Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Average Vehicle Now 11.4 Years Old, Oldest Since WW2

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2000 Chevrolet Silverado used car

2000 Chevrolet Silverado used car

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How old is your car?

Are you still driving a mid- or late-Nineties model, or maybe one (like us) from model year 2000?

You're not alone.

The cars on U.S. roads have continued to age, meaning that the average vehicle is now older than at any time since the aftermath of World War 2, when U.S. manufacturing shut down for three years to build armaments.

According to research firm R.L. Polk (via TheCarConnection), the average age of a vehicle on the streets is 11.4 years.

And that's up from a startling 10.8 years old just last year.

Two factors have converged to produce this aging: One is the economic recession, the other increased reliability.

As any muffler-shop owner will tell you, there are still tens of millions of Americans who are keeping their old cars going for purely economic reasons.

"I have to get two more years out of it, so do the brakes, do the muffler, keep it going," is a common refrain, according to a mechanic we know.

But then there's reliablity: Cars are simply better built now than they were 20 years ago, with fewer failures and tougher components that don't wear out as quickly leading to longer on-road lives.

Our experience has been that when components do give up the ghost, it's due as much due to sheer age as to high mileage or overuse.

And that reliability means that cars won't suddenly get younger any time soon.

In a way, putting off those replacements for a few years will have a silver lining: New vehicles of all classes will get increasingly better fuel efficiency, owing to new and tougher corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) regulations put into place for 2012 through 2025.

For example, the average fuel economy of new cars sold in May was 24.8 mpg--a new high. And the numbers will only rise in future years.

Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

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Oh, and that argument about how you're saving energy by not buying a new vehicle?

A 2000 report from the MIT Energy Laboratory, On the Road in 2020: A Lifecycle Analysis of New Automotive Technologies, says that fully three quarters of a vehicle’s total carbon emissions come from the fuel it burns over its lifetime.

A further 19 percent is due to extraction, refining, and transportation of that fuel--and just 6 percent is from the raw materials and manufacturing process.

While more fuel-efficient vehicles may have changed those numbers, if you really want to save energy (if not up-front cash outlay), a new car will use far less energy to run than an equivalent old one.

How old are your cars? What's the oldest vehicle you use regularly (not including antiques or collector cars)?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (39)
  1. My cars are 8 years old and I have decided to stop buying used cars due to the expense of it. I plan on saving many thousands of dollars buying uses, reliable high mileage cars such as Hondas and Toyotas. This strategy shift will save my a great deal of money over the next 10-20 years. Between insurance, taxes and registration alone, I will save quite a bit. Food for thought.

  2. John, I think you meant "new cars" in your first line but your point is clear, of course. I'm a little baffled at why you think Honda or Toyota are more reliable or get better mileage when Honda and Toyota have led the industry in recalls and quality issues three of the last four years, though.

    If you compare mileage for similar vehicles in the same segments, there's zero advantage for Honda or Toyota. I'm not saying any other OEM (American, European or otherwise) is better, either, just that the data does not support what you feel.

    Look at the mileage for a Camry, Accord, Malibu, Fusion, for example and then Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Focus, etc... Where is the advantage? Good choices, I'll agree but where is the advantage you assume?

  3. A 10 year old Honda Civic. You match it up against a 10 year Chevy Cavalier and/or Ford Escape!! I see more Honda Civics 2001-2005 models than anything Detroit churned out.

    My data is from, Consumer Reports and Intellichoice. Where did robok2 obtain his data?

  4. Have you ever seen a terrorist blow up a Chevy and drive away…? No..? Just Toyotas? Isn't it odd how only the Japanese can make a car that wont stop going?

  5. I sold my 2002 Honda Civic EX 4dr with 288,000 miles. It also had body damage passenger side front and rear within 10 minutes. I was shopping at Walmart when my cell phone rang. Before leaving I had put a generic For Sale sign with my cell phone number.

  6. One is 7 years old the other is 9 years old. I need to have the aforementioned discussion with my mechanic.

    But how is this possible. Isn't the SAAR running at 15-16 million cars per year now in the USA. That is near record territory. Shouldn't that be lowering the age of vehicles?

  7. John, good question about the SAAR... I don't claim to know but keep in mind that it's only this year that we're seeing these numbers again after several down years. Perhaps if we have 4-5 consecutive years of sales at or higher than that it would lower the overall number.

    If there are 200 million cars on the road (too lazy to look up what the real quantity is) already, we'd need a few years for even lots of new cars to really affect the average age. But again, just a quick guess and not based on any data or deep thought...

