Average Age of Cars & Trucks on the Road Jumps to Record: The Circular Problem for Automakers

How do you sell more new vehicles when they last longer every year? You don’t! Over two decades of stagnation in vehicle sales interrupted by plunges.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The average age of all cars and light trucks on the road in 2021 in the US, regardless of how many times they have been traded, jumped by about two months from last year, to a record of 12.1 years, according to IHS Markit today.

“Average age” means that a portion of the vehicles are removed from the national fleet at a much younger age, either because they were scrapped following an accident or natural disaster; or because they were exported as used vehicles. It also means that a portion of the vehicles on the road are far older, with a good bunch in their high teens or older that, with proper TLC, are still running fine.

One reason for the rise in the average age of vehicles over the decades is the improved durability of vehicles, foisted upon automakers by finicky Americans in an ultra-competitive market where slipshod quality and inadequate durability can doom automakers – or at least crush sales for years. Improving durability is a factor every year in the growing average age.

But for 2021, there has been the additional factor that also played a large role following the Financial Crisis: The 14% plunged in new vehicle sales last year reduced the number of new vehicles entering the national fleet and thereby pushed up the average age:

As the chart shows, new vehicle sales have been a very tough business in terms of volume: They have essentially stagnated for over two decades, interrupted only by deep plunges.

One of the reasons for this stagnation in vehicle unit sales despite a growing population is that vehicles last longer and remain in good shape longer and need to be replaced less often, and so the average age of vehicles on the road keeps getting longer.

The sharp decline in miles driven last year and early this year, as tracked by the Federal Highway Administration, may have been an additional factor in the increased average age of vehicles on the road, by possibly having delayed the exit of some of the oldest vehicles from the fleet, and by having also contributed to the drop in new vehicle sales last year.

The number of highway-legal vehicles in operation – passenger vehicles, buses, motorcycles, medium-duty trucks, and heavy trucks – dipped 0.5% as of January 2021, to 279 million vehicles, according to IHS today.

During the Great Recession, the number of vehicles in operation declined for two years in a row (-0.7% and -1.6%); and they declined following the 2002 recession (-0.3%), according to BTS data:

By the end of 2020, nearly 1 million EVs were registered, according to IHS. Interesting tidbit: More owners hang on to their EVs, than owners of vehicles with internal combustion engines. Of the 2016 through 2020 model-year EVs, 89% are still registered by their first owner, compared to only 68% of ICE vehicles of the same model years.

The average age of vehicles in operation has bedeviled auto makers and dealers for decades. Back in 1985, when I was just starting in the business, there was already a lot of fretting over the rising age of vehicles. This was a trend that could not last and it would have to revert to some kind of mean – that was the thinking. At the time, the average age was 7.8 years. It never reverted to any kind of mean and now reached 12.1 years.

An eight-year-old vehicle in 1985, with normal miles, was quite old and worn out. But those eight-year old vehicles were holding up still better than the ‘68 Mustang I bought in 1976. Things were falling off, ranging from the clutch linkage to the armrest, not to speak of the carburetor that was leaking gasoline, the doors that were leaking water when it was raining, the speedometer that had stopped working before I’d bought the car, the vinyl upholstery that was split open on the driver’s seat….

These are just some of the things I remember. I loved that car, it was my first car, it was only eight years old, it had a 289 V-8, no A/C, a 3-speed manual, and no power anything, and it was a piece of junk by today’s quality standards. It was the worst car I ever owned as all vehicles since then got consecutively better each time. When I traded in my car last year that I’d bought new 14 years earlier, it had 160,000 miles on it, still looked good, and ran without problems.

This phenomenon is a circular problem for the industry. Americans demand vehicles that last longer and wear out more slowly and look good longer; and automakers are competing with each other to produce those vehicles in order to stay relevant. But this is increasing the average age of vehicles on the road, which is curtailing sales of new vehicles.

And the only thing left for the auto industry to grow is to raise prices and shift consumers into more expensive models, which further curtails sales of new vehicles because a decreasing percentage of people can afford to buy them new at these prices – and they don’t have to because there are lots of eight-year-old and older vehicles out there that are in great shape that they can afford.

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  175 comments for “Average Age of Cars & Trucks on the Road Jumps to Record: The Circular Problem for Automakers

  1. 2banana says:

    Not really a fair comparison.

    Nearly all EV owners use their vehicles where they can get back to a secure charging station in a charge. Like in commuting. In nice to decent weather.

    No one drives an EV on hard long drives. Or to get from Michigan to Florida for spring break. Or in winter in bad weather. etc.

    “More owners hang on to their EVs, than owners of vehicles with internal combustion engines. Of the 2016 through 2020 model-year EVs, 89% are still registered by their first owner, compared to only 68% of ICE vehicles of the same model years.”

    • Wolf Richter says:


      Sheesh!! You’d be nuts to drive from Michigan to Florida on a daily basis. What kind of nonsense is this? Yeah, a few people do it once every now and then. Other people fly. And no one drives it daily. But people commute to work daily or to the store or whatever. That’s what you buy a new car for, not “spring break.” What kind of nonsense are you talking about?! And there there are lots of charging stations along the way if you’re so inclined.

      Such a goofball effort to derail the comments.

      • CtKahanamoku says:

        Seeking clarity: EV’s registered in the USA, does that include Hybrids?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          No. Hybrid drives are now just another power train option for ICE cars. Most automakers offer them on most of their ICE models. They’re everywhere.

      • ivanislav says:

        Wolf, I think you misread his comment. He didn’t imply that people drive Michigan to Florida daily.

        “No one drives an EV on hard long drives. Or to get from Michigan to Florida for *spring break*.”

        • 2B seemed to be saying that ICE vehicles have it harder than EV’s. Could be some truth to that, but here are some other truths: A) most driving and accidents happen close to home. B) A Consumer Reports survey of car owners showed the average annual cost of repairs for a 2011 Nissan Leaf was… zero. That’s the future staring the auto industry in the face.

      • andy says:

        My Tesla gets groceries, Wolf. Who drives.

      • Bill says:

        Wolf, obviously reading comprehension is not your strength. The point of the original post is that a typical EV is used less often than a typical ICE Vehicle. I’ve read that an EV is typically an owner’s third or fourth car.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          I know several EV owners (they’re common here). One couple, two EVs, no ICE vehicles. Several singles, the EV being the only car. Two couples with one EV and one ICE. Some buddies who drive EVs, and that’s their only car, but I don’t know what their spouses drive.

          The more you drive an EV, the bigger the cost advantage over ICE because operating costs (including maintenance) are much lower with EVs, but the purchase cost of EVs is higher. So you would want your EV to be the main driver, putting on the most miles, to get the biggest bang for the buck to recoup the higher purchase costs. That’s how the EV math works.

      • LibDis says:

        Watch out when you comment about EV’s. Wolf loves to pounce on any dissent or possible negative comment. He is experiencing a little cognitive dissonance in this arena.

