example of build-quality coupled with effective and straightforward design. These vehicles also ran four cylinder timing chain engines and simple chassis setups, and they are desirable for their storage capacity and rear/fifth door access.

Full Size Sedans

3. Toyota Camry

  • Why?
    • Toyota build-quality. And if you want a four cylinder timing chain engine in a larger car, you can get it here. Like the Corolla, we are not aware of any “bad” generations of this vehicle. (Nevertheless, pre-purchase VIN checks and inspections are still advisable!) 
    • By the way, we once purchased a 1998 Toyota Camry in the interest of shop usage. That Camry had 360k (ish) miles on it and was running (as far as we know) the original engine and transmission. 

4. Honda Accord

  • Why?
    • Honda has built a lot of good Accords over the years. The 2.4L engine Accords were, again, a four cylinder timing chain option, and those engines can run for a very long time with proper maintenance. If you want a six cylinder, Honda’s 3.5L engine is also a reliable engine. 
    • Accords from many years ago suffered from transmission issues, but generally, we’re not aware of major problems with these sedans. 


5. Honda CR-V

  • Why?
    • Honda build-quality.
    • Like the Accords, CRV’s are available with Honda 2.4L timing chain engines. 
    • We have never been disappointed in the performance of a CR-V that we’ve serviced. We can’t speak as much to newer vehicles that are still under the manufacturer’s warranty and thus less likely to show up here.
    • If you are, by chance, looking at purchasing a 1st gen. CRV, be careful about cylinder head and valvetrain trouble – whether already present, or (possibly) coming in the future. However, all of those 1st gen’s are now over 20 years old.
    • Andrew has repeatedly mentioned Corollas and four cylinder Accords and CR-Vs to people considering a vehicle purchase. 

6. Toyota Rav4

  • Why?
    • Toyota build-quality, and you get an SUV without taking on more vehicle than you might want or need. You can get these with both four and six cylinder engine options, both of which run timing chains instead of belts. In terms of engine simplicity and reduced service cost, we’d lean toward the four cylinder.

7. Toyota 4Runner

  • Why?
    • Toyota’s 4.7L engines are robust. 400k miles of service life would be no surprise.
    • We’ve never seen a failed Toyota rear differential. 
    • You can also get these with a six cylinder timing chain engine. Timing chain? That means no maintenance interval for timing belt replacement.
    • If you need more space, for people, stuff, or both, this might be the one for you.


8. Toyota Tacoma or Tundra

  • Why?
    • Please see the (SUV) comments above. You can find the 4.7L V8, 4.0L V6, and 2.7L L4 (please see below) engines in these trucks. And again, we’ve never seen a Toyota rear differential fail. 


9. Honda Odyssey

  • Why?
    • These vans came with Honda 3.5L engines. These are well-built reliable engines. 
    • Odysseys from many years ago may have been prone to transmission troubles, but as far back as 2005 (Andrew’s parents have one of these), we’re not aware of that being an issue.
    • Without meaning to be a broken record, there is build-quality. These are a long-running Honda product, and we’ve had positive experiences with them. Honda has had years of success with the 3.5L engine in this (and other) applications.
      • Quick tip: If you’re buying an earlier model year that might have the cylinder deactivation function, you may be better off without it.

10. Toyota Sienna

  • Why?
    • Toyota build-quality, simplicity of chassis design, and the reliability of Toyota’s 3.5L engines all contribute here. If you’re buying an older one, we know nothing negative about Toyota’s 3.3L engines either. 

Bonus Tips:

  • Do you want a larger Toyota SUV – with a four cylinder timing chain engine? You can do that with the Highlander! Toyota sold these with 2.7L four cylinder engines. Again, inline four cylinder engines are more simply laid out and tend to cost less for service and repairs than their V6 and V8 cousins do. And with modern engine technology, you will have no issues with power delivery. It will get you where you need to go, with power to spare.
  • Honda’s 3.5L engine also shows up in the Honda Pilot and Honda Ridgeline. The Ridgeline is about it if you want a Honda truck, but it will get you four doors and some bed space. It’s a unique vehicle, but perhaps that’s a draw for you!

    As far as the Honda Pilots go, we have a positive impression of their build-quality and longevity, but you may also find them to be nicer than they “have to be.” Not luxury class, but roomy, comfortable, and pleasant.

As you can see, we are big fans of Toyota and Honda around here. The fact of the matter is that they are just more cost effective to maintain than many other manufacturers. If well maintained, they tend to need very little and are very reliable.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Vehicle

There are definite draws to hybrid vehicles but you need to consider that where you save in fuel costs, you will need to replace the battery at around 180,000 miles or so and those batteries will run you at least a couple thousand dollars.

Tire sizes are also a consideration. For example, low profile tires or tires with different sizes front to back increase your maintenance costs due to the higher cost of the tires and additional labor. They also can’t be rotated, so they wear more quickly.

We know that buying a vehicle is a big project. The process and the choices can be so overwhelming. I hope this blog series has helped you to understand the process, decide if you want to purchase from a private party or a dealership, and figure out what make and model you are looking for. If you need further assistance, please feel free to reach out!

Key take-aways:

  • Consider your lifestyle when choosing a vehicle
  • How the vehicle is built can affect your long-term cost to maintain a reliable, safe, and comfortable vehicle
  • Older vehicles with a little more mileage can be more cost effective now and in the long run
  • Hondas and Toyotas are some of the most well-built vehicles with a good track record for affordability and durability

Don’t miss out on the other posts in this five part series!

Part 1: What should the overall process look like from start to finish?

Part 2: How much should I expect to spend?

Part 3: What makes and models should I be looking at?

Part 4: Where should I buy a used vehicle?

Part 5: Why should I get a pre-purchase inspection?

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Leave a Reply