It’s long been well-established that people value low-mileage cars; this is one of the first lessons to learn as you become interested in cars. As my own passion for BMW developed, I scoured classifieds, and naturally discovered the long-held relationship between value and mileage. Initially, this made sense: Low-mileage cars are in better condition, and often better maintained—or so I assumed.
But what do we value most in cars? Is mileage alone a fair representation of value?
I find myself pulled toward the higher-mileage examples of different makes or models, cars with a story—cars with history.
Growing up, in school, history was always my favorite subject. I enjoyed learning everything about anything old. Then it was people: Ben Franklin, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass. Hearing about a life’s story always fascinated me, and the same idea holds true for cars. I’ve always found pleasure in uncovering the history of BMWs I’ve found on the Internet.
In the case of my E46 Touring (about which I’ve written extensively for BimmerLife), I am one of nine different owners who have enjoyed the wagon over its 21 years of existence. Between Maine and Florida, the car has more stories written in its leather than cracks in the plastics. But while looking for my car, and throughout my ownership, I tried to track down the old owners, to hear from them about how they enjoyed my old long-roof.
By pure happenstance I came across one of the Touring’s previous owners in the “E46 M3 Touring” owners group on Facebook (my car is not an M3-powered car… yet). He gave me the entire story of his time with the car, how he bought it because of its unique modifications by previous owners. For him, it was the perfect Florida car for weekend runs. To this day, we continue to stay in touch and send each other classified links and stories. This is an experience I would have never had with, say, a delivery-mileage E36 M3.
To me, there is no fun in owning a classic car that’s still “brand-new.” A car like that must be preserved, never to be driven in hopes of retaining its value; no stories will be shared of “one time we did this” or of close calls on mountain roads. To me, a well-loved, occasionally-tracked, somewhat-beat-on, tinkered-with E36 M3 would be much more interesting to own—a car much like the Michelin E36 M3 LTW test vehicle that I had the opportunity to photograph at BMW CCA Oktoberfest last year (and pictured here).
The thought of guiltless enjoyment, and plenty of undiscovered history, is far more exciting than staring at shiny paint or periodically rotating the tires before they develop flat spots.
What if our thinking about vehicle value was actually the other way around? What if we thought about automotive value in terms of a car’s life and in its stories? This ethos is true in motorsport, with championship-winning touring cars or vintage Italian race cars: More wins means a higher price. It’s also true in the high-end auction world, where provenance is king. The world would be a much more interesting place if 400,000-mile E39 M5s fetched a premium over 40,000-mile examples.
So go drive your car and enjoy it as the engineers in Munich intended. Pile on the miles and pile on the stories, because at the end of the day, mileage is just a number.—Tucker Beatty
[Photos courtesy Tucker Beatty.]