Understanding your Mileage

When I first started researching new cars, we looked into leasing and buying. One of the things that we needed to know was what our average mileage was. Looking at my old car was tough. It went through a few years of a long daily commute, then slowed considerably when I had my babies and stayed home, and as my kids have gotten more involved it's gone way up again, but it was hard to figure out a number. All the dealerships and car buying sites out there claimed that 12,000 miles a year was average, 15,000 would be considered high.

By that logic, my ten year old car should have had 120,000 miles on it. It had over 200,000. So clearly, I'm way above average according to those figures. However, when I dug a little deeper, it seems that the number is outdated. Both by anecdotal research ("Hey, you got your new car about a year ago right? How many miles do you have?") and insurance sites (actuaries make it their business to know EVERYTHING), it seems like the new average is actually at an all time high, and that goes for all locations, economic status, and genders.

And for drivers between 35 and 50, the AVERAGE mileage is now much closer to 20,000 miles a year. What drives the national average down are seniors over 65 (still under 10,000) and teens (also under 10,000). 

Why does this matter? When it comes to lease terms and maintenance, Americans who think themselves average (after all, they aren't all that different from many of their peers) need to look deeper and decide what that means for how they buy and maintain cars. For instance, we decided not to even look into leasing a car. We figured out that just by driving my kids to their activities in our own town every day, I could easily clock 40-50 miles (10-12 miles one way for each). That's 250 miles a week assuming I don't have to drive anywhere else, and without ever leaving my own town or running errands, I'm at 1000 miles a month. In fact, I got my new car 3 months ago and I'm at 6000 miles already. Since I've had the new car, we tend to take my car on any longer trips (it's new after all!), and suddenly I'm doubling the average. I talked with our dealer about this, and he admitted that this is the new normal, and they're advising any buyers looking at leases and even warranties to make sure they have done a calculation and do understand exactly how much they drive, to make sure they're making smart choices.

Overall, the smart thing to do in many respects is to keep an eye on your mileage and take steps to lower it. Carpool, combine errands, and take turns driving those long trips. But even more important than that is to make sure you're keeping your car well maintained, and knowing how much you drive is important information. Track your mileage for a week, and multiply by 52, then a month, and multiply by 12, and see how you're tracking. Information is power.

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