We are keeping our cars on the road longer

We are keeping our cars on the roads longer.  According to a new Polk study, owners in the U.S. are keeping cars for an average of almost 11 years.

The study showed that in 2011 the average age of the cars in this country is 10.8 years old.  This is one year longer than the average in 2007.  Part of this study may reflect the economic conditions where tightening of belts means keeping a car longer, but that may not be the whole story.  We are also likely keeping our cars longer because of a new generation of driver.

The segment of the population that buy the most cars are the second generation to experience reliable transportation.  Those who are between the ages of 20 and 40 grew up watching their parents discover how reliable a car can be.  Where dad and mom were impressed that their Toyota Camry went for 200,000 miles, the next generation now expects it.  So when it comes time for these second generation buyers to put in a few dollars for repairs or maintenance, they are more willing to spend money on an older car because they have confidence that it will last for more years to come.

Of course, we’ve never been a society to run all of our cars into the ground.  Many cars have left the road early just because we felt like driving something newer.  The idea of planned obsolescence where cars sales could be sparked every year by an annual design change really does not hold the same power it did many decades ago.

The car is less of a status symbol.  A car is still a reflection of who you are, but it is no longer the only object of self-expression.  The planned obsolescence that was designed make the public want the newest product still exists, but cars are not the largest attraction.  People now don’t line up around the block to get a look at the new Fords because they are too busy waiting for the Apple Store.

So we are keeping vehicles longer because not only are we comfortable with our neighbors seeing us in older machines, but also we are willing to keep these machines running longer.  And a bad economy doesn’t hurt either.

Where does this trend go from here? Will the kids growing up today rebel against their parents’ trend of keeping a car for a decade? When dad hands his sixteen-year-old the keys to a Chevy Cruze that’s been in the family for as long as the kid can remember, will his/her life lesson be that cars run forever or the newest is the coolest?

The auto manufacturers will surly be trying everything they can to get the next generation interested in cars, but for now the trend seems to be a car isn’t obsolete until it is no longer fit for the street.

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