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US Vehicle Fleet Scrappage Rate Down, Age Up

Polk1_1
Median age of cars in the US fleet is increasing.

The median age of cars in the US fleet has climbed to an all-time high of 9.0 years, according to a vehicle population report released by R. L. Polk & Co.

Only 4.3% of total passenger cars and trucks were scrapped in 2005—a low not seen since 1949. The scrappage rate for passenger cars in 2005 was 4.5 percent, another record low.

Polk2
Vehicle scrappage rates.

In addition, light truck scrappage rates experienced a third straight year of decline at 4.1 percent in 2005.

Despite a record number of new heavy and light truck registrations in 2005, scrappage rates still decreased. This implies that vehicles are lasting longer and, based on the light truck to car ratio for new vehicles, the data shows that light trucks are continuing to make up a larger percentage of the vehicle population.

—Mike Gingell, VP Polk Aftermarket

The median age of US vehicles also increased across all major vehicle categories. The nine-year median age of cars continues a four-year record-setting trend. For all trucks, the median age increased to 6.8 years in 2005. Light truck median age in 2005 increased to 6.6 years.

Light vehicles are on the road longer today than they have ever been. As vehicle durability and technology continues to improve each year, we expect the trend of increased vehicle longevity to continue.

—Dave Goebel, consultant for Polk’s Aftermarket

In 2005, 34.8% of the light vehicle population was 11 years of age and older, compared to 29.1 percent in 1996. Over this same ten-year period, the number of vehicles 11 years of age and older grew an average of 4.5 percent per year.

Comments

odograph

Interesting. It might be an effect of increased car quality (good), tight consumer finances (bad), or some fuzzy combination of both.

Given that savings rates have fallen recently ... I feel pessimistic enough to think that the second factor cannot be discounted.

Lucas

It takes a middle class to buy a lot of cars.

At the rate bushit's policies have shrunk the middle class, nobody should be surprised.

ABC

Lucas, if cars are 9 years old they were bought at the beginning of Clinton's second term. Politics has nothing to do with it. Well built foreign cars have been stealing market share, and the U-S majors have begun to close the quality gap despite slumping sales. Plus with 0% financing everwhere on new cars, major auto dealerships make more money in the used car market when they get 8-10% interest. Honda Certified pre-owned ring a bell? Later chief.

lensovet

dude 0% rates have been missing from the market for a very long time, so that doesn't really hold up, ABC.
the bigger concern for me is that all the emissions control laws apply to newly-produced cars. the real problem with having an increasingly high average age is that we have more cars that are old and lack modern emission controls.

NBK-Boston

Having more and more older -- and therefore dirtier -- cars on the road is a concern. However, this development is not automatically bad simply because of differences over time in pollution control technology.

First, cars produced in 1995 were not overwhelmingly dirty, even by today's standards. Some of the SUVs create a little more concern, though. Regular emissions testing, which many states make part of yearly registration renewal, can catch those cars whose emissions control devices have broken down.

Second, changes in the fuel supply, such as the introduction of 10% ethanol oxygenated fuel, RFG, low-sulfur diesel, biodiesel and E85 (FFVs started hitting the roads in 1998) contribute significantly to lowering smog and air pollution, and are not dependent on the age of the car.

Finally, for every car that is retained in the fleet instead of scrapped and replaced by a new car, we save the considerable amount of energy, resources and pollution which all go into the manufacturing process. I do not have the figures on hand to estimate the amount of pollution ordinarily released by smelting steel, machining car parts, creating the plastics and interior fittings, using chemicals for paints and varnishes, etc., but I imagine that the pollution associated with all that is substantial.

One concern that was not addressed before is this: How many retained cars are actually serving in place of new cars that would have been bought to replace scrapped units? That is, how many car purchases were actually deferred? How many old cars, by contrast, are serving to enlarge the fleet? That is, if they were scrapped, a new car would not have been bought to replace them.

Old cars could serve as "third cars" to families that bought their most recent new car "right on schedule" (at their usual whatever-year interval), but find that their old car still works well enough not to be worth throwing away. They could be living on with new owners who would otherwise not have been able to afford a car (or a second family car), but found that a modern, ten year old car with 150,000 miles on it costs less than $1000 but actually still has some life left in it. Importantly, how much does the availability of these extra cars contribute to the number of miles annually driven in America?

odograph

NBK, this link (below) confirms that the newest cars are driven the furthest:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/rtecs/chapter3.html

tom deplume

If truck median age is only 6.8 years and car is 9 years it means these guzzlers may be putting on 32% more miles per year than cars. Hybrid drives systems would have much greater effect if used in trucks instead of cars that already get 25-30 mpg without hybridization.

