Parents Are Buying Loads of Cars for Their Adult Children

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

It looks as though more parents are increasingly paying for the transportation needs of their (sometimes very old) children.

Thanks largely to abandoning the important job of parenthood, a Bank of America survey a discovered small portion of adults between age 23 and 37 are now able to put away legitimate savings. However, the prevalence of student debt, low-paying jobs, and an increased cost of living has left many to continue scrimping and saving. In fact, most Millennials under 24 had less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, with nearly half having no savings at all. The former was also true for older members of the same generation. On average, it’s presumed that Millennials are earning 20 percent less than their Boomer parents at the same stage in life — despite being better educated, overall.

That’s causing future issues for the automotive industry. When Bankrate surveyed Americans to get their financial priorities on record last month, 23 percent of respondents specified that student-loan debt directly influenced their decision to delay purchasing a new car. Considering both monthly payments are frequently set to the tune of hundreds of dollars, that would make a lot sense.

However, the problem is pinning down how many parents are still footing the bill so their kids can drive. While Automotive News provided heaps of anecdotal evidence, concrete statistics remain elusive. The outlet noted that automakers and other agencies gather demographic data that measures the number of households with children in them in an attempt to keep tabs on who is driving, but nobody keeps track of the ages of those children. But there are metrics that can give us a decent idea of how broad the issue has become.

From Automotive News:

Vehicle purchases and student loans — whether for themselves or their children — are two of the biggest contributors to increasing debt for older Americans. People 60 and up had total debt of $615 billion in 2017, according to TransUnion, which is less than millennials owe on student loans alone.

Americans 60 and older held 21 percent of total automotive balances in 2017, vs. 12 percent in 2010, TransUnion said. Auto loans now account for $246 billion, or 40 percent, of their total debt.

For all Americans, fast-rising student loan debt is sapping income they could have used for other purposes, including a vehicle. More than a quarter of millennials with student loan debt have delayed buying a car because of it, according to a survey by Bankrate.com released in February, with the Midwest as the region most likely to cite loans holding back a vehicle purchase.

Since the recession, used-car purchases from individuals over the age of 55 have consistently increased while the inverse is true for shoppers under 34. Between 2008 and the start of 2018, older buyers went from comprising 20 percent of used-vehicle registrations to just under 35 percent. Meanwhile, those under 34 went from being around 25 percent of the used market to just 16 percent.

While the issue is frequently painted as a signal from younger generations that they’re less interested in owning a vehicle, the truth is a little more complicated. Car ownership has become more expensive and, with less disposable income, younger buyers simply cannot shoulder the burden. According to transaction data from Cox Automotive company Dealertrack, the average monthly payments for a new vehicle has increased to $533 in the last five years. That’s about $40 a month more per loan and $70 more for a lease.

“[Millennials] are far more likely to tell us that owning a vehicle has just become too expensive,” said Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence at Cox Automotive. “We know their financial situations. We know they are plagued with debt.”

However, for most Americans, having a vehicle remains mandatory.

“We live in a country where you have to have a car. Uber is not an affordable alternative. You can’t get an Uber every day to your job,” said Jonathan Banks, general manager of vehicle valuations at J.D. Power. “The majority of our population is still in a [more] rural setting.”

That leaves many Millennials’ comparatively wealthy parents to foot the bill for their transportation needs. Dina Wilson, general manager and finance director of Timbrook Kia in Cumberland, MD, told Automotive News that the prevalence of parent-and-child customers at her store has clearly increased. “I’ve seen a lot more of those than what there ever used to be,” Wilson said. “As finance managers, we all need to be more aware of who our customer is in front of us.”

In the end, it would appear that we have an unusually large portion of the population purchasing used vehicles (rather than new ones) for their adult children who cannot afford to do it themselves. While this is fine as a temporary solution to a particularly bad recession or a period of time where their offspring is unemployed, lackluster incomes and overwhelming debt makes us wonder how many of these people will ever be able to purchase a new vehicle. And what happens to the market when those Boomers finally become too old to help their kids?

[Image: Mikbiz/Shutterstock]

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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  • Danio3834 Danio3834 on Mar 12, 2019

    “[Millennials] are far more likely to tell us that owning a vehicle has just become too expensive,” It's only going to get worse with the dramatic increases in vehicle costs coming due to CAFE 2025 regulatory compliance. Expect demand for used cars to remain very strong.

  • Sigivald Sigivald on Mar 12, 2019

    "it’s presumed that Millennials are earning 20 percent less than their Boomer parents at the same stage in life — despite being better educated, overall." More credentialed. Probably not better educated. Neither an HS diploma nor a Bachelor's degree are fixed in educational value over time, and there's excellent reason to think that on average both indicate far less education than they did 50 years ago.

    • See 1 previous
    • Redgolf Redgolf on Mar 12, 2019

      @Hummer read all about "Operation Varsity Blues" in todays news, how all the rich and famous are cheating and paying big bucks for their children to get into elite schools, it's wealth combined with fraud!

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  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
  • 1995_SC Can you still get some of the tax credits under the new program?
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