        I own two cars, a 1996 Camry and a Nissan Leaf. I bought the Camry new and the Leaf used. They are both fine cars but I am well aware the Leaf is extremely limited and you have to be extremely careful if you go all electric.

        Case in point. Here in Florida if you only own electric you are going to be s-it out of luck if you have to evacuate in a hurricane. And that is just one serious downside to all electric……

        I hope the Tesla can stand up to them 135 mph wind it is going to be sitting in on the side of the road……

        • Wolf Richter says:


          That’s funny. Don’t you top off the EVs at home in your garage every night by just plugging them in? And then in the morning, they’re fully charged. Unlike an ICE vehicle. And then if you need to evacuate, you have a fully charged vehicle — instead of an ICE vehicle with 1/4 of tank of gas.

          Agree that the early Leafs had a short range due to the cheap battery. The current Leafs have a range 150-220 miles. All of the Teslas have a far longer range. And running out of gas and getting to empty gas stations is a known problem in evacuation areas.

          Your screen name tells me that you’re politicizing EVs and that you don’t even have an EV.

          And you’re correct: I don’t want this comment section to become a compendium of anti-EV BS.

        • ChangeMachine says:

          You’re either very young, very forgetful, or willfully ignoring all of the times gas stations have been overrun with hour long lines or sold out. Every hurricane season.
          So how is an EV driver “s-it out of luck” while someone dependent on uninterrupted shipments of oil from around the world is not? Such astounding logic.

      • NickL says:

        Actually you may be wrong. In post 2019 K shaped economy, many parents did buy their kids (and are paying the insurance which I can assure you is NOT cheap) an EV for spring break.. Who makes up the majority of the student body in most private colleges and universities —- it is the OFFSPRING of the top 1%. These kids are already miles ahead of the bottom 50% when entering the white collar corporate job market so parents have no problem buying their kids a new Tesla model X in some cases.

        Remember that car rental places were (and still are ) charging over $150 PER DAY for spring break..

        What no one seems to grasp is that todays inflation is nearly 100% DEMAND driven ….

        Why would car rental places charge upwards of $150 a day (some over $250 a day) , why would many popular vehicles be selling at well over sticker MSRP if no one were buying them..

    • Cem says:

      Long drives ie freeway travel is easier on vehicles…

      A 2% would be negligible, 21% is a trend.
      People keep EV’s longer.

      Why? Let your imagination run will and not in the direction it was heading.

      • NickL says:

        where exactly are drives ‘long and not stop and go choked with traffic’ … even at 2pm on a weekday the traffic in the suburbs in NYC or Boston on the roads is completely stop and go and resembles 6pm at rush hour.
        Sure if you are wealthy and take drives down PCH every day in So Cal to and from the beach???

        • Cem says:

          Misreading my point.

          Stop and go is s i g n i f i c a n t l y easier on ev vs ice.

          So saying “hard long drives” is a misnomer. Long drives are easier on any vehicle and stop and go is waaaay easier on ev’s.

          He was arguing ev’s being kept longer being an incorrect kpi but I think it is very accurate.

        • Bill says:

          You are so true. As with every other EV tout, they have limited technical knowledge and lack economic insights. In a past post, Wolfe equated regen braking with with a perpetual motion machine.

        • NBay says:

          I have your required insights. Let me explain this for you.
          You brake leaving home going down a hill in SF, charging your battery. You then drive around on batt power and get errands done. When you come home you can hire joggers (who want exercise, anyway) for almost nothing, (free, if you compliment them on their calf size), using the money you saved from not turning your brake pucks to dust and heating SF. They push your car back up hill to home. Done right you can even pocket extra money towards car payments.
          Do you now understand the technical and economic insights into using re-gen for perpetual motion?
          Your’e welcome.
          PS: Only works if you have large hills in your town, so if you are from Texas this may be harder for you to grasp.

  2. SpencerG says:

    My experience mirrors Wolf’s. My parents bought me a couple of junkers in high school and college that I don’t remember too well (and certainly wasn’t expected to maintain). They got passed down to my siblings when I went to the Naval Academy in 1984 (where Midshipmen are not allowed to own cars until they become seniors).

    My first car that I bought was a used 1986 Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Bronco. I loved that thing and its quality was sufficient… but there were some quality problems with my “Midmobile.” The tailgate rusted so much that I replaced it three or four times over the course of the 18 years I owned the vehicle. The gas gauge never worked after the first year. Window regulators needed replacing a couple of times. I replaced the entire engine in the late 90s for a couple of grand. The computer went out in 2000… $600 repair. The Bronco served me well but by 2005 I just didn’t want to fiddle with it any more.

    In 2005 I replaced it with a four year old Crown Vic and frankly it didn’t have any problems that I can recall. I drove it for seven years then my dad used it as a second car for five more. Even after my brother wrecked it in a high speed chase it still was capable of running. Those things were indestructible! Ford hasn’t made a Crown Vic for ten years now… and you still don’t see many broken down on the side of the road. Quality really is Job 1.

    Currently I am driving a 2001 Chevy Tahoe. Aside from a full transmission replacement… I just haven’t had to spend much money on it. Maybe a grand every two years. Needs a new radiator at the moment.

    So cars do last a LOT longer now. My problem is that I don’t really have a clue as to what I would want to replace the 20-year-old Tahoe with. My family and I were discussing that the other day. I know what directions I don’t want to go in (starting with pickups that cost fifty to eighty grand). But I am not sure what comes next. It doesn’t help that Ford got rid of every sedan in their lineup… or that Volvo and some other upscale companies got bought out by companies in India and/or China so there is no telling about their quality standards.

    I am just not sure…

    • MCH says:

      It’s interesting though, the suggestion is that the EVs may in fact last as long as the ICE, which makes a lot of sense as there are far fewer mechanical parts to comparison vs the ICE. The main weakness associated with chip shortages apply to all cars, so EV has plenty of company there.

      This is indicative though that the battery technology is indeed pretty good even as far as a decade ago. That’s certainly something.

      • SpencerG says:

        My concern about that comparison is that it is done via auto registrations. A lot of people buy a low-end ICE car with plans to replace it before too long. For instance if you buy your kid a car to go to college in…you sorta know that they will replace it a couple of years out of school. Or someone who isn’t going to college but needs wheels for their first job… they either buy a used car (if they can find one) or a little new car.

        But EVs are so expensive right now that middle-aged people buy it hoping it will last a long time. Plus, unlike with young people, their cars aren’t as likely to repossessed.

        Personally from everything that I am hearing I think the EV standards are improving… and improving RAPIDLY. I am just not sure if I want to lay down big bucks on one yet. Fortunately my finances right now won’t allow that decision to take place. So I will try to squeeze a couple more years out of the Tahoe.

        • JC says:

          if the new tax rebates are passed a Chevy Bolt could be had for $25k or less, it has a 260mi range.

          In January 2021 new 2020 Bolts were on clearance for $21k!

