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Vehicles in US older than ever

October 19, 2018
Americans are driving vehicles that average more than 11 years old — an all-time high — and that age could approach 12 by the end of the decade, according to government sources.
Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Household Travel Survey shows that typical vehicles on America’s roads have been getting older since about 1980, when trucks averaged about 6.5 years of age and cars just under 7. Its prior study, in 2009, found that there were far more vehicles younger than 10 years of age on the road than older, but the trend has reversed; as of 2017 data, cars 10 or more years old now outnumber those newer.
Both studies noted fewer 8-year-old vehicles on the road than vehicles aged 9 to 11 years of age. 2017’s study expanded that group to 14 years. Less than a third of the vehicles in use today are 5 years old or newer, while less than 1 percent are 25 years of age or older.
The trend does not exclusively affect poorer buyers, however. While the average age of a vehicle owned by a household making $25,000 annually or less rose from 11.9 years to 13, and the vehicles of those who earn between $25,000 and $49,999 jumped from 10.2 years old to 11.5 years.
Households earning above the $50,000 line that saw the age jump the most, rising an average 1.6 years. The average age declines correspondingly with increasing amounts of income.
Why the increase? One factor is reliability, which generally has increased over time, starting in the 1980s. Another to consider is the rising price of new vehicles, meaning buyers of used cars typically will get better value for their money than those who buy new.