You probably hear that “they just don’t make them like they used to.” Well, it’s absolutely true. They don’t make them like they used to. Now, they make them a heck of a lot better. So much better, in fact, that as of 2011, the amount of time your average American hangs onto their car started creeping into the 11-year mark. That was the cap on decades of steadily increasing age in the US car fleet.
So how did that happen? Well, two very important things changed: drivers, and cars.
Cars Are Just Better Constructed Now
The truth is, your average modern car, foreign or domestic, is designed like a tank compared to the cars of 40 years ago. It’s made of stronger materials that resist corrosion and decay; car bodies rusting away are a thing of the past. They’re also lighter, so that gravity takes less of a toll on the various parts. And, especially over the last 30 years, increased competition from foreign automakers has pushed everyone to make a car that lasts longer, so the consumer gets more bang for their buck. Considering the average cost of a new car is $28,400, that’s a key point for any driver.
We’re Better Drivers
The numbers tell the story: fatal crashes in the US have been steadily dropping since the 1960s, even as the number of miles we drive as a country keeps going upward. Sure, some of that is due to awareness campaigns and improved safety features: a car now is practically like driving a marshmallow compared to the unsafe monstrosities of the ’60s and ’70s. But another part of it is the fact that we are, pure and simple, just getting better at driving. We’re being more polite, we’re speeding less, we’re using our turn signals…in short, we treat each other, and thus our cars, well. You’re welcome, auto insurance companies!
We’re Better Mechanics
Thanks to new diagnostic tools, computers designed to pinpoint issues before they become a problem, and better parts design, it’s a lot easier for a mechanic to crack open the hood and find the problem than it was even 10 years ago. Something major going wrong? He just plugs into the diagnostic port in your dashboard, and the car points him in the right direction.
We’re Using Individual Cars Less
The average American is also driving their cars a little less: while miles driven has been going up, we also are spreading those miles over more cars. The average American owns 2.28 cars, which sounds ridiculous, until you stop and think about your average household with a teenager. So we have more and more miles driven…but we use each individual car less.
The Economy Isn’t That Great
One final factor is that, well, we’ve all got less money to spend on new cars in the first place, so why go out and buy a new one?
We give this one less weight, though, because whether it’s boom times or tough times, the average age of vehicles on the road has consistently crept up over time. The economy seems to affect new car sales more than overall car ages. We’re sure it contributes, but in the end, better construction and better driving seem to be the key factors that make your car stay on the road that much longer. And that’s good for everybody. Well, except maybe the new car salesman.
Fatality numbers: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811172.pdf