        • Quade says:

          As Wolf pointed out, the more you drive, the more an EV makes sense. I might drive 40 miles a week, wife more. I fill the cars up once a week but they’re never below 1/2. An EV just doesn’t make much sense for us. We’d never see any savings over our ICE cars because our ICE cars don’t cost much to operate and the upfront cost of the EV’s is so high.

          I once calculated it would be 20 years before we broke even. I don’t keep cars that long.

          Most EV’s other then Tesla have terrible resale value too. EV’s are like Cell phones, the tech is moving so fast, the older ones aren’t worth that much.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        Electric cars will far outlast ICE cars, that’s always been known. Early modern electric cars, including ones from car makers new to EV’s, may suffer from some early problems, but EV’S could easily last 2 to 3 times an ICE car, once they become the norm.

        • MCH says:

          I think the problem is always a question about the battery. Is the Li-Ion battery performance like that of what you get on your iPhone? If so, then EV isn’t worth the effort.

          But the data seem to be indicating that you can run a Tesla battery for almost a decade, and it is still pretty good. If that’s the case, and Tesla can do better than other manufacturer, then it’s a sustainable advantage. I don’t know if the other manufacturer can promise that today.

          That’s the one case where you could make for Tesla doing really well even into the future. Now, in theory, everyone could get the same battery from Panasonic, etc, but are all batteries the same? That’s a question that we won’t know about for another few years. Certainly I’ve seen indications on the Leaf that it was nowhere near as good, but what do I know.

        • Sailor says:

          Round here, vehicles are generally scrapped for three reasons – rust out of the frame (sea air), failure of a major part that makes it uneconomic to fix (mostly electronic, sometimes ICE), and accident damage. Most of the annual repair costs are suspension and brakes. Having an EV doesn’t make much of a difference to that.
          The mechanics round here do not recommend new vehicles, as they have too many expensive parts and the cost to have them serviced keeps increasing. What does get recommended are either vehicles which are relatively easy and cheap to fix (e.g. F-150), or vehicles that hardly ever break and can be easily fixed (e.g. Honda CR-V & Civic, VW Jetta).
          I’m not sure average age tells the whole story. It could be hiding the unreliability of the newest models. I would be very interested in a breakdown of age of vehicle vs number on the road. People may be hanging on to 14 year old vehicles for another year, rather than buying a 6 year old used, or new. Personally I think we are past peak reliability, and certainly past minimum cost of ownership of new vehicles vs salary.

        • topcat says:

          not necessarily true, because the major components of an EV can be designed to only last 200k km just like the components of an ICE car. Certainly all of the ancilliary equipment like water pumps will fail after around 2000 hours max just like they do now.

        • Heinz says:

          “…but EV’S could easily last 2 to 3 times an ICE car, once they become the norm.”

          Interesting statement, but is that just your personal opinion or do you have some valid sources to back it up?

          As article points out, cars today (and I think WS is primarily referring to ICE cars because they are predominant) last a long, long time with proper driving habits and routine maintenance.

          As an example, my ICE Honda is going on 18 years (I am original owner) and runs like new with only routine fluid changes. I hope to keep it for many years to come.

          By contrast, I had an ’87 Ford Escort that was a lemon from day one. It amply demonstrated that Ford, at least in that model and year, was sloppy in automotive design and build, and used inferior quality parts.

          Auto Week has pointed out that current crop of EVs will likely not last all that long, largely due to litihum-ion batteries that have a finite service life. When that battery needs replacing in x number of years, the combined wear, tear, and depreciation on that EV plus battery replacement cost may not pencil out to be cost effective– but replacing car entirely might be the solution.

          As newer, better EV technology is deployed that battery conundrum is likely to be less a problem– for future EV buyers.

        • Quade says:

          I don’t see how you can make this assumption. Unless you’re comparing the worst ICE cars to the best EV’s. Was a story not that long ago about how much maintenance and repair a Tesla took to get to 400,000 miles. It was a bunch. I believe it was $12K not including the engine replacements which were done under the warranty. Tesla’s are typical domestic cars. They’re not made very well and the parts that go into them aren’t that good. They’re heavy cars and go through tires pretty quickly.

          If you buy an Acura today, you’re going to get, other than the few rare lemons, 200,000 miles out of it with just regular maintenance. The same for a Lexus. I’d be willing to bet a Tesla will need a new drive unit in that same 200,000 miles as well as significant warranty repairs.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Electric cars are made using carbon fiber for many pieces and there’s no exhaust system, so right there most rust is eliminated. There’s alot less on the bottom of the car as well that could potentially rust.

          Most electric cars will eventually have a simple magnetic engine next to each wheel with an integrated brake. As well as a motor to turn front wheels, that’s basically the entire powertrain. There’s not even a transmission. There’s not a bunch of different systems that have to connect together to make everything work. Almost everything on a electric car is mostly self contained, so FAR easier to diagnose and fix.

          There’s not many moving parts in an electric car. There is a cooling system for the batteries, but there isn’t a bunch of different tanks and subsystems for the car that can break down. They don’t need oil changes either.

          There in general is just far less that can break and those things are mostly separate. With the exception of the battery, all moving parts on a electric car are simple and cheap to produce.

          The carbon fiber pieces are more expensive to replace, but they will come down in price and should only ever break in an accident, which insurance should cover.

          The only issue with an electric car is the battery. Eventually, a better battery should be invented and then electric cars will become the norm. Tesla is a much newer car maker and is alot smaller yet and was basically designing the only modern electric cars for awhile. So for those and many other reasons, that caused Tesla to be more expensive to maintain. As everyone piles in, the costs should come down.

          Because electric cars are so much easier to design and build, new car companies will eventually emerge and with that, real competition. That and more should help clear out the need to buy cars with the all the proprietary nonsense. New carmakers will need a reason for you to buy their cars and easy to fix and maintain will be a very easy incentive they can offer to convince people. All the moving parts on an electric car could be easily made by the companies which supply the current automakers, there’s no very complicated engine in an electric car. One of those simple magnetic motors could easily fit different car brands. There will of course be different sizes and the such, but there is not much to them.

      • curiouscat says:

        How long will the batteries last?

        • SpencerG says:

          Good question. That is a big consideration since they are so expensive. And there are others… where do you place the batteries for optimum safety? How easy is it to get the batteries out of the car?

          These questions will be answered soon enough.

        • Sailor says:

          The problem is not so much how long batteries last, but the variability in that and the difficulty in assessing it when buying used. That’s coupled to the replacement cost. In short, no one’s happy getting a big bill they weren’t expecting.

        • topcat says:

          200k KM is the target. Toyota guarantees this

      • Bill says:

        On the other hand, all major repairs for my cars have been electrical: starter motors, pump motors, ignition systems, electric motors, solenoids, wire harnesses, computer controls .., Not to mention needing to replace a battery every three years.

    • nodecentrepublicansleft says:

      I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re a MASOCHIST when it comes to choosing cars. Why add in a Renault or maybe a mid-70s MGB or an early 80s Hyundai while you’re at it?!?!?