    We have a 2013 Prius and 2012 Volt but before my wife bought the Prius last year we had a 2003 Mini Cooper, so we've already upgraded once like many others have done or will be doing.

  8. Cash for Clunkers too. 15 to 16 million vehicles, 2012 and 2013 model years,the post Recession years were much lower around 10.4 million

  9. @Kenneth: Good point. Enormous numbers of highly inefficient early Ford Explorers were taken off the roads during 2009 through that program.

  10. We have a 2002 F-350 Power Stroke dually(for hauling our equipment), a 2003 Odyssey for space and a 2011 Acura TSX 2.4 Tech Sedan for long distance travel and economy.
    Plan on running well-maintained truck and Ody until they drop!
    Rotating out TSX's position every 3 years or so. Looking @ 2013/14 Jetta TDI Sport Wagon for its replacement.

  11. My daughter is now driving the Honda Odyssey that we purchased new when she was first born now 17 years ago. She loves "her" first car which is fine with us. We hope it will get her through college. It's still running great.

  12. "just 6 percent is from the raw materials and manufacturing process."
    We need to trumpet this far and wide. So many "environmentalists" espouse the sin of buying new cars when in fact it only takes a modest improvement in efficiency to offset the manufacturing emissions. And if you buy an electric, there is no contest whatsoever.

  13. So, at what mileage and year, should the car be switched over and to what kind of electric car?

  14. At mile 1. Sell that car and buy an EV. Someone else will drive it. This argument is completely illogical.

  15. I don't think I need to waste my time with you. GCR has covered this topic multiple times in the last few years with various links. Study after study has shown that your emission has a lot to do with your source of electricity.

    If your source is truly 100% coal like you said, then you are NOT better than a Prius in terms of emission. To think otherwise, you are just getting silly..

  16. No, I understand how my local power plant works. When you charge the car, you charge it at night, during off peak demand, when the coal is burned and wasted. Any electric car where I live will be using wasted energy, unless charged during peak (day) hours. Yes, I will have to charge it during the day in Athens when I start going there, but at least it wont be peak load yet and it only accounts for half the charge. The Leaf is by far much cleaner than the Prius.

    You did not even refute my arguement, it doesn't matter when you buy a new car, because if you are normal, you sell it, give it away, or still use it. That car will still be used, someone has to buy a new car somewhere along the line, so buy a fuel efficient one and sell the guzzle

  17. The very first result on a google search, PROVING my point:

    Keep driving your silly PHEV claiming it is magically greener than a Leaf, which is illogical.

  18. Your local power is what? Georgia Power, Southern company? A big coal based power generator?

    Sure, wasted energy. I am sure people won't need power when those hot nights are around that A/C aren't used over there..

  19. This is the second year in a row I am getting a new car. It is so stupid when people say "New car manufacturing emissions". NO. You SELL your old car. It makes no sense! Someone has to buy a new car at some point, buy a fuel efficient one so more are on the road. I am buying a NEW Leaf just to put another one on the road, otherwise I would go for a used one. Someone will drive them, it depends on how much it sells for.

  20. Good point Randy, it's not as if you're just chunking your car to the curb. Hopefully your used car can also be an upgrade for someone else and 2 people can benefit from your purchase.

  21. Exactly, that person gets 40 MPG because I got a fuel efficient Versa last year.

  22. Well, you would have "saved" more by buying an used Leaf...

  23. The author of this article is seriously confused. When we do the math, it is easy to argue that the longevity of a vehicle can be 5 times more significant than the mpg rating when considering environmental impact and sustainability ... and sustainability trumps virtually all other variables under the "Green" mantra.

    We salute and celebrate the old cars and trucks we encounter. Our business model calls for all vehicles to run for 500,000 miles and the way to achieve these numbers is to run biodiesel blends in diesel powered vehicles.

    Biodiesel from 2nd generation feedstock is the only economically viable, environmentally friendly, scalable and truly sustainable solution we have to replace petroleum.

    Join the Migration -

  24. Question Steve,

    Don't older cars and trucks generally have more emissions than newer vehicles? Even if they are properly tuned up (which is often not the case), aren't they pumping out more pollution than many newer and cleaner vehicles?

    I'm all for reusing but if the older product is less efficient and more polluting maybe it's time to recycle that vehicle and get a cleaner and more efficient one. But that is my thought. Thanks.

  25. Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the silent electric motor of the Nissan Leaf that literally pays for itself and requires no maintenance that happens to run on wasted off peak power from the local power plant, what was that?

