COAL: 2005 Acura TSX – The Low Spark of High Mileage Cars

They say that history repeats itself, if you wait long enough. Well my oldest son Josh is now a licensed driver, and is about as far along in his life journey as I was in the first or second entry of this COAL series. Maybe in another 25 years he will be writing his own COAL about this car.

I’ve already written about my early adventures in car shopping for Josh, where I went out tire kicking and ended up coming back with an Audi TT Roadster. Since that turned out so well, I decided to go back to the well at KDK Auto Brokers last summer when the time came to get Josh’s car for real.

My budget was about $7500, but from prior experience I knew that just about any used car in that price range would require several thousand dollars of work, my real budget was about $5000.

Josh was pretty specific in that he wanted a sedan: No SUVs (I raised him well). No Kias or Hyundais (I swear, sometimes it’s like I’m looking in a mirror). No penalty boxes like a Chevy Cobalt or a Ford Fiesta (yes, before you comment below, I know that neither of these cars are really penalty boxes, and I rather like the Fiesta myself). And while Josh would have really preferred a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi, I knew from previous experience that a German car in that price range would be a maintenance nightmare. Not on my dime.

No, I decided I would feed once again at the trough that had treated me so well before: Honda and Acura. After owning three Acuras and two Hondas, I’ve probably owned more products from Honda Motor Company over the years than any other manufacturer.

I soon zeroed in on a 2005 Acura TSX for $5,000. Although the 197,000 miles was definitely on the high side, it had a clean CarFAX with no accidents, and most of the mileage coming from a single owner.

High mileage cars represent an interesting dilemma, and there are lots of opinions on them that I’m sure will be expressed in the comment section below. But is boils down to this: The essential tradeoff one makes when purchasing an ultra high mileage car is reduced price for increased risk.

I like to think it is possible to hedge ones bet if you are smart, by getting the price benefits of a high mileage car, while somewhat reducing the risk. You may not be able to have your cake and eat it too, but you can at least take a few nibbles. And in the age of CarFAX, it is easier than ever to make an informed gamble on a high mileage car.

So allow me to present my rules for purchasing high mileage cars:

  1. Pick a car with a reputation for reliability and durability. This is important for buying any car, but it is doubly so for a high-mileage example. Do you think that trouble-prone VW DSG transmission is going to be any less trouble prone with 200K miles on it?
  2. Pick a car that is inexpensive to repair. This is a corollary to #1 above. High mileage cars are going to need repairs. Period. The Domestics still rule in this arena in terms of being cheapest to fix, but Japanese and Koreans are pretty close in this regard. Anything else I would stay away from.
  3. Look for long periods of ownership on the CarFAX – Especially by the original owner. This is one area where car buyers are more responsible than lessees. An owner who plans on keeping a car for many years and miles has a vested interest in keeping it running, and has likely taken very good care of it. Leaders are more like renters. While there are some that take good care of their leased cars (I like to put myself in that category), we’ve all heard the stories about cars being turned in off lease with the same oil filter they left the factory with.
  4. Highway miles are easier than city miles. Take two identical cars with 200K miles. One is 10 years old, and has gone 20,000 miles per year. The other is 15 years old, averaging 13,333 miles per year. The car traveling 20,000 miles per year has likely had an easier life than the one going 13,000. Why is this? To achieve high annual mileage figures, you almost certainly have to do most of your driving on the highway, which involved hours on end rolling at the same speed on relatively smooth freeways. This is easier on the brakes, transmission, and engine than 13,000 miles per year of urban stop and go driving over pothole cratered city streets.

 

Author, teaching Josh how to wash his car

 

So armed with this insight, I test drove the Acura. While it was loaded with lots of power accessories, they all still seemed to work. The leather interior was still fully intact, and quite frankly it looked like it had only half the miles as the rest of the car.

The cratered front end, by contrast, betrayed the true mileage of the car. Beyond that, the paint was still shiny. The headlights were cloudy, but that was easy enough to fix.

A year in, repairs have been of the minor variety: Oxygen sensor, Serpantine belt, fluids and tires. I added a Bluetooth adapter to the factory head unit.

While it is still too early to know for sure if my gamble paid off, Josh has been driving the TSX for almost a year now, and it has never left him stranded.

Josh is largely satisfied with the TSX, but in true Halter fashion, he’s already dreaming about his next ride. He’s dreaming big (370Z or Boxter), but I’ll let him have his dream for now: I’ll leave it to the cold reality of auto insurance to bring him back to earth.

But we all need to dream, as dreams can drive and motivate us. Some dreams, like my 1970 Lincoln, can take an entire lifetime to realize. What will be Josh’s car of a lifetime?