      Damn man. A country called Japan made the most reliable cars, best on gas and cheap on parts from 1986-I don’t know…maybe they still do.

      Their cars were so well made and such bargains, that Detroit neary went out of business and to steal their business model to survive.

      I see rednecks in FL all the time….driving Toyotas.

      I sold a 1998 Acura TL 2 yrs ago, it had 200,000 miles and never a problem w/engine, transmission. Just oil, break pads and the plastic radiator got a crack once. I fixed it with JB weld and gorilla tape and drove an hour, limping it home.

      You gotta start making better decisions re: cars!!! :)

      • A Longstaff says:

        Agree in UK cars only improved after Japanese cars entered the market .

      • Sailor says:

        Not just the Japanese. The old Saabs were marvellous, as were mid-80s small VWs. A lot of Volvos were very reliable, and of course half the world still uses Mercedes Benz diesel taxis – mostly the same ones their fathers bought 30 years ago. I’ve owned all of them, and all of them were only scrapped because of a rusted out frame, and at least 20 years old.

    • wkevinw says:

      Yes, having wrenched on cars since 1973 (’67 Camaro still in the family), I can tell you from hands-on experience, that the vehicles are much better now. As such, a lot of the “extra cost” is justified.

      Quality, pollution reduction, safety, performance, when measured per gallon or mile or $ are all a lot better.

      My ’64 Ford really needed points and condenser about every 5,000-10,000 miles. Most people don’t even know what those are nowadays, let alone have ever changed them.

    • Harrold says:

      “Even after my brother wrecked it in a high speed chase ”

      You buried the ledge on that comment LOL

    • Jdog says:

      Everyone’s experience is anecdotal. I had a 69 Dodge Dart, V8 Auto that had about 50K when I got it. Drove it hard for another 60K only replacing some worn front end parts, and a water pump, At 115K the trans went because I never had it serviced, and I put in a rebuild. At around 140K my ex girlfriend took it, and drove it a few more years before trading it in. The best thing was you could repair it cheap and get parts anywhere.

    • Sallie Ann says:

      Look into the Fusions. I have a 2010 Fusion (made in Mexico) that has zero rust underside on the frame. I took pics of her when she was up on the rack for a new exhaust system and it was so clean of rust!!!!! They used a different process back in 2010 than they did starting with the 2011’s. They are a good, solid sedan. I intend holding onto mine for many years to come. And it is one of their better years for Fusions and they have sadly now discontinued the Fusion…..in favor of the freaking SUV’s. With gas prices that was not a smart move to make. I still have a 98 civic that is now giving me nickle and dimes problems with the door lock and window on passenger side… I’ll keep her another few years and then send her down the road if she doesn’t straighten up and fly right soon!!! 98 was one of their better years, too. I have done extensive research on cars living in Rust Belt Ohio where they dump millions of tons of salt on the roads that eat cars for breakfast with the rust. I lived in South Florida for 25 years and had to contend with the ocean salt eating cars with rust cancer….. the frames were okay and the bodies had huge cancer holes in them.

  3. Paulo says:

    I think there would be a VERY strong market for rebuilt simple cars without all the electronics, especially for older buyers.

    I could buy whatever, but don’t. Furthermore, don’t want to. But at age 65 I might have to one day replace our main ride which is a 12 year old Yaris. I do not wish to have a touchscreen, bluetooth, video consoles in seat backs, extra airbags, and no sophisticated electronics that I need a course to operate. Learning isn’t the problem, but I don’t want the complicated BS foisted on me at my expense. I no longer do my own maintenance on vehicles, either. Sick of it. Tomorrow I pick up the Yaris with a new wheel bearing and fresh servicing. I do the troubleshooting, then refer issues to my favorite repair shop. They usually concur, consult, then repair. I always accept their advice. Although…tomorrow I plan to fix a vibration noise in my 40 year old Westfalia’s fuel pump. (Have two spares but I think it is just touching the belly pan). And we will never sell the 20 year old work truck kept in excellent condition. Old is just better, until it dies. :-) The Westie has almost no dash info; a speedometer, tach, turn signals, brake warning light, and a few idiot indicators. Almost nothing. The turn signals and wiper controls are on real live ‘arms’. The climate control system is controlled by dash mounted cables. There are crank windows. It is a joy to drive and a rocket ship at 72 hp.

    mantra: Easier and cheaper to maintain and fix than pay for a replacement.

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      The problem with new cars isn’t that they are too tech filled. The problem is a lack of standardization for various components/systems. Most of the actual worthwhile tech features could be very easily self contained within the radio, which could be VERY easily designed to be swappable and standardized. Most older cars are simply too rusted or worn to make a comeback. If more parts/systems were standardized, the price for repairs and difficulty of repairs would fall. Once EV’S take over though, most parts on a car will be gone anyways.

      • Nacho Libre says:

        There is an easy solution. Just enable basic integration with Android auto and Apple carplay. All bespoke ecosystems create unnecessary complexity.

        Personally I don’t care for any of the fancy in-car apps. I also like buttons waaay more than touchscreens.

        • Realist says:

          A big problem is are wether needed software or drivers will be available when the car is older. Both google and apple support their devices for quite a short time after all and what will you do if your shining new handy does not talk to the old software in your car, just to mention an example. Another thing is how will all nice displays etc survive heat, humidity, real winter conditions with cold benath -20 centidegrees etc ?

    • NICK DANGER says:

      Same here. I’m 70 and currently have 3 vehicles. A 2007 Silverado Classic crew diesel ( 95,000 miles bought in 2009 for $30K ) a 2012 Tahoe ( 83,000 miles bought 5 years ago for $30K) and a 2005 Corvette ( 20,000 miles bought 4 years ago for $28K ). Total cost of all 3 – $90K – less than a current replacement similarity equipped Silverado. They are all fully loaded versions with all of the creature comforts available at the time and they were all used when purchased. I upgrade ( the truck extensively ) and repair as much as I can in order to keep them all in tip top shape ( not sure how much longer I’ll be able to do this myself ) and would not hesitate to take them anywhere at any time. Truck is my go- to vehicle and is insured year round ( I live up country in central B.C. ) and the other two are insured for 6 months – spring to fall and then plugged in and garaged all winter to keep them away from the gravel and melt on winter roads. I plan on keeping them for the duration and hope I never have to buy a newer vehicle. I drove professionally for a living and have never had the need for nav screens, hazard avoidance or internet connectivity. With todays current prices I could probably get back most of what I’ve paid for them. I constantly get offers to buy the truck as most people are not happy with the current versions and all of the un necessary crap they come loaded with that causes 90% of the problems ( electronics ). If I ever HAD to replace them I’d probably go with a resto mod – old body with updated running gear and as little tech as possible.

