Average age of cars in U.S. hits record 12.2 years

Photo (c) Jung Getty - Getty Images

Experts say rising prices and increasing shortages are primary factors

A shortage of new cars and sky-high prices for used vehicles has led to cars and trucks on U.S. highways getting older. A report from research firm S&P Global Mobility shows that the average vehicle age is now a record 12.2 years.

Automotive experts say the increasing age of cars and trucks is not entirely attributable to the distortions in the automotive marketplace. It’s the fifth straight year that the average age has increased.

That’s partly due to the fact that cars and trucks have more longevity than they once did. If properly maintained, vehicles from many brands are capable of being driven 200,000 miles. Cars and trucks also cost a lot more than in years past, encouraging their owners to drive them longer.

Karl Brauer, an executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, says current conditions make keeping a vehicle for longer more of a necessity. Consumers, he says, have fewer options.

“Supply is crimped because no one is getting the new cars they want because they can’t build them fast enough,” Brauer said in a recent interview with ConsumerAffairs. “So people are keeping their current car, which is crimping used car supply.”

Russia-Ukraine war is making the problem worse

New car supplies are being held back by a number of factors, mainly a shortage of computer chips that has existed since mid-2020. Supply chain constraints have also limited new car production. In a separate report, S&P Global Mobility traced part of the problem to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

"With the March forecast release, we removed 2.6 million units from our 2022 and 2023 outlook, but the downside risk is enormous. Our worst-case contingency shows possible reductions up to 4 million units for this and next year," said Mark Fulthorpe, executive director for global production forecasting at S&P Global Mobility.

In total, nearly 25 million units were removed from the S&P Global Mobility light vehicle production forecast between now and 2030. That means the only option for many consumers is to keep their current vehicles running.

Rising vehicle prices can’t be overlooked as a reason for consumers holding onto their vehicles for another year or two. Cox Automotive reports that new vehicle affordability declined slightly in April despite the fact that government data shows consumers’ incomes rose during the same period.

The latest Cox Automotive/Moody’s Analytics Vehicle Affordability Index shows that the number of median weeks of income needed to purchase the average new vehicle in April increased to 40.6 weeks from a downwardly revised 40.2 weeks in March.

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