Ask the expert: Is buying a very low-mileage car a good or bad thing?

Alex Robbins is contributing editor at Telegraph Cars where, as well as responding to readers’ queries, he also contributes reviews of new and used cars, together with articles on buying and selling. 

His knowledge of the used car market informs his many buying guides relating to the best buys in particular sectors, with an emphasis on value for money.  Every week he will answer your questions on buying and selling, as well as solving your car problems, whether consumer or mechanical.

Do you have a motoring dilemma you’d like our expert to solve?  For consumer and used car advice, or car faults, email and include your subscriber number. This week’s question…

Dear Alex, 

I am thinking of buying a 16-year-old VW Golf 1.6 TDI automatic. It is in immaculate condition and low mileage as it has only been used for a month each year since new; it has not left the garage for three years. Any idea what such a car might be worth? Can you offer any other advice? 

– BW

Dear BW,

This is one of those examples that proves a low mileage is not always a good thing. On the face of it, the Golf you’re thinking of buying is a delightful used car, with very little wear and tear and, therefore, in as-new condition. 

The trouble is, cars like to be driven. Regular use ensures, for example, that rubber hoses don’t perish; that oil flows around the engine continuously; that metal parts don’t seize up; that air-conditioning components remain lubricated – and so on.

So while a low mileage is generally good, sometimes it can be detrimental to a car’s health. I suspect that to be the case in this instance. 

The main problem is the usage pattern. This car has gone through at least 13 cycles of sitting left unused for months on end, only to be started and driven for a month. Hopefully an oil and filter change was carried out each time but, if not, the car will have been used with old, sludgy oil running around its oilways – not a good thing for the engine or the turbocharger.

Even if an oil and filter change has been carried out, the car’s components won’t have benefitted from being left unused for so long then pressed into service repeatedly. And that wear will only have been compounded by the last three years, during which the car hasn’t been used at all. 

This alone will require a fairly comprehensive reconditioning, which will likely mean replacement of brake and suspension components, four new tyres, possibly a couple of coolant hoses and, of course, a full service, as well as brake fluid and coolant changes (and I’d throw in a gearbox oil change for good measure).

Then, of course, there are potential issues with the diesel particulate filter (DPF). These exhaust-cleaning devices and low mileages don’t tend to mix, so unless the car’s previous owner did some serious motorway mileage to purge the DPF during the few weeks it was on the road, there’s a chance the DPF might not be at its best, and may need expensive work down the line. 

In other words, unless you can purchase this Golf extremely cheaply (far less than the £7,000-odd similar examples are currently on the market for), you’ll probably be better off buying a higher-mileage example that’s been used more regularly.

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