      • joe2 says:

        Correct. The basic car/truck can last a long time. It’s all the modern gadgets that break. I made the mistake of buying a Mercedes 320 – a truck made in the US south with a bunch of plastic luxury dohickeys glued on. It was the dohickeys that always broke and cost a fortune to get replaced. Basic SUV was OK but it got too expensive to maintain the dohickeys because Mercedes maintenance is expensive. $100 for a $0.50 plastic ornament.
        And why pay for an expensive navigation system which requires expensive updates when your phone works fine.

    • Jon Martin says:

      Until you hit your head on the dash at 72mph. My buddy worked in the ER, used to say “buy a new car with maximum number of airbags, you’ll save the entire cost of the car in your first hour when you come to see me, and you’ll save your face at no extra cost”

      Bought higher end Toyota’s with lots of safety systems for wife and myself and never looked back. Also, you nearly forget the word “maintenance” with newer Toyotas.

      • Sailor says:

        My brother-in-law crashed his new Jaguar at 70mph when he fell asleep at the wheel. All the airbags and modern structure meant he walked away without a scratch……
        However, it was the long hours for the high salary to pay for, among other things, the Jag that caused him to fall asleep.
        He changed professions, earns a lot less but works much more reasonable hours, drives a clunker with two airbags, and hasn’t had an accident since.
        When I drove for work, I wouldn’t drive when tired, and refused to be contactable whilst driving. Yes, my bosses were very unhappy with this. Tough. I had no accidents.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          GOOD comment, especially relevant for the younger ”boomers,” ”millennials” etc., now working too hard to try to catch up their retirement funds…
          Last speeding ticket I got, ’09,, (and hope the last eva!) was driving home after 4/12s on a Thursday evening,,, fell asleep, woke up just enough to see the speedometer at 85 on a downhill/close stretch where the limit was 55,,, and woken up by the siren a couple miles later, charged with going 75 in a 65 zone.
          Almost fell on my knees to thank the young highway patrol guy who likely saved my life!!!
          Paid the fine without my usual going to court to protest!!
          Please BEE careful out there folks, especially when tired!

    • fajensen says:

      I think there would be a VERY strong market for rebuilt simple cars without all the electronics, especially for older buyers.

      Nope, really there isn’t, not outside of the very small enthusiast crowd, of opinionated people with money they like to spend on specific cars, a.k.a. Classic Car buyers.

      We even tried with the “old-people-phones” and “… computers”. The people who “want” those are half-blind and on some sort of benefit already, so they are not going to be big spenders.

      The rest of the oldies just buys the phone that their grandchildren use, they use the grandkids as tech-support and advisors, iPhone and some Android has an “I am half-blind mode” for those who will not admit that they are failing.

      With cars, the gramps and grannies ’round here, they buy Toyota Yaris. Toyota’s service is cheap (and a Toyota never breaks down if serviced).

      • Sailor says:

        Yes, there really is!
        Everyone I know,for a start.
        The problem is that the manufacturers won’t make a fraction of the profit they currently do on sales, and the servicing profit would almost disappear completely.
        So, the major manufacturers lobby Governments to ensure regulations forbid new startups building old designs.

        • Realist says:

          Dacia. Affordable and simple

        • Sailor says:

          There’s probably only around 7 basic vehicle types that would cover everyone’s needs. Vast amounts of equipment could be standardised to less than 7 models.
          There are other things manufacturers could do. My 80s Kawasaki GPZ900R had quite a few of the bolts slightly oversized in engineering terms, so that the entire bike could be maintained with the three double-ended wrenches that fitted beneath the seat.

    • Heinz says:

      “Learning isn’t the problem, but I don’t want the complicated BS foisted on me at my expense.”

      Amen to that, you echo IMO many similar sentiments on this board.

      The automotive industry has a problem and it it called ‘feature creep’.

      It has long been endemic to IT field which I am personally familiar with– software with bloated features and complicated user interfaces– and many of said features the average user will seldom or never use.

      Now modern cars have all the bells, whistles, doodads and gadgets the designers and engineers can throw at what used to be a basic 4-wheel transportation machine.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Construction Industry too H,,, where it is called, “Scope Creep.”
        When vendors do a good job, or, especially a REALLY good job on a project of many kinds, from TOP Guv Mint,,, right on down to basic residential ( of which type, I agree, there is a totally fraudulent lack there of, at the moment ),,, then the buyers, designers, owners project managers,,, AKA Paper Mongrels,,,LOL ) absolutely want vendors to do more like that…
        Unfortunately for all concerned,,, such increases increase, to the point that the original cost of projects become absolutely out of bounds, and even then, many owners bite the bullet and continue to spend WAAAYYY in advance of their funding…

  4. Nathan Dumbrowski says:

    The reason I bought Hyundai was the 10 year 100k mileage bumper to bumper. Just recently passed 11 years and ticked past 100k. No major issues up until now. Taking this cross country in two months and dread having any major items on the cannonball run. Not hoping for the comedy or drama found in 1981 classic The Cannonball Run

    First car was a Volare bought used for $200 in ~1990. That was a POS

    • Anthony A. says:

      Isn’t the 10/100 Hyundai warranty driveline coverage only? Mine is….Bumper to bumper coverage is much less with exceptions for wear items and electronics beyond something like 12 K miles.

  5. RAB says:

    My first car was a 1931 Model A Ford roadster. Bought in 1953 for $50.
    Sold 2 years later for $90.

    Used car market was pretty good back then.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Were they considered an antique back then already? Or just old? Because HUGE technological and styling advancements were made between a ’31 Model A and the ’53 model year cars.

    • Sailor says:

      A local museum I’ve worked at has a 1931 Model A toolkit.
      It’s on loan. The guy who still owns and runs the Model A his father bought new pops in to borrow special tools when it needs servicing.

  6. gorbachev says:

    Slant 6 -65 valiant bought for 100 bucks
    later sold the engine for 50.Heating was a mess but
    an ok car.

    • aqius says:

      that slant-6 was one of THE best engines ever made. and that’s a fact, Jack!

      the 22-R is legendary also.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Please do NOT forget the GM/Chevy 195 as the precursor,, and then 250 C.I. Straight Six,,, at one point THE latter THE most common ICE on the planet,,, and for good reasons:
        Had the 195 in a ’63 Chevy II SW, that continues to be the most economical vehicles in which I can sleep ”full length” while a ”significant other” or good buds drove/drives…And 250 in my best pick up ever, considering about 50!
        Of course, ”back in the day” especially after just getting out of USN, where the ”after steering” noise of our 1943 model tin can was SO great in our ”after sleeping compartment” that not many would even begin to hear the Santa Monica Freeway a block away soon after.. And, thus, it was easy to sleep, turn about, in the back of a VW bug going across USA…
        THAT one, ’63 Chevy II SW,,, should be at the absolutely TOP of any list of long term vehicles to be reproduced as closely as possible to the original design and engineering,, including the OD, for which there was a small handle down to the left of the steering wheel,,, it could only be pulled out to engage the OD at over 45 mph,,,
        The result was well over 40 mpg ”on the road”
        And with a friend doing a complete over haul on the engine, tranny, and especially a very careful balance of the drive shaft,,, a wonderful family long haul vehicle.

