Average Age of Cars in U.S. Jumps to Record High of 11.4 Years

Just the Facts:
  • The average age of cars and light trucks on the road in the U.S. has reached a record high average of 11.4 years, according to Polk.
  • Average vehicle age increased from 9.6 years in 2002 and 11.2 years in 2012.
  • Polk predicts the trend will continue at least through 2018.

SOUTHFIELD, Michigan — The average age of cars and light trucks on the road in the U.S. has reached a record high of 11.4 years, according to a recent analysis by automotive market research firm Polk.

The data is based on a review of 247 million cars and light trucks registered as of January 2013.

The findings continue an upward trend that Polk's researchers have tracked for more than a decade. In 2002 the average age of vehicles registered in the U.S. was 9.6 years, and that figured climbed steadily through 2012 when it reached 11.2 years.

There are a couple logical reasons for the increase in average vehicle ages. One would certainly be financial, a result of the economic downturn that began in 2008. Although the worst of it seems to be over, the recession left many consumers gun-shy about taking on loans to make large purchases.

Another likely factor is improved vehicle quality. According the 2013 J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, the reliability of cars registered in the U.S. improved by 5 percent over the previous year and reached its highest level since the study began in 1989. With fewer problems, car owners simply don't feel the need to replace their vehicles so often.

The increase in average age bodes well for aftermarket parts suppliers, used-car dealers, and maintenance facilities.

In a statement, Mark Seng, vice president of Polk's aftermarket practice, said: "Customers from independent and chain repair shops should be paying close attention to their business plans and making concerted efforts to retain business among the do-it-for-me (DIFM) audience, while retailers have a unique and growing opportunity with potential consumers wrenching on their own vehicles."

As for the future, Polk has used a newly developed forecast to predict some trends. The company expects the age of cars registered in the U.S. to continue to increase, with vehicles 12 years of age or older climbing 11.6 percent by 2018.

And don't be surprised if the roads seem more crowded in the future. Polk anticipates that the recent growth in new-vehicle sales will result in an overall increase in registrations over the next five years, surging to a total of 260 million by 2018.

Edmunds says: What is left unsaid is that there is a tremendous amount of pent-up demand among auto consumers.

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