Average Age Of U.S. Cars, Light Trucks Rises To 11.8 Years

The average age of light vehicles in operation (VIO) in the United States has risen to 11.8 years, according to new research from IHS Markit.

Additionally, VIO in the United States has reached a record of more than 278 million units — an increase of more than 5.90 million units (or 2.2%) — compared to a year ago. This marks one of the highest annual increases the U.S. auto industry has seen since IHS Markit began tracking VIO growth, second only to 2.3% growth in 2016.

“The increasing VIO fleet is providing a robust new business pipeline for the aftermarket,” said Mark Seng, director of the global automotive aftermarket practice at IHS Markit. “A larger fleet means more service and repair opportunities in the future.”

Over the last 17 years, average age has accelerated. From 2002-‘07, the average age of light vehicles in the United States grew 3.5%. From 2008-‘13, the increase was 12.2%. And, over the last five years, the average age increase has returned to a more traditional 4.0%.

Seng said that better technology and overall vehicle quality improvements have driven average vehicle age over time. “The 40% drop in new vehicle sales due to the recession created an acceleration in average age like we’ve never seen before,” Seng pointed out. “In the last couple of years, however, average age has returned to its more traditional rate of increase.”

For the first time, IHS Markit’s analysis included a review of various regions of the country. Key findings include …
• The oldest light vehicles were found in the West at 12.4 years.
• The youngest vehicles were in the Northeast at 10.9 years.
• In the West, light vehicles increased 1.5% year-over-year.
• In the Midwest, they aged just 0.4%.
• Montana had the oldest average age, with light vehicles averaging 16.6 years.
• The youngest average age was in Vermont at 9.9 years.

And, because of the growth in popularity of light trucks (including CUVs and SUVs), vehicle age in the United States is increasing at different rates across vehicle segments. From 2018 to 2019, the average age of passenger cars increased 2.2%, while light trucks aged at a rate of just 0.1%.

According to the research, the shifting dynamic of the age of vehicles in operation indicates that the volume of vehicles in the new to 5-year-old category will grow 2% from 2018-‘23, while vehicles in the 6-year to 11-year-old range will grow 27%. This is a positive trend for the independent aftermarket, according to IHS Markit, as it points to a growing repair “sweet spot,” or growth in the vehicles that drive the most repair opportunities.

Vehicles 12 years to 15 years old will decline 27% over the same time period. “While the decrease in light vehicles 12-15 years of age looks alarming, it relates to the drop in sales due to the recession,” Seng explained. “There is simply a lack of 2008- and 2009-model-year vehicles due to the lower sales numbers during that timeframe. Even the model years from early in the recovery are lower in number. This disruption simply needs time to work its way through the fleet.”

Vehicles 16 years old and older are expected to grow 22% from 2018-’23, reaching 84 million units in 2023. By contrast, there were less than 35 million vehicles 16 years old and older on the road in 2002.