      • Joe Crews says:

        Check out Uncle Tony’s Garage on Youtube if you have time. He’s also a big slant-6 fan is actually putting one in a Miata now :)

      • Heinz says:

        I owned a ’66 Plymouth Valiant with slant-6 in my salad years of yore.

        Yes, the slant-6 engine was legendary for tough as nails reliability and longevity.

      • NBay says:

        Especially 22-RE. Many still on road. ’85-’95 PUs. Kids love ’em and can easily understand and fix the simple mix of electronic and vac controls.

        Originally a Toyota TRACTOR engine.

        Slant 6 good, too, but not quite the legendary 1929 Chev overhead six. Took them till ’75 to figure out how to F them up, made heads integral with exhaust manifolds…which crack. First Toyota Landcruisers COPIED them….that really says something.

  7. MiTurn says:

    “How do you sell more new vehicles when they last longer every year? You don’t!”

    Hence the consolidation in the industry as manufacturers buy each other out, or do joint assemblies, etc. It’s hard to remember who owns who nowadays. Or brands simply disappear.

    • Sailor says:

      Your company sells more because the manufacturers who don’t make simple, long-lasting cars go out of business.
      But the automobile world is no fairer than any other.
      Half the world drives a Toyota HiLux truck, so GM, etc, got the US government to put together a set of import regulations that effectively banned them.
      And Europe has done the same with a bunch of cheap, reliable stuff that everyone in North America uses, etc.

  8. Max says:

    I have a 1996 Toyota (bought from Hertz, so slightly used). This car has been amazing – the body and interior look great. It now has almost 110K miles – it’s had a few long roadtrips. There are no electronics (which I don’t want), it’s just a very simple car to drive. We respond to each other! I’ve never had any expensive repairs to make. My mechanic told me that that particular year and model were the best Toyota ever made – in Fremont, CA

    I’m going to keep it until it gets too expensive to fix.

    • Thomas Morris says:

      If you have the camry(1996) it will last to well over 250-300 thousand miles. I owned a 1993 Camry and asked every owner of similar car I ran into “how many miles do you have on it?” Most answered multi 100 thousand. Many if not all were made in Japan. I believe in 1997 a huge tariff was levied on Japanese cars so then they built factories in the USA to avoid the tariff. The car will serve you well,just maintain it properly. I have had 3 Camrys, and all have passed 180 thousand miles. The third one I have now is running well with regular maintenance.

      • Brant Lee says:

        Yep, my 2010 Camry, right at the average 12 years, (200k yikes!) still purring.

        Got it in Bartlesville, OK Toyota dealer. Just mentioning this because I’m sure Wolf knows where this town is. :-)

      • Cashboy says:

        You must be related to Scotty Kilmer of you tube fame.
        Who seems to actually be correct.

    • Scotty Kilmer, one of Youtube’s car repair gurus, also calls the 93-97 Corolla/Celica/Camry models, the best designed cars of all time. I agree with him as I drive one of those as well. The engines and transmissions on them are known to last as long as you decide to keep the car and I don’t know what else could go wrong that would make it too expensive to fix. I had one of the wheel bearings go bad at around 200k miles. I watched some Youtube videos and they all talked about how you need to use a hydraulic press to fix it, and I’m not inclined to learn new things and I don’t like complicated repairs, so I went to the salvage yard, picked up an entire spindle-knuckle assembly (which includes the wheel bearing) for $15, and that’s how I fixed that issue.

      We already knew in the 90’s how to build cars that last forever. They came out with the Prius to give you better mileage. The Prius got 50mpg in the city versus 40mpg for my Corolla and my friend’s Camry, but on the freeway the Corolla/Camry got over 45mpg, so overall, there was no improvement, but plenty of risk in trying out new technology.

      The way to save our planet would have been to create car-free cities, where most motorized cars are parked on the outskirts and the cities themselves are designed for walking, cycling, and public transportation.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Agree TOTALLY on your city design comment OI, and most of the rest.
        With a great exception for the best ”design”!!
        As per a bit earlier, IMHO, the best designed SW/long hauler for up to 4 people taking turns driving across USA fast,,, or two doing so slow,,, is the ’63 Chevy SW w OD and 195 straight six motor…
        As long as you understand that most if not all Japanese vehicles, at one early point, were clearly 3/4 models of popular USA models, then the conversation can, and IMHO should continue toward most cost efficient,,, and ASAP for the clear benefit of WE the Peons…
        ( And, clearly, the equal benefit of Gaia, eh?? )

  9. Anthony A. says:

    My 17 year old Mustang convertible is a keeper with only 64 K miles on it. And I restored it over the last two years (brakes, tires, tune, cooling system refresh, new paint, etc). People see it and want to buy it. Not happening. I do all my own maintenance and I am 77 years old. I am an “old car guy” and have had them all and raced a few.

    My best friend owns a medical laser repair and service business and travels to hospitals and doctors offices all over the South. He has been buying Honda Odyssey vans for hauling his specialized tools. He usually turns them in when they hit 400,000 miles. He maintains them according to the schedule (timing belt @120 K, oil changes, etc.). His last one had 460,000 miles on it when he gave it away as the dealer wouldn’t take it on a trade. So now he just buys used ones with 100 K or so on them rather than new.

    Given the reliability of autos in today’s world, buying new is usually not a necessity for the average user, but a choice based on wants rather than needs.

    • roddy6667 says:

      I have seen Honda Odyssey’s being used for New York City taxis for almost 15 years now.

  10. raxadian says:

    Let me guess, there will be a new “cash for junkers” deal after the pandemic?

  11. Vic says:

    Here’s a blast from the past: While flying F-111s in England 1977-80 I bought a 1968 Volvo 122S. Four cylinder, four speed manual transmission, AM/FM radio and nothing else. Even though it was RHD I came damn near of shipping it back to USA at end of tour because it was so good. What’d I buy when we did get back? Natch – a ’71 Volvo 145 wagon for $800 that we drove in Colorado Springs for nine years, and “Betsy” never got stuck in the snow either. Wish Volvo still made ’em like they used to.

    • Bill says:

      Ah yes, the F-111. A concept promoted by the same man who brought us the Ford Edsel and the Vietnam War. The Elon Musk of the Greatest Generation: Robert McNamara.

      • Sailor says:

        You can’t make a good fighter out of a bomber (De Havilland Mosquito as the noble exception), so attempting to multirole the F-111 was dumb. However, the F-111 was very effective when used for its original design bomber mission.

  12. Ross Bradsen says:

    Only autos last longer now than in the old days. The same cannot be said for ANYTHING else. Today my 3 year old (still new in my mind) Samsung washing machine broke down again. POS. Why can’t anyone but the auto industry make anything last? I’d gladly pay twice as much for a 10 year guarantee.

