If you’re driving a 10-year-old car, don’t feel bad. It turns out that your 10-year-old vehicle is actually younger than more than half the cars on the road today.
Thanks to better parts, more reliable designs, and a serious economic recession since 2009, the average light vehicle is now 11.4 years old, says a new study from research firm R.L. Polk & Co. The study, based on a review of more than 247 million US car and light truck registrations, adds that the average age of today’s vehicles will continue to climb over the next few years.
”This is the oldest vehicles have been since we started tracking it in 1998,” Polk vice president Mark Seng told Design News. “People are clearly hanging onto their vehicles a lot longer today.”
Light duty vehicles have been getting older since 2002, climbing from 9.6 to 11.4 years over an 11-year period, the study said. Over the last few years, the trend toward older cars has been especially noticeable, with the average age jumping from 10.6 to 10.9 between 2010 and 2011, and 10.9 to 11.2 between 2011 and 2012. Polk attributed much of that to the recession, however, as US vehicle sales in those years dropped from 16 million per year to about 10 million.
Seng told Design News that better components and more reliable designs have also been a big contributor to the aging phenomenon. Engines and transmissions have grown more reliable, and vehicle bodies are less prone to rust due to increased use of lightweight plastics. Moreover, electronics have had a surprising effect on reliability, he said.
“For the longest time, everything was tied to maintenance intervals, and consumers had to be trained to have their car checked at a certain number of miles,” Seng told us. “Now, the mechanic can plug the car into a computer and show you the exact failure code. So it’s much easier to convince the consumer that the car needs to be repaired.”
At the moment, the trend appears to be good news for automakers and aftermarket parts suppliers, particularly those who sell to owners of vehicles 12 years old and up. Pent-up demand is creating a bigger market for new cars, with annual US numbers slowly moving back toward the 16 million figure. At the same time, an abundance of 12-year-old vehicles should be good news for aftermarket companies that sell to do-it-yourselfers, who tend to dominate that category.
With or without the recession, however, the trend is clearly tied to product quality, Seng said. “Better maintenance and better parts mean a longer life. It all adds up to a higher-quality vehicle.”