Epidemic of Aging: Demographic Crisis Hits Nation's Driveways

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
epidemic of aging demographic crisis hits nations driveways

Never mind 2020. In the previous decade, Americans purchased more new cars per year than ever before. Roaring out of the recession, U.S. sales volumes ticked upwards year after year, settling above the 17 million marker and staying there for quite some time. Even last year’s haul defied expectations, landing north of that hallowed marker.

It didn’t reverse the increasingly geriatric nature of the country’s fleet, however. American automobiles, on average, have never been older, and they’re now poised to jump rapidly in age.

That’s the conclusion made by IHS Markit, which analyzed ownership data and revealed that the average car plying America’s roadways is 11.9 years old. Remember when the average age ticked above 11? It wasn’t long ago.

The analytics firm claims that one in four cars is now more than 16 years old, which is a testament to the rising quality of modern-day automobiles. Back in the ’90s, one-quarter of cars parked at the grocery store were not Ford Mavericks and Chevy Vegas. Nowadays, that beige 2002 Corolla is still ubiquitous.

As the new-car market cooled off just prior to the pandemic’s arrival, the country’s fleet-wide age was already poised to climb. COVID-19 ensured that scrappage rates declined even further, as buyers, increasingly worried about their financial future (or already laid off) kept what they had.

“At the start of 2020, all signs were pointing to moderate growth of the average age of vehicles through the first half of the decade, and there was certainly growing pessimism about how long the strong economic fundamentals could last,” said Todd Campau, associate director of Aftermarket Solutions at IHS Markit, in a release.

“However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm to accelerate U.S. light vehicle average age in coming years. This should be a positive side effect for the aftermarket, as the majority of repairs for older vehicles come through the aftermarket channel.”

In 2019, scrappage rates were less than that seen in 2009. Thanks to Cash for Clunkers, old vehicles exited the road at a faster clip than in pre-pandemic times; that decade-ago pace now stands to appear breakneck, assuming a similar program isn’t brought into effect in the near term.

IHS Markit predicts that, in a few years, average vehicle age could hit 12.5 years. It’s great news if you own a repair shop, or if you’re thinking of buying in the low end of the used market, as the glut of cars sold in the wake of the recession sink in price.

All that said, it’s not like Americans no longer need wheels. The pandemic hasn’t changed that. In fact, the uncertain virus situation has lent private vehicle ownership an increased importance.

“While work from home policies may continue for some time, there also has been increased reluctance in the use of public transit and ride sharing, and many consumers are opting for road trips instead of air travel for summer vacations,” Campau said. “As a result, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) may not be impacted greatly in the coming years, given the increased personal use to offset everyday commuting.”

[Image: Toyota]

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3 of 98 comments
  • 3SpeedAutomatic 3SpeedAutomatic on Jul 29, 2020

    I’ve got my eye on a Lincoln Corsair. Lots of bells and whistles, small turbo 4 cylinder, but shutter at the $40k plus price tag. Decided to keep the the 8 yr old Escape with Wal-Mart chafe on the doors. As long as the A/C and radio work, I’m happy

    • Lie2me Lie2me on Jul 29, 2020

      I went and looked at that Corsair, that is one well done little Lincoln

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jul 29, 2020

    Not a bad idea to drive an older vehicles that is not as fancy. After having enough money how much more do you need if you have a nice home, decent clothes, enough food, and the ability to be able to afford most things. If you vehicle is safe, reliable, and looks good then why do you need anything else unless you just want something. Cars have become less important to me as I have gotten older.

  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.
  • ToolGuy From the listing: "Oil changes every April & October (full-synth), during which I also swap out A/S (not the stock summer MPS3s) and Blizzak winter tires on steelies, rotating front/back."• While ToolGuy applauds the use of full synthetic motor oil,• ToolGuy absolutely abhors the waste inherent in changing out a perfectly good motor oil every 6 months.The Mobil 1 Extended Performance High Mileage I run in our family fleet has a change interval of 20,000 miles. (Do I go 20,000 miles before changing it? No.) But this 2014 Focus has presumably had something like 16 oil changes in 36K miles, which works out to a 2,250 mile average change interval. Complete waste of time, money and perfectly good natural gas which could have gone to a higher and better use.Mobil 1 also says their oil miraculously expires at 1 year, and ToolGuy has questions. Is that one year in the bottle? One year in the vehicle? (Have I gone longer than a year in some of our vehicles? Yes, I have. Did I also add Lucas Oil 10131 Pure Synthetic Oil Stabilizer during that time, in case you are concerned about the additive package losing efficacy? Yes, I might have -- as far as you know.)TL;DR: I aim for annual oil changes and sometimes miss that 'deadline' by a few months; 12,000 miles between oil changes bothers me not at all, if you are using a quality synthetic which you should be anyway.