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Average Car In America Is Now 11.4 Years Old

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In 2012, research firm R.L. Polk announced that the average vehicle in the U.S. was a whopping 10.8 years old. That marked an all-time high, but Polk says the record has been broken again, with the figure now standing at 11.4 years.

Think about that for a moment: the average car in America was built during the Enron era. It rolled off the assembly line when Nickelback was vaguely relevant. For better or worse, most of our cars could remember Maid in Manhattan. Yeesh. 

To gather its data, Polk looked at registrations for the 247 million vehicles roaming U.S. roads. The age of vehicles has been climbing steadily for years, beginning in 1997, when cars averaged a much-younger 8.4 years. 

What's interesting is that, according to AutoNews, the number of cars, trucks, and SUVs in the six- to 11-year-old range has fallen a bit. However, that's more than balanced out by vehicles over 12 years old -- a group that's grown by 20 percent.


There are two big reasons for the increasing age of U.S. automobiles:

1. The Great Recession: The financial crash is long over, but it was strong enough and severe enough to make consumers nervous about taking on debt. Between then-skyrocketing unemployment and a stock market in free-fall, many Americans became deeply concerned about their future financial stability. Not surprisingly, consumers often decided to maintain their current rides rather than shelling out for new ones. Those fears still linger. 

2. Improving build quality: As J.D. Power's most recent Initial Quality Study shows, the build quality on most cars is fine these days. In fact, it's more than fine, it's great. As with our personal health, our vehicles can run for much longer than they used to, provided we maintain them properly.

As for what the future holds, Polk has a couple of interesting predictions:

  • The age of cars on U.S. roads will continue to increase. Because our vehicles are so well-built, Polk expects the number of cars, trucks, and SUVs 12 years of age and older to jump 11.6 percent by 2018. (There's one caveat, though: the number of vehicles between six and 11 years old will shrink, due to the auto sales slump that abated in 2011.)
  • Younger cars will begin flooding the market. It's no secret that auto sales are booming nowadays. Because of that, the number of vehicles five years of age and younger should jump 41 percent by the year 2018.

For you, the consumer, this means that you'll have considerably more options when shopping for used cars, since so many vehicles will remain in circulation. As always, though, you'll want to have a mechanic inspect any used vehicle to make sure you're not buying a lemon.

That said, today's cars are increasingly fuel-efficient (thanks in large part to federal regulations), and gas is getting pricier (due to a range of factors, including the cost of drilling, geopolitical concerns, and fear-mongering analysts). Yes, down the line, you'll have the opportunity to purchase a wide range of used vehicles, but folks interested in fuel efficiency will likely -- though not always -- gravitate toward newer models.

How old is your vehicle? How much longer are you planning to keep it? And what's your most important criteria for your next car? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  


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Comments (5)
  1. The family workhorse is a 2006 Honda Odyssey that has "only" 115,000 miles so far. Maintenance has been by the book, with brakes and tires each replaced twice. repairs have been minor and few: a knock sensor, a few worn front suspension joints, and two (pricy) light bulbs in the AC control head have been replaced. Nearly eight years old, every system in the vehicle functions like new, and it remains rust free. After completing some maintenance work recently, a local Honda dealer offered 40% of the original MSRP in trade toward a new one. Seems that there are a lot of young families looking for used minivans these days! For the record, our 2nd car is a 2013 Honda Accord V6 we plan to keep for at least ten years. Why mess with success?

  2. As of today: 13, 14 & 15 yrs old.
    1998 Toyota Camry - Just barely hit 100K, but is on it's last legs - wasn't taken care of by the variety of people that owned it before us. but just passed inspection
    1999 Honda Accord (185K) - runs great! (same mileage & age as the Civic it replaced)
    2000 Mazda MPV (170K) - runs great, but $1500 to replace things in the dash that won't pass inspection this month) additional electrical issues with the MPV made us decide to use it as a trade-in for a new Subaru Forester. Hope to get it tomorrow - and keep it for 13-15 years.

  3. Our cars are a 2004 Volvo XC90 and a 2013 Mini Countryman S. We had a 2009 Mini Cooper S that was going fine, but was a little too small, but a great car to drive and gave us no problems. We thought about replacing the Volvo, but it has been such a great car that it was foolish to get rid of it. The Mini's replaced a Volvo 1996 960 with 178000 miles and really running fine. We expect to add a third car as a toy and keep the others as long as we can. As was noted, they are really well built and functional.

  4. We have a 2003 Honda CR-V purchased in late Oct. 2002/built early Sept. 2002 (making it 11 yrs. old this Sept.) with just under 96,000 miles on it. It gets regular oil changes at 5000 miles. It still has it's original spark plugs, hoses, all bulbs (headlight and others) and all it's as built mechanical components (engine parts). It has no rust, no damage and is garage parked every night. Our local Honda dealer wants it SO bad. They have offered to buy it the last 3 times we've had it in for service. The salesman we deal with has said to us "isn't it time for a new CR-V?" It's paid for, run well, good gas mileage and we are completely satisfied. As has been said by others why mess with success. Or as I say.....If it ain't broke don't fix it.

  5. If a car is maintained and cared for, then there really isn't much need to replace it, so long as it is reliable and gets the job done!

    - First Choice Wheels and Tires

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