If you drive a car that's 12 years old, you no longer need to be jealous of those neighbors with the fancy new set of wheels. They are now the outlier, and you are trendy.
The average age of a car on U.S. roads has climbed to more than a dozen years. And light trucks aren't far behind.
It's part of a long-term trend of people holding on to their cars, trucks and SUVs longer, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to add even more momentum to this phenomenon, possibly pushing the average up another four to six months compared with a more modest increase in recent years.
The virus has created a "perfect storm" for this trend to continue, said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions for IHS Markit, which reported the findings this week.
"IHS Markit anticipates significant upward pressure on average age in 2020 and subsequent years as consumers work toward a new normal both economically and in how they use their personal vehicles in a post-COVID-19 era," Campau said in a news release.
Part of that new normal means fewer people commuting but also less demand for public transportation and ride hailing. Consumers might also be more likely than before to choose a personal vehicle for travel, both around town and for road trips when in the past they might have opted to fly.
The average vehicle age of 12.4 for cars and 11.6 for light trucks represents a 24% increase over the age in 2002, when the average was 9.6. In 2009, the year the Great Recession ended, it was 10.3 years, according to the IHS Markit data.
The U.S. vehicle population has surpassed 280 million this year, a 1% increase over 2019, according to IHS Markit.
The news that vehicles are likely to remain on the roads longer might not be welcome by automakers interested in selling as many new cars as possible, but repair shops and aftermarket sales clearly will benefit.
Campau said that a variety of factors, including affordability, length of loans and vehicle quality affect the amount of time vehicles remain in use. He noted that when he started driving in the 1990s, cars might hit 100,000 miles. Today, 200,000 miles or more is fairly common, showing that vehicle quality has been improving, which allows people to drive their vehicles longer.
Vehicles 16 years and older now account for more than 25% of those on the road, he said.
Analysts have raised concerns for some time about vehicle affordability, but the pandemic has not undercut average prices so far, even with a shuddering global economy and high unemployment. The average transaction price for a new light vehicle in the United States in June hit $38,530, an increase of 3.1% from the same period in 2019, according to Kelley Blue Book.