DETROIT, MI (07.31.2015) – While new car sales may be stronger than they have been in nearly a decade, most American motorists are riding around in vehicles that are older than ever.
The typical vehicle on U.S. roads is now 11.5 years old, according to a study by IHS Automotive, an all-time high. And that means that millions of those vehicles have now been in operation for more than two decades.
“As long as we have tracked average age, it has gradually risen over time due to the increasing quality of automobiles,” said Mark Seng, global aftermarket practice leader at IHS Automotive.
Vehicles are not only coming out of the factory with fewer problems, according to industry studies, but are experiencing fewer problems over the years, allowing motorists to keep them running longer.
But there are other factors that have contributed to the aging of America’s automotive fleet. During the depths of the recession, millions of car buyers postponed their purchases. So, “For the five to six years following the recession,” explained Seng, “average age increased about five times its traditional rate.”
More recently, the trendline has begin returning to normal as U.S. new car sales have jumped to an annualized rate of 17 million so far this year.
The number of registered passenger vehicles – cars, trucks and crossover combined – rose to 257.9 million, IHS noted. Of that population, 44 million have been on the road 16 to 24 years, up from 26 million in 2002. Meanwhile, another 14 million have been on the road since at least 1995, up from 8 million in 2002.
A total of 81 million vehicles are six to 11 years old.
According to an IHS summary of the new study, the consulting firm “forecasts that average age is likely to hit 11.6 years in 2016 but not reach 11.7 until 2018. The rate of growth is slowing as compared to 2008-2013 due to the recovery in new vehicle sales.”
Demand for used cars has been robust in recent years, and prices hit record numbers coming out of the recession. On average, industry observers estimate American motorists buy at least three “previously owned” vehicles for every new one.