Average Age of U.S. Vehicles Hits Record High, Surpasses 12 Years

2009_CR-V_EX-L_102.jpg 2009 Honda CR-V; | Manufacturer image

We often hear that cars aren’t built to last like they used to be, but that’s not the case if we consider the trends around average vehicle age. The latest report from industry consultancy IHS Markit shows the average age of light vehicles in the U.S. has hit a record high, surpassing 12 years for the first time in the decades it’s been tracking the data. The average vehicle age has been climbing for decades thanks to improved reliability and technology, but the new record, 12.1 years, could have more to do with the effects of COVID-19 than vehicle quality. 

Related: Your Car Is So Old …

Vehicle Age Trends

The current average U.S. vehicle age contrasts starkly to just 5.1 years in 1969 or 5.5 years in 1977, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In recent history, average age has increased at a faster rate, gaining approximately one year every half a decade since 2001. 

Average Vehicle Age

  • 2021: 12.1 years
  • 2016: 11.6 years
  • 2011: 10.9 years
  • 2006: 9.9 years 
  • 2001: 8.9 years 

The COVID Effect on Average Vehicle Age

The average age of U.S. light vehicles increased by nearly two months in 2020, mostly as a result of the pandemic. COVID caused new-car sales to drop initially, and it also prompted many owners to keep their vehicles parked instead of putting miles on them as usual. IHS Markit reports total vehicle miles traveled declined year over year by more than 13% due to the shutdown. Surprisingly, vehicle scrappage — the rate of cars exiting operation — saw its highest volume in two decades as more than 15 million cars hit the junkyard, but IHS Market notes that lags in registration renewals, as well as all the vehicles put into storage, likely exaggerated this number. 

Car Owners More Likely to Trade Up This Year

The firm expects the increase in average vehicle age to slow through the rest of 2021 as used-vehicle values skyrocket and car owners choose to sell vehicles previously left in storage. 

“The microchip shortage and subsequent inventory levels for new vehicles have created a situation in which used-vehicle values have gotten extremely high,” said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS Markit. “A vehicle owner who may have kept a vehicle in the garage that they were not using in 2020 now instead may take advantage of the opportunity to either reduce the number of vehicles in their garage, or trade up to something newer while the demand and value is extremely high on their used vehicle.”

Average Vehicle Age: Electric Vs. Gas

Electric vehicles in operation reached nearly 1 million units in 2020, with an average age of 3.9 years. As EVs gain market share, IHS Markit expects the average age of battery-powered cars to increase. A promising sign is that 89% of EVs built between 2016-20 are still registered by their first owner, compared to only 68% of gasoline vehicles for those same model years.  

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Former News Editor Jane Ulitskaya joined the team in 2021, and her areas of focus included researching and reporting on vehicle pricing, inventory and auto finance trends. Email Jane Ulitskaya

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