When it comes to buying a high mileage truck, you probably have a lot of questions. You might have heard horror stories from friends about deals that went wrong, and it’s possible that you end up with a lemon of a truck.
The main thing is to do research ahead of time and go through a tedious test drive. Always take the truck to a mechanic before buying it for a pre-purchase inspection to find out the true state of the truck. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is — so remember to listen to your gut feelings during the process.
In this guide, my goal is to help you avoid these pitfalls. I put together 16 tips for buying a high mileage truck, and some key things to look for during the buying process.
What Is a “High Mileage” Truck?
Your definition is going to vary a little for what a “high mileage” truck is.
Personally, I’d say any gas-engine truck over 100,000 miles or diesel-engine truck over 200,000 miles. Consumer Reports say that trucks last an average of 200,000 miles, but a truck can easily exceed this with proper care and maintenance.
That means that you can buy a “high mileage” truck and still get another decade of use, as long as you’re doing the right things to keep the vehicle alive for longer.
16 Tips For Buying a High Mileage Truck (What To Look For)
Now it’s time for the good stuff. The following 16 tips will help you as you’re buying a high mileage truck. Some of them are things to look for, and some are just general tips to make sure you don’t end up with a lemon.
1. Know if the Price Is Right
Before you can get started, you need to do some homework. Look for similar trucks. Ideally, a truck that is the same year, make, model, and roughly has the same mileage. After finding enough listings, you should know roughly how much a truck like this should cost.
From there, you can determine if the price is right.
If the seller has their high-mileage truck on the market for way more or less money than you’ve found during your research, something’s wrong. It could have damage that they aren’t disclosing or they’re trying to scam someone into the deal.
This idea comes up a lot whenever I talk about buying a car: don’t forget to do your homework ahead of time. The more research you do, the better your experience will be.
2. Screen the Seller First
Another topic to research is the actual seller. Most of the big car listing platforms have a way to review the seller. You can read what previous buyers have to say about the seller and see what their overall rating is.
Low-rating sellers should be avoided at all costs. There are dealerships that will routinely lie on their listings as a way to get you through their door. After all, getting someone in the lobby is the hardest part of making a sale for a car dealership.
A low rating will tell you that the seller isn’t trustworthy. Screening the written reviews will also give you a better picture of how they do business.
This won’t guarantee that you avoid a bad deal, but it will help prevent it.
If it’s a first-time seller, ask them some questions about how they got the truck, why they’re selling it, and how they came up with a price.
3. Check the Attitude of the Seller
While you’re asking these questions to the seller, take note of how they react. If they’re dodgy, really nervous, or try to rush you through the sale, then take a break.
If the truck is a lemon, then the seller will have an unnatural attitude during the process. They might be dismissive of you and get angry when you ask questions.
Rather than apologizing or backing down, you should leave the situation. If you’re getting a bad feeling about the deal, there’s a good chance that something’s wrong.
This is why the initial screening is so important. Not only do you get meaningful answers that will help you make an informed decision, but you’ll also get a better read on the seller or dealership that posted the pickup truck.
4. Learn The Truck’s History
Thanks to the internet, you have a great resource when it comes to understanding your potential next truck. Running a CarFax report can be done before you even look at the truck in person.
The report will give you important details like how often it went in for maintenance, what has been repaired or replaced over the years, and if the truck was in any noteworthy accidents over the years.
This means that you can learn the truck’s history and scan for any red flags. I always suggest doing this before going to the car lot so you don’t waste a trip.
Also, don’t trust the CarFax that the seller presents. It’s pretty easy to fake the document and scrub all the negative parts of the report. It’s easier just to run the report yourself, so you know you are seeing the full, unedited report.
If you feel comfortable with the seller and the price of the truck, you should schedule a visit to check out the truck. The following points are all about what you should do once you’re on the lot.
5. Look for Rust on the Body
Rust is one of the biggest red flags you can find on a vehicle. If a high-mileage truck is up for sale and it has rust on the body, I’d urge you not to go through with the deal.
Why is it such a big deal? If you see rust on the body of the truck, it could mean that the framework of your truck is corroding. When this happens, holes will form in the metal that keeps your truck together.
Rust is also something that an inspector will look for before deeming your car “street legal”. If a truck has rust on the body to the point where the inspector predicts body damage, they will not pass the truck.
If you want to keep it rust-free, follow my in-depth guide here.
6. Look for Rust on the Undercarriage
Another place where rust can be bad is the undercarriage of your truck. This is where a lot of key mechanical pieces are.
A rusted undercarriage is also an indicator that the truck wasn’t stored properly during its time. You might find other mechanical problems along the way due to this fact.
To find rust here, crawl under the truck and shine your flashlight upwards. Any copper-colored pieces are bad news.
Another thing about rusted parts is that they can be pretty difficult to remove. I know from experience that taking out something as simple as a rusted bolt can turn into an hours-long project that requires special tools and luck.
It’s better to avoid it altogether if you have a choice.
7. Look for Uneven Tire Wear
Take a look at all of the tires. This is easier to do if you can jack up the truck and take a look, but you can get a semi-clear picture with the truck parked in the lot.
What you’re looking for is uneven tire wear. If there’s more tread on one tire compared to the others, or each tire has high and low spots, this is uneven tire wear.
This occurs when there’s misalignment, something’s wrong with the suspension, the tire pressure is too high or low, or the tires weren’t properly rotated during the truck’s life.
With incorrect tire pressure, the fix is pretty easy, but it requires a new set of tires after you buy the truck.
If it’s due to a lack of routine maintenance, this could be an indicator that more maintenance was neglected. Maybe the oil wasn’t changed routinely, and the filters are clogged as well.
