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Driving An Old Car: Why Are People Holding Onto Their Aging Vehicles?

By John Stahel - January 16th 2017
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While your automobile, unlike a fine wine or pair of jeans, may not be getting better with age, recent data shows it’s surely holding its own. Drivers today are choosing to hold onto their vehicles longer than ever before. Gone are the days where an odometer reading out 100,000 miles marked the time to “trade up” in the automotive world. IHS Markit, the leading provider of analytics in the automotive industry, reported a slight increase in the average age of light vehicles to 11.6 years. Moreover, these cars are only halfway through their typical life cycle, with several potential owners and many thousands of miles left to go before their scrapyard demise.

The time-tested adage “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to” has taken on a new meaning for car owners. Ever-increasing quality of vehicles allows consumers to keep their cars for longer than ever before. Extended vehicle lifetimes boost confidence in purchasers of new and used autos alike.

Although sturdier cars account for part of the increase in average age, saving money is also a key factor. Let’s be honest, new cars are expensive, and a hefty portion of their value disappears the second you drive it off the lot. Consumer Reports calculates that an average model depreciates 65 percent over five years! It’s no wonder car owners are holding onto their old models when facing deterring devaluation. To make matters worse, higher insurance costs often accompany newer models featuring the latest parts on the market. Instead of bearing the costs of new car ownership, many drivers are restructuring and extending their auto loans given favorable low-interest rates.

The economic downturn has also played a significant role in the aging fleet of cars. IHS’s Mark Seng comments “The recession created an acceleration beyond its traditional rate due to the nearly 40 percent drop in new vehicle sales in 2008-2009. In the last couple of years, however, average age is returning to a more traditional rate of increase.” However, new vehicle registrations in the U.S. have reached 264 million, a record level thanks to the largest annual growth ever seen. How then, you might ask, is the average age of cars increasing? It’s simple, scrapping rates have actually declined since 2012, meaning that car owners are either choosing to hold onto their vehicles or sell them rather than sending them to the junkyard. Perhaps it’s the emotional connection many drivers form with their autos that’s preventing them from buying a new vehicle. Or is it possibly something else? The “new car smell” is merely a concoction of dozens of organic compounds, so maybe drivers are just deciding that the new car feeling is only an air freshener away. Regardless of the reason, if you are considering holding onto your older car, remember that you are not alone.


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