  26. @Steve: First, nice plug for your own site and your "business model", LOL.

    Second, if you actually read the report linked to in the text, it *directly* contradicts your assertion that the "environmental impact and sustainability" depends more on its manufacture than its use.

    Which is to say, if a new vehicle produces significantly lower carbon emissions per mile over its lifetime than your ideal of an ancient truck running on biodiesel, it WILL be greener.

    So how exactly is that "seriously confused"?

  27. Here is an article I wrote on longevity of vehicles. I believe it has the proper perspective for environmentalists.

  28. Your firm does offer a "clean" solution for existing vehicles, but there are far more efficient uses for land. Using the same land to place solar panels or a CSP will yield much more energy. Because electric motors are also far more efficient than any ICE (benzine or diesel) you get far more miles per sunbeam / square mile. And locally (where the cars drive) the environment will be far better off as well. Diesel, even bio, still pumps out soot and nitrogen oxides, one of the main causes for smog, asthma and lung cancers. And of course there is the benefit of reduced noise, better comfort, better performance etc. Of course for certain long haul fleets electric is not an option yet, so I'm sure your firm has plenty to offer in the transition


  30. one 1999 suburban k1500 with 105,358 miles. Only changed oil, fan belt, new brake pads, two new oxygen sensors, tires and battery. gets 15-17 mpg and has a 42 gal fuel tank.

  31. Currently driving a 1987 Mazda B2000 with almost 274,000 miles on it. Bought it in 1996, and it's my sole vehicle (also my first vehicle). Great, still dependable truck. I'm looking forward to a new car in a couple of years. I'm glad I've waited, as the recent increase in the CAFE standard was sorely needed after being neglected for too long. Since I plan on driving my next car for 20 years, fuel efficiency will be of primary importance, mainly due to my concern with the environmental impact of the petroleum industry and global warming. Furthermore, what will the price of gasoline be 20 years from now?

  32. Good reminder about the CAFE standards. I was furious when Clinton "negotiated" with Detroit that the government would not force them to improve but leave it up the them. This failure to regulate one of the biggest sources of pollution set the US back two decades as compared with car producing countries with a sane energy policy.

  33. 1989 BMW 520i - Yes, a 24 yo car. It's embarrassing that "new" cars aren't that much better

    CO2 240 g/km

    CITY17.3 mpg
    HIGHWAY31.4 mpg
    COMBINED23.3 mpg

  34. Yeah, just compared the gas mileage of a 2013 Toyota Tacoma with my 1987 Mazda B2000 at Not much better.

  35. My fully electric Renault Zoe is about 1 month old, being powered by providers that only use windmill and solar (still saving for my own solar). I sold my previous Prius with 190.000 km to a person that sold his guzzling Saab and wanted to run cleaner. Even though the Zoe is new I calculated that in the end it's still cheaper than keeping the Prius because of savings at the pump (in the Netherlands I'd spent about 3 times as much money on fuel for the Prius than on electricity for the Zoe), a bit on maintenance and on road tax exemption for the next few years (no subsidies at all for private owners unfortunately). So for me, here in Europe, it is already more economical than driving a used ICE. And for everybody, it's cleaner.

  36. Driving a 1999 VW Passat. Thinking about replacing it with a PHEV or pure EV as the VAST majority of my driving is of distances less than 30 mi per day ( I have kept a daily log of miles drivin for the last 9 months). I am however, torn. I am currently getting 30-32 mpg overall and will get 34-35 hwy. Hard to beat that AND justify spending 30K.

  37. I have considered your position similar to mine. I have checked on prices of used Prius and Leaf cars. Many are available with 50,000 or less. My '08 Mariner SUV is a hybrid and it was purchased used for less than market value since resale demand is low. Take advantage of that in negotiating prices. No need for a new one. The PHEV technology is early. These cars need better batteries and software to be practical unless you drive a lot each year. I am saving over $1,000 in fuel per year compared to prior vehicle. I am also waiting. Good luck.

  38. 2001 Audi TT Roadster. Going strong. Just got new rear LED lights, new seats/shoulder harness. 34.8 MPG highway on recent 1,200 mile road trip, RT 66, Illinois.

  39. I have a 1991 nissan maxima trying to keep it for a bit longer trying to pass emissions in Spokane wa is not easy would like to get a better fuel efficiency car but also I'm in the market for something that seets 7 thinking a mini van possible a small Suv considering they don't make wagons with 7 seats anymore model suitable would be ideal but it's way out of my price range

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