    • Ron says:

      Bought Samsung refrigerator same piece of junk

    • Seneca’s Cliff says:

      The short life spans and high failure rates of today’s appliances disproves the adage that if something is all electric it will be reliable and long lived. Modern front load washers are good example what happens when a product is squeezed between increasing demands for efficiency and high tech features and hard price limitations. These things could last for 25 years but they would have to be so expensive no one would buy them. There is really no reason that given the same price pressures and demand for “goodies” EV’s won’t become the vehicular equivalent of a Samsung front load washing machine.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Friend just gave in to spouse, and replaced their 25+ year old washing machine still working fine, still made in same place in WI for, maybe,
        100+ or – years,,, IDK for sure…

        We, the family WE, had one that never had any problem, but/and made the now clear mistake of leaving it for the buyers of our ”farmstead” who were really really good folks, but had 7 children to wash for, etc.
        The replacement, after 5 years, has already needed a replacement of a part made outside USA,,, and may need another, and maybe similar for another part — also made outside USA– within it’s life expectancy of 25 years..
        Original company/owners were ”bought out” by some kind of hedgie/PE or similar only looking at the ”bottom line” and, as such, the quality of the product has succumbed to the profit of the hedgie,,, or ”whateva”,,,
        TOO BAD for all the recent buyers depending on the quality of the original ”made it USA” product,,, etc., etc.

      • Nathan Dumbrowski says:

        They will eventually get the way of a subscription service. Software used to be buy it and forget it no matter the age. Nowadays all of the big guys allow you to purchase the license as a subscription like Office 365, Cisco software… You get a low price but it is annual and multi-year based. Just a matter of time until they roll this out to vehicles

    • Sailor says:

      I think my washing machine was made in the early 1970s. Maintenance over 10 years has been replacing 1 hose clip.

    • Petunia says:

      My Samsung washer has a 10 year warranty and after 5 years it doesn’t sound so good. Expect to be fixing it any day now. The dryer had only a one year warranty and has been repaired twice. My favorite appliances are Kitchen Aid.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Unfortunately Pet, KA appears to be another manufacturer getting by on their name now,,, though not sure that is true for all their line.
        Had a KA dishwasher that worked really well, probably about 199x model, but sold it with the house,,, then tried to buy the same model in 2015, told it was $6,000.00, so got a KA that was $1,600.00 MSRP; needed main ”pump” replaced the second year,,, KA gas range, MSRP even higher has needed 3 replacements of the electronic controls, so far, and will likely ditch it as the extended warranty has now ended.
        West coast friends buy top of the line appliances from Asia,,, east coast friends from EU, except for the really high end stuff such as Viking, something zero, etc… (way out of our budget )

  13. Swamp Creature says:

    My 1978 Mustang that I bought from a used car dealer was without a doubt the worse piece of junk that ever I handed over green US dollars for. It was so underpowered it could not make it up a hill if there were more than 2 people in the car. The engine knocked and it could never be tuned up. I got rid of it in 1983 by trading it in to a shiester Toyota dealer. Could not look a private buyer in the face and take money from them for this piece of junk. That was the last American car I ever bought. Went with Japanese cars ever since.

    • Petunia says:

      My 1994 Mustang was a power monster, gas guzzler, with a 5.8 liter engine.
      Had terrible handling in bad weather, fishtailing all over the place. Owned it for 14 years and traded it in when the interior started to fall apart. Had less than 60K miles. Nice looking car, but wouldn’t recommend it.

  14. Swamp Creature says:

    Forgot to add. It was totalled out with only 30,000 miles on it.

  15. KGC says:

    I will never again buy a new vehicle. I have bought two. But I currently own a car (BMW), and two trucks (Chevy & Nissan). I could easily sell any of them for what I paid. The newest is a 2008, the oldest 1986. They all look very good, and usually people are amazed when I tell them how old they are. I would have no trouble getting in any of them and driving across the country with no expectations of a maintenance problem.

    It is cheaper to maintain a vehicle in top condition than it is to buy a new one. It’s also a lot cheaper to license and insure them.

    I have to agree with Paulo, I neither want, or need, the majority of the technology offered in todays vehicles. I want simple, easy to maintain, transportation. I know how to drive. I know where I’m going. I don’t need a distraction, a running commentary, or any flashing lights.

    My next car will be a vintage Porsche, and if that’s the last car I ever buy I’ll be okay with that.

    • LibDis says:

      You are spot on. Been preaching that for decades, but most people I know still live by the mantra “Im not going to replace that radiator, ac compressor, power window, etc.. the car is not worth it”.

      Stupidest thing ever said….

      • wkevinw says:

        If you don’t let things rust, a good fraction (60%+) of recent vehicles can make it to 200kmi: meaning body engine and tranny.

        Along the way you will probably put a few brake jobs on, AC once or twice, alternator, power steering, fuel pump, etc. Those do get expensive. If in addition you have something like the window motors, some switches, instruments, etc., go bad, then it’s time to think about what you want to do. If you don’t do any of your own work, you should get a newer car as soon as the repairs starting to get around a couple thousand $ a year or so.

        I just did an AC job with high end parts for about $400 including chemicals. ~Triple that for having it done at the shop.

        I had the hoses (lots of fancy ones!) done at the shop on my 2005 Chev Silverado $800. The hoses were about $350.

        I have a small chev SUV that I have probably put in ~2x what it is worth over the past 4 years, which is questionable. However, I know the condition it is in and it is very reliable. A new car is always a learning experience about what can go wrong.

  16. eg says:

    Have an 11 year old Dodge Journey and a 10 year old Chrysler 300C — both bought used. The Journey will be kept for the teenagers to drive soon, and my wife will want something like a used Honda CR-V. I drive the Chrysler and don’t have plans to replace it anytime soon, though I will want something taller than a sedan when I do — for ease of entry and egress.

    • Brian pawlak says:

      The 300, a fine car. Drive ours to Florida every year. 2014, 3.6, so comfortable. 80 mph, 35 mpg. What else could somebody want?

      • eg says:

        It’s the best car I’ve ever owned — but I’m not as limber as I used to be, so getting in and out of it will eventually become a problem for me.

  17. Brian pawlak says:

    Cars today are so much better than before. I tested cars at GM for 40 years in a variety of capacities. Improved corrosion durability was the greatest improvement along with every aspect of durability, in contrast to say, the 80’s. Last year I bought a well used, abused 06 Ford F150 with 240K miles .Never had the sparkplugs changed. Use it on the farm for now and it starts every time, everything works. It will haul the same load as a $60 thousand King Ranch. Some call it luck of the draw as far as longevity. Electric? Still has to prove itself.

  18. Island Teal says:

    God article. Good comments. We’ve had a lot of different vehicles over the years. Just bought a 2006 Audi A4 2.0Lt automatic w only 64k miles. Got it for $.20 on the Dollar. That’s another NEW car that didn’t get sold. 2006 is about the end of the simple vehicles that are still maintainable by the shade tree mechanic ??

