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I was home visiting my parents for the holidays when my mom said, “Why don’t you take my loaner car for a drive? It’s brand new!” She’d taken her old car in for dealership service, and they’d loaned her a brand new 2023 model. The work took longer than expected, and she put 200 miles on that car before they took it back and sold it to someone as “new.” It all made me wonder what’s the highest mileage a “new” car can have on its odometer reading?

Why do new cars have miles on the odometer?

Even when you buy a brand-new car, it will have several miles on its odometer. But isn’t it supposed to be new? The truth is that both the automaker and dealership have tested the vehicle, including driving it. It has also been transported, so it may have rolled onto and off of a truck or boat. Finally, other potential customers might have taken it for a dealership test drive.

Areas in California are some of the cheapest places to buy cars in the country.
A Toyota lot in California | David Paul Morris, Bloomberg via Getty Images

The number of miles you see on the odometer of a “new” car will vary by the automaker and dealership you are buying from. Likely, the automaker zeroed out the odometer before the new car or truck left the factory. But before shipping the vehicle, the automaker may have conducted some tests, including a drive. It may have moved the vehicle to a lot, then left it there until enough cars were complete to transport. If you buy a car that was assembled overseas, it had to drive onto a boat, then off the boat, and onto a truck. That’s all before it arrived at the dealership.

Dealerships conduct a “pre-delivery” test when a new car arrives. This often includes a test drive. Once the new car or truck is on their lot, prospective buyers will ask to take it for a test drive.

This is all by way of saying: don’t expect the odometer reading of your “new” car or truck to be zero. Someone or another has driven it around the block a time or two.

What is a normal new car mileage?

Car and Driver writes that a new car usually has less than 100 miles on it. MotorBiscuit’s resident dealership expert, Joe Santos, says in his days working at a dealership, he never sold a “new” car with more than 25 miles on the odometer.

What mileage is too high for a brand-new car?

Legally? Joe recalls that the state of California told dealers that 1,500 miles is too much for a new car’s odometer reading. Car and Driver says anything under 200 miles is “acceptable.” But what you’ll pay new car prices for is ultimately up to you.

A car salesperson talks to his customers
A car salesperson talks to his customers | via Getty Images

Can you ask about a new car’s odometer reading? Sure thing! Joe reveals, “When I sold cars, there were a few times when a customer wanted me to find the car with the fewest miles on it.” And did he find it? You bet. Joe says, “I think the lowest I found was three miles.”

Honestly, I’m not surprised Joe came through like that. He’s a pretty stand-up guy.

So what do you do if your salesperson isn’t as cool as Joe and offers you a “new” car with dozens–or even hundreds of miles on the clock?

If it looks like some salesperson loaned your “new” car to my mom for a few weeks, you have a right to be miffed. You are always allowed to ask for a different car. If that fails, you can ask about a discount on the “high mileage” new one. The worst they can say is no.

Next, find out why you want to check for open recalls before trading in your old car, or learn more about new car odometer readings in the video below: