Study: The Days Of Buying New Cars Every Four Years Are Over

July 24, 2012

Not so long ago, it was fairly common to purchase a new vehicle every three or four years. Whether that purchase was spurred by fears of an aging vehicle's reliability or a desire for a sparkly new status symbol in the driveway, folks began getting antsy once their odometers crossed the 50,000-mile mark.

These days, things have changed dramatically -- at least according to a new study from In fact, the vast majority of car owners now say that they plan to keep their vehicle for ten years or longer.

AutoMD's findings

The study was carried out between March and May of this year. During that time, AutoMD conducted online surveys with nearly 4,000 car owners in the U.S.

And when all the data had been crunched, the study organizers were left with some very interesting findings -- findings in keeping with trends that have emerged in the auto industry during the past several years.

Here are the major points:

  • When asked about the "appropriate vehicle lifespan", a whopping 78% of AutoMD's survey respondents said that keeping a car for ten years or more -- or until it dies -- is appropriate. Another 15% said that holding onto a vehicle for eight to ten years is appropriate. Only 4% believed that it was okay to trade in a vehicle after six or seven years, with 3% saying that three to five years is an appropriate lifespan.
  • The majority of survey respondents -- 60% to be exact -- said that their primary vehicle has over 100,000 miles on it, with 23% recording odometer readings of 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Far fewer had vehicles with 40,000 to 60,000 miles (7%). The remaining respondents were split between 20,000 to 40,000 (5%) and under 20,000 miles (5%).
  • Roughly 66% of participants in the study said that they plan to drive their vehicle for over 150,000 miles or until it dies
  • When asked why they plan to keep their vehicles for so long, 47% cited the shaky economy, with another 44% saying that they'll do so because they've been vigilant about getting their vehicles repaired and serviced. Further down the list, 19% said that their car will last longer because it's built better than previous cars.
  • Approximately 69% of respondents said that they relied on independent shops to keep their vehicles humming, while 20% said that they took their cars to a dealer for service and repair. Only 8% said that they took their vehicle to chain shops for maintenance.
  • Despite these stats, about 33% of AutoMD's respondents said that they planned to purchase a new vehicle this year. Most (54%) said that was because their vehicle had reached the end of its lifespan, while another 27% were attracted to new models on the market. Roughly 11% cited better credit availability, and 8% said their purchase was spurred by the improving economy.

Caveats and takeaways

We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that AutoMD is in the business of providing information about automotive repair. While we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the company's findings on this survey, it's in AutoMD's best interest to stress the importance of regular maintenance and repairs, and this study does just that. 

However, AutoMD's findings aren't at all shocking. In fact, earlier this year, Polk revealed that the average age of cars on U.S. roads had hit an all-time high of 10.8 years, which aligns perfectly with AutoMD's data.

Given the average age of vehicles involved in the study, AutoMD's stats on repair preferences are also to be expected. As we learned back in March, owners are much more likely to take their vehicle to a dealer when it's still under warranty. Afterward, independents and chains are the norm. (We were a little surprised to see chain shops perform so poorly here, but that could stem from the way that the question was phrased or other factors.)

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is the one we mentioned at the top of this article: the auto purchasing cycle is lengthening -- and dramatically so. While that may have started in response to the Great Recession, it's been facilitated by today's vehicles, which score better on metrics of initial quality and reliability than many previous models. 

Over time, we may see the purchase cycle wind down again, though we'd be surprised if it ever reached the four-year span that many of us remember from our youth.

What about you? Do these findings match your own feelings about your car and your approach to auto care? Drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.

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