I’ve always known them as “used” cars. But some outfits have been calling them “pre-owned” or even “previously enjoyed.”

I don’t think the terms are synonymous. Just this morning, I heard a family member say, “Who just pre-owned all the toothpaste?”

It didn’t sound right, and no, it wasn’t me.

Obviously such re-branding is an attempt to deflect some of the negative connotations that have traditionally surrounded the used car, and the used car world.

And who hasn’t heard a used-car horror story or two? Or even been the central protagonist on occasion?

The horror has, and can, arise from the car itself and/or from the deal. The used car world has always been attractive to unsavoury characters. Even when used car lots were beyond reproach, they never seemed to put you at ease

Too many flags maybe, or blow-up gorillas, or questionable calendar choices in those trailers they used as offices.

At any rate, that is so behind us now. If fact, in a recent report, the Canadian auto industry analyst, Dennis DesRosiers, notes that a new paradigm is forming in the used vehicle market:

“With higher quality products, consumers are no longer buying someone else’s problems. Used vehicles are an important and growing part of the overall market for light vehicles, with both new vehicle dealers and independent sellers approaching this sector with greater sophistication than ever before.”

He also adds that as governments continue to throw on more and more regulations and effectively shape what the automakers can produce, consumers may only find the vehicles they truly desire, on the used car side.

The sophistication he referred to includes nice, big used car dealerships and/or departments, and their increasing ability to offer financing from the major banks, as well as third-party warranties.

He says used-vehicle quality can be measured simply by how many klicks these modern-era vehicles can pile on before they head to the afterlife.

“In the 1970s the useful life of a vehicle averaged in the range of 170,000 kms… This decade (2000-2009) has witnessed the expected useful life of a vehicle increase to 277,000 kms… As we enter the 2010s, our lifetime mileage forecasts pegs average Canadian vehicles with a service life of roughly 320,000 kms.”

Canada went metric at the start of 1970s, about a decade before we started to see those big gains in vehicle quality and longevity. In those decades, when we were still mpg and mph, the line of death for a vehicle was definitely 100,000 miles.

Once over that line, the value of the vehicle would fall off a cliff, and potential buyers would tend to be restricted to a thin and suspect lot, comprised of those with strong stomachs or severe financial constraints or fetishes for that particular model.

Today, the voodoo death line seems to be at 200,000 kms. Its obvious why that line scares people — it’s a nice round number with lots of zeros.

But considering what happening, to vehicle longevity and the acceptance of the used or “pre-owned” car in our society, that voodoo line is definitely going northward, and soon.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.