Americans are holding onto cars longer, according to federal study

August 24, 2018

This might not be good news for car dealers: Americans appear to be keeping their cars longer than ever. The results of a study released Tuesday by the Federal Highway Administration indicate that the average vehicle age has increased significantly since 2009 to 10.5 years.

Back then, the average age of a vehicle was 9.3 years. The federal agency said that the findings suggest that households are delaying new car purchases.

MORE: Hold your hailing: AAA study finds using ride-sharing apps over twice the annual cost of car ownership

The age gap between cars and light trucks such as SUVs has also narrowed. The average passenger car, such as a sedan or coupe, is 10.3 years old, while the average van is 10.9, the average SUV is 8.5, and the average pickup truck has been on the road for 13.6 years.

The average price of a new vehicle has climbed considerably, too. In July, it hit a new record high—about $36,000, a roughly 2.5 percent increase over the same month last year and well above the $34,000 2016 average. Cars may be more reliable, but they're also more expensive.

The study also noted that "the slowing of vehicle turnover has implications for transportation fuel consumption" since newer cars generally use less gas than older cars.

Not surprisingly, households with lower incomes are more likely to have older cars, but that gap has closed since 2009. The study found that higher income households are holding onto their cars longer now than they were a decade ago.

The 2009 survey was conducted prior to the Car Allowance Rebate System, better known as "Cash for Clunkers," when the government offered incentives for owners of older vehicles to trade in for new cars. The Highway Administration has conducted versions of this survey since 1969. Back then the average car on the road was only about 6 years old.

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