Bruk B

I just saw a presentation a few days ago that estimated that 15% of the total lifetime energy used by a vehicle is consumed in its production. I think I've seen this same number elsewhere, too. This is probably a rough proxy for the lifetime pollution/emissions as well. I bet this percentage goes up even further with the addition of bigger batteries and other exotic materials. You'd definitely have to be getting a huge improvement in mileage or emissions reductions to justify scrapping a vehicle before it was otherwise necessary.

Reese

This is most likely due to the fact that the GM/Ford/etc "employee discounts for everyone" instantly devalued almost all the GM/etc cars out there... financial pressure NOT to buy another one, if your tradein is lower.

2nd, as others have mentioned, your average joe's discretionary spending has gone down noticably over the past few years. Think of skyrocketing healthcare and transportation (gas) costs, combined with a flat wage increase, means people are spending more just to subsist than years before.

Plus, GM/Ford/etc are not exactly doing that well, and this kind of shows why.

All in all, I see this as a longterm trailing indicator of consumer spending power... and it's trending down.

mark

Unfortunately the graphs of scrappage rates since 1970 are visually misleading. When the data is plotted as a "X-Y" graph, there is a steady drop in scrap rate with the exception of the increase in the 2000-2003 period. I expect if there was yearly data back to 1970, there would be similar ups and downs driven by economic conditions, oil prices etc. (e.g. who wanted to drive one of those American boats from 70' by the early 80's). My 92 Mazda B2200 has recently been retired to "farm truck" with 280,000 km, if it weren't for the rust "cancer" it would still be licenced.
The EIA link provides significant insight into who is doing the most driving. I expect that average vehicle fuel economy drops with increasing household income, making the impact of higher mileage of these drivers even bigger.

Bill Adorno

When I went to grad school in Hawaii, 1964, we had a visiting mathmetician working on population projections. He used car statistics to test his math. He said at that time, the average age of cars was 13.3 years. Further, he stated that the average age was independent of year of manufacture, country of manufacture, and cost of the car.

I have been trying to find statistics to verify his observations. The few studies I have found indicate he was right. Why don't we have national survival rates?
I would like to find our if we do have statistics on average survival ages of vehicles.

Bill

Bill Adorno

When I went to grad school in Hawaii, 1964, we had a visiting mathmetician working on population projections. He used car statistics to test his math. He said at that time, the average age of cars was 13.3 years. Further, he stated that the average age was independent of year of manufacture, country of manufacture, and cost of the car.

I have been trying to find statistics to verify his observations. The few studies I have found indicate he was right. Why don't we have national survival rates?
I would like to find our if we do have statistics on average survival ages of vehicles.

Bill

kuni lemmel

Yo, Mark & Bill yall should know that stats from HI are only for HI, and can't be used as an indicator for national stats, but must be rolled into all states. Everything that haps in HI is HI specific. When I was there for 7 yrs in the 80's welding and picking up a couple of degrees when I finally bought a car it was a 73 Dodge. 3 more cars were 70's & the last was 81 Le Mans [I think], & only 'cause KKR took Dillingham private & my wife worked for Big D & I gotta steal. People in HI don't scrap cars unless they must. Don't forget it COSTS you, since the 80's anyway to scrap a vehicle in HI. But how about this for people haning onto cars nation wide: they're tired of all the binging, bonging, talking that cars now do. I know I dislikne spending an hour+ reprogramming the fascist little buggers, & I'm not upgrading unless all that crap can be defeated, permanently, before purchase.

Rob Durst

This would also seem to be a factor in choosing energy policy alternatives as well. For example, say we make the argument that it is best to move to rechargeable electric cars because it is easier to "fuel" them from the grid by generating electricity using either non-fossil resources (e.g. hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, etc) or fossil fuels with effective centralized carbon sequestration. It would seem that the majority of benefits from such a shift would only be realized after the existing car fleet turned over (about 9 years?) We would still have the problem of addressing carbon emissions in the interim. Ethanol and biodiesel do not appear to be a solution since they do not run on existing gasoline engines. Unless we are willing to wait for the turnover we will also need to identify an eco-friendly gasoline alternative capable of running on these existing vehicles and compatible with the existing fuel distribution infrastructure. I think that this likely means a carbon neutral GASOLINE replacement, e.g. from a renewable source that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. The best thing that I have heard of so far has been some of the recent work with engineered bacteria to produce longer hydrocarbon chains that can either be burned directly or refined using conventional processes. This approach apparently could also produce these fuels from cellulose, by converting the cellulose to sugar first and then converting it to these more complex hydrocarbons as part of the bacteria waste product. Anybody know anything more about this?

Calvin Brock

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