We have a torrid love affair with our automobile and our relationship with that hunk (of metal) has flourished over the past twenty years. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Federal Highway Administration, the average age of a passenger car in 2014 was 11.4 years, compared to 8.4 years in 1995. The number has risen progressively since 1969 when we changed partners about every 5 1/2 years. This long-term relationship is also about the same for light trucks.
These numbers become more interesting when we consider the number of cars operating on the road in 2012 reached almost 253 million, the highest number in almost ten years! Of that number, 14 million cars were 25 years or older! Nathan Bomey, an auto writer for USA Today, predicts that the number of vehicles 12 or more years old will rise by 15% over the next five years.
Despite this longevity of our vehicles, new car sales continue to soar. Some 17 million light vehicles were sold in the U.S. during 2015 and this number tops the prior year by over a million! Part of the reason is over half of the families have more than one car. This number, however, is declining with alternative transportation such as the advent of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber. Rental options are also a popular alternative to ownership.
There are many reasons why our cars last longer. Certainly the quality has dramatically improved. Bob Weber, a certified Master Automobile Technician and auto writer says, “Today’s cars are built to last as long as 250,000 miles or more with simple routine care.” To achieve this longevity, however, the owner must perform oil changes, and replace brake pads, timing belts, water pumps, wipers and tires. By comparison, the average life expectancy of a 1930s new car was about 6 years.
Today’s automakers make few appearance or styling changes. It is nearly impossible to tell a five-year old Ford from a later model Camry. Radical colors and two-tones are rare. Our eyes have become accustomed to the neutral grays, whites, blacks and earth tones that blend imperceptibly together. Tires are all black and chrome has virtually disappeared.
Cost is a huge factor. Some 84% of folks bought their cars on credit and rang up auto loans of $886 billion in 2014, according to the credit agency Experian. Americans financed 84% of their purchases with the average loan of $28,381.
All are good reasons to keep a paid off “old clunker” chugging a little longer!