Study: Which Car Models Do Owners Keep for 10 Years or More?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

A few billion years from now the sun will swell up, engulf the Earth with its plasmatic mass, and the only evidence of our existence will be a handful of fully operational Japanese cars from the late 1990s.

You probably don’t even need model names, as you’re already imagining them cruising down the street or parked in a neighbor’s driveway. They’re bland, extremely common cars in perplexingly good condition because someone continues to love them.

Now, a new study has shown which car models owners tend to hold on to for longer than ten years. Researchers from analyzed over 2.5 million vehicles from the 1981-2006 model years sold in 2016. Ten models were over 1.9 times more likely than average to be held onto by the original owner for better than ten years. While I’m positive you could correctly guess the automakers behind those vehicles, I’m unsure whether you could do the same with the model names.

The list includes four brand names you might have expected: Toyota, Lexus, Honda, and Subaru. The percentage of initial owners who kept their new car for more than a decade ranged between 4.0 percent and 32.1 percent.

“The top ten cars that people hold onto are all from Japanese automakers, which isn’t surprising since they have a reputation for reliability. But the makeup of the cars is unexpected,” said Phong Ly, CEO of iSeeCars, in reference to the SUVs and minivans. “These kinds of cars tend to be used as family cars, so they might be expected to be kept for many years if they’re bought just as their owners start their new families.”

Seeing hybrids on the list is also a little surprising, especially considering early concerns about the longevity of batteries. However, the cost benefits of enhanced economy doesn’t begin to take shape until an owner has racked up many miles on the odometer. “For hybrids, the savings from fuel costs accrue only after several years of ownership, so one reason owners may be keeping these vehicles is to offset the higher cost of a hybrid,” Ly said.

Missing from the list were some of North America’s most popular vehicles. Of those, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord stayed with the most owners the longest. The Honda Civic was, unsurprisingly, also above the national average, while Chevrolet’s Silverado 1500 was the only domestic vehicle to do so.

The percentage of initial owners of the other two popular pickups trucks were closer to — or just below — average. This could potentially be attributed to their common role as working vehicles, subjecting them to more abuse in their lifetime. However, it doesn’t explain the Silverado’s slightly superior staying power.

At the bottom of the list was a sea of commonly leased autos and domestic cars popular with fleets. Obviously, these markets don’t have much use for a decade-old vehicle and would have seen those cars change hands at least once already. The Ford Taurus only saw 5.6 percent if its ownership sticking around for the full ten years, while the frequently leased BMW 7 Series topped out at 4 percent.

Japanese brands take up the largest share of cars that owners hold onto for a decade or longer, with Korea trailing behind. GMC was the only American brand to make the top ten, though the percentage of original buyers keeping them was only slightly above average.

[Image: Manoj Prasad/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • DownUnder2014 DownUnder2014 on Dec 17, 2016

    I find the statistics interesting. I wonder what the mix would be here in Australia. Probably Ford/Holden/Toyota/Mazda would make up a decent amount, and so would Mitsubishi as well. A lot of 10+ year old cars seem to come from those 5 brands, which makes sense, seeing as those brands were at the top of the sales charts back then. But for long-term owners, I'm really not sure at all. Probably those 5 aforementioned brands would appear somewhere... At my place, the cars are 3 and 20.5 years old. The 3 year old is a 2014 Prius V. Not sporty or fast but it's practical for what it is and it's relatively fuel efficient. It's an unremarkable car but it works I suppose. It's got 45k (72k km). The 20.5 year old is a 1996 Corolla. The combo of 1.6 4A-FE saddled to a 4-Speed A240 Automatic is never going to win stoplight races but it gets from A to B with a minimum of fuss. It has had regular maintenance throughout it's lifetime but there's a few items needing replacement soon (Engine Mounts). It's not maintenance-free as such, but we just don't see the need for a new car and the cost to keep running isn't yet exorbitant so until it does, it'll stay. Plus it's not worth much anyway. Has 73k (117k km). Both were bought new from dealer.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Dec 17, 2016

    Regular maintenance is a major key to keeping any vehicle a long long time. Most vehicles can last a lot longer than 10 years, but like anything if you abuse them and neglect them then you will not get as many years. There are so many stories on the internet of people who have kept vehicles 20 or more years and quite a few vehicles with 500k to 1 million original miles and these are not just Toyotas and Hondas but GMs, Chryslers, Fords, Mercedes, Volvos, and many other brands. Many of these vehicles have lasted just by doing the routine maintenance that is listed in the owner's manual. If you can resist the temptation to get a new vehicle every 2 to 3 years and stick to a routine maintenance schedule you can have many years of low cost debt free ownership.

    • DownUnder2014 DownUnder2014 on Dec 17, 2016

      I can concur with that. That's the best recipe, especially for longer term car ownership.

  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).