In the case of poor suspension or misalignment, this could ruin the deal for you. Both of these are expensive and potentially tedious problems to fix.
8. Check The Kind of Title it Has
If you read my recent article about rebuilt titles then you know that all titles are not the same for a vehicle. This leads to a key consideration before buying a high mileage truck — check the kind of title that it has.
Anything other than a clean or clear title will hurt the resale value. If the truck was previously totaled, rebuilt, or had its odometer illegally rolled back, the listing price should be lower.
The title will also determine how easy it is to insurance on the pickup truck and how risky the sale is. Buying a truck with a rebuilt title carries a lot of risk with it, so be careful.
9. Check for Noises or Oddities During the Test Drive
It’s critical that you take the truck on a test drive before signing any paperwork. This is where you start to understand what condition the truck truly is in.
A truck can look great from the outside, but you don’t know if it’s worth buying until you drive it for a few miles.
Ask everyone in the truck to be quiet, turn off the AC, turn off the radio, and listen for noises. At the same time, check for any vibrations as you turn the wheel, accelerate or brake, or get up to highway speeds.
Hearing a rattling noise isn’t as big of a deal if the seller warns you about it beforehand and tells you what might be causing the issue. It’s a deal-breaker if they didn’t mention it at all because it probably means they’re hiding more.
10. Push Hard on the Gas and Hard on the Brake
Another telling test to do during the test drive revolves around the brake and gas pedals. You should be able to push hard on each of the pedals during the test drive, and there should be no weird smells, noises, vibrations, or failures.
Of course, you should only do this when you have a long road ahead of you and no one around you.
These tests show you how healthy the drivetrain of the truck is. It also helps you understand how much pickup the pickup has.
If the brakes are weak, it’s not the end of the world. You can swap out most of the brake assembly using just a jack, tire iron, and wrench.
This is just another test to show the honesty of the seller. If they never mentioned spongy brakes yet there’s a lot of play when you push hard on the brakes, then their price needs to be renegotiated. Or you could walk away from the deal if you don’t like them lying to you.
11. Bring the Truck to a Trusted Mechanic
I would never buy an older vehicle without taking it to a trusted mechanic, first. As much as I like avoiding the mechanic’s shop, I can’t argue with the fact that they know a lot more than me when it comes to vehicles.
A good mechanic will be able to look over the truck in question and point out every problem. Before going to the seller, call them and ask if they’re okay with you getting a third-party pre-purchase inspection. This is the official name for it.
It’s when you take a vehicle to a mechanic before buying the vehicle. The mechanic will do a deep-dive on the vehicle, find all the issues, and note them for you. Some mechanics will even give a rough price estimate for fixing each of the issues.
From there, you have a few choices. You can back out of the deal if there are massive problems you don’t want to deal with. You can negotiate a lower price if there are minor things wrong. Finally, you can continue with the deal if the mechanic didn’t find any big problems.
If the seller is very resistant to doing this, they’re probably hiding something.
12. Check the Tailpipe When the Truck Starts
It’s a good idea to go around the back of the truck before it starts. If you watch the tailpipe, you’ll learn more about what’s going on under the hood.
In an ideal situation, you won’t see any smoke come from the tailpipe as the truck starts.
If there’s blue smoke, you could have excessive oil burning.
White smoke could mean a head gasket failure since it typically comes from burning anti-freeze.
Black smoke means too much fuel is burning. The fuel-to-air mixture is off, which means something is wrong within the fuel line.
13. Understand the Risks
I should take a second to be perfectly clear here — buying a high-mileage truck can be really risky. The seller could be trying their best to avoid disclosing all the massive problems going on under the hood. They could be trying to trick you into the deal.
The tips I highlighted in this guide won’t completely remove the risks when buying this truck, but they will help minimize your chances of getting into a bad deal.
By understanding the risks, you won’t get hurt as bad by the deal.
14. Remember: High Mileage Is Not a Problem
The risk doesn’t come from the fact that the truck simply has a lot of miles on the odometer. I mention a lot that it isn’t bad to put a lot of miles on your vehicle.
The problem comes from the fact that the truck is probably older, has a long history, and has a higher chance of something being wrong.
Everyone has a reason for selling their vehicle. There’s a good chance that something broke on the high-mileage truck, and the current owner doesn’t think it’s worth it to fix the problem. If this is the case, then an untrustworthy seller might lie and trick their way through the deal, hoping that you don’t catch on.
As you can see, it’s not the mileage here, it’s the seller.
15. You Can Always Negotiate Further
After doing all the tests and checks, you’re allowed to negotiate further. I mentioned it earlier, but during the pre-purchase inspection, your mechanic might give you a list of rough prices for all the fixes they notice.
You can use these line items against the asking price of the buyer. If they didn’t disclose the mechanical issues that amount to $1,500 in repairs, it’s only right that their asking price goes down by that much. After all, you’ll be hit with the repair bill after you purchase the truck.
Since these prices will all be spelled out, the seller might be more willing to work with you.
16. Walk Away from Bad Deals
If you’re seeing too many red flags with the truck, you have every right to walk away. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spent talking to the seller or how far you drove to see the truck.
One Saturday wasted is not nearly as bad as the countless days you could be stranded thanks to buying a lemon of a truck. Trust your gut and don’t go through with the deal if you’re not crazy about it.
These 16 tips should help you get the best possible deal on any high mileage truck you’re considering. Remember, it’s not the mileage that’s a problem, it’s the vehicle itself and the seller. For more car guides, check out the rest of my site. I also have a list of car products that I highly recommend.