  19. Michael Gorback says:

    The 1968 289 Mustang was an awesome little beast. I’m jealous. However I would never own one today. My last hurrah with Need for Speed was a Cobra AC, which was simultaneously one of the coolest looking cars ever made and also one of the stupidest cars ever made. It had no roof, no windows, no windshield wipers. It was like somebody glued two motorcycles together and dropped in this awesome engine. Plus it had those cool chrome exhaust pipes along the sides so you could sear the backs of your calves getting out of the car.

    Which is why I usually drove my old 2005 used Suburban. Not quite a performance car.

    The most trouble I had with the Cobra was that it was always in the shop. It was old technology. I told the mechanic who usually worked on it that I was thinking about selling the Cobra and getting maybe a late 50s Corvette or a Stingray. He just looked at me and said if you like all the heartache you’ve had with the Cobra you’ll love the heartache you will have with the other old technology sports cars. The only difference is that you’ll be able to drive it in the rain.

    So I bought a used loaner Acura ZDX. That’s when I learned I don’t need to pay $2,000 extra for GPS. Since it was a loaner it was a very basic stripped down model that had no GPS. I drove that car for years using my cell phone GPS. When I finally replaced the Acura in 2018 I bought the plain-vanilla version of my new car. Even though it came with GPS I still use my phone. The car companies catch you with GPS by offering software upgrades every year that you have to pay for (planned obsolescence) . On the other hand programs like Google Maps and Waze are free, updated often, and more robust.

    I’ve also concluded that all the whistles and bells in the infotainment console are a safety hazard. Way too much going on. Very distracting. Press menu, then scroll to input, then scroll to USB, then press the dial. Then wait for the paramedics to come and put you in a neck brace and back board and take you you to the ER.


    I’d like to meet the person who decided to put some buttons and dials around the shifter, where my dog can step on them getting in and out of the car and change my radio station or turn the music on or off. What joy it is to crank up the engine and suddenly hear music blasting – or expect to hear music blasting but somehow got a podcast.

    I also want a few words with whoever made the auto start/stop at traffic lights on by default.

    But back in the day cars were not built to last. I remember hearing the term planned obsolescence when I was a kid, but didn’t realize the auto industry had started down that path in the 1920s. It didn’t really matter when I was a kid. I remember my dad used to buy a new car every other year. That’s what a lot of people did then.

    Little did I know then that the original planned obsolescence in the auto industry was to make design changes each year to churn turnover. Henry Ford didn’t care for the idea but GM did. GM soon eclipsed Ford as the largest auto maker.

    That business model worked pretty well until the 70s when the oil crisis hit and these poorly made gas guzzlers were sitting on the lot while everybody was buying German or Japanese cars.

    Now it’s not cars that are replaced every other year. It’s cell phones. People brag about how old their cars are now. When I was growing up a car with 100,000 miles on it meant you were poor. Poor and getting poorer keeping the thing going.

    I have a Samsung S7 that I’m perfectly happy with and have actually never come close to using all of the features. However Samsung announced that they were not doing any more security or software uprades on the S7. They basically are forcing us out with planned obsolescence.

    I have a drawer full of old phones that work well but that were eventually abandoned because there was no longer any software support. I usually keep one of the old models around to take with me when I travel so in case I lose my cell phone I can just buy a SIM card and pull out the old cell phone. BTW using certain software you can use these old phones and tablets as home security cams. I have used Alfred for years. I toss an old phone in my luggage, connect it to the hotel wifi (no sim card needed) and leave it in my hotel room to keep an eye on things.

    Given my experience with these phones that are packed with features that I neither need nor want and the forced obsolescence my next cell phone purchase is not going to be a top of the line unit.

    What was the original topic again? As usual, I wandered off.

    • Jos Oskam says:

      Love your story. And no, I do not think you’re wandering too far off.
      In fact, I just finished writing a comment (below, above?) about the ubiquity of electronics in cars.
      Your comment on phones made me realize that cars are going in the same direction. They become disposables. Use them for a given time, then throw them away, not because they don’t work anymore, but because they are “no longer supported”.

      How this rhymes with all the bloviating everywhere about “green” and “sustainable” and “saving the planet” is anybody’s guess.

    • Island Teal says:

      Great comments. ATT has notified me that my current cell phones will not be “usable” after February 2022 due to the retirement of the 3G network. OK. I just ordered some 2018 vintage Moto cell phones to solve the problem. They are $60 each ????

      • Petunia says:

        I think you can sell the old phones at Gamestop. Buying old phones is the way they were making money before their stock took off.

    • eg says:

      I’m also collecting a stable of old cellphones (an iPhone 7 and a Blackberry Motion) as family members replace them — I envision using them as remote controls, podcast players and such.

      • lenert says:

        After having not much luck retrofitting the old NuTone intercom console I connected an old s4-mini with a USB-RCA cable, switched it to aux and it fills the house with streaming music.

  20. Jos Oskam says:

    Wolf wrote:
    “…a circular problem for the industry. Americans demand vehicles that last longer and wear out more slowly and look good longer … increasing the average age of vehicles on the road, which is curtailing sales of new vehicles…”

    Well, the auto industry has already found the solution to this problem, only the general public isn’t yet aware of this yet. It’s called ELECTRONICS. And it’s exactly the same phenomenon for ICEV’s and EV’s.

    All modern vehicles are crammed chock full of electronics. Contrary to old electromechanical parts, if an electronic component fails, there is no way to repair it or put something compatible in place. It must be replaced. And it can only be replaced as long as the vehicle manufacturer deems it a good idea to keep supplying this part.
    In short, a modern car stays usable until the manufacturer decides it isn’t. Then, it is just waiting for some crucial electronic component to fail, and if it does, the car can go straight to the scrapyard.

    Here in Europe there has even been talk of putting a “valid until” date on vehicle airbags. Wonderful. Once your airbags exceed this date, they must be replaced, or the vehicle fails inspection and may no longer be on the road. So you must replace 10 or more airbags, or the vehicle life has ended. I fully expect car manufacturers to support this kind of legislation, just to get old cars off the road sooner, and solve this “circular problem”.

    I’ve already heard this new development named. It’s called “electronic total loss”, where a mechanically perfect car has to be scrapped because an essential electronic component (for example, emissions control regulation module) is no longer available.

    Planned obsolescence is the way to kill too-long usable equipment, and it’s going to be a big thing in cars.

    • Sailor says:

      Nobody dare mention how ‘ungreen’ this approach is, especially since the CEOs are using the profits to fly around in private jets.
      The problem with multiple lies is that pretty soon one gets caught out with exactly opposed ideas which are both ‘true’.

    • eg says:

      My first experience with this “no parts available for repair” was our old JennAir gas range (circa 1997) about 3 years ago. The stovetop was fine, but the electronic touchpad/oven control died and we were told impossible to source. What a terribly wasteful scenario!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      VaaS: Vehicle as a Service, you pay a monthly subscription fee :-]

    • Anthony says:

      Funny enough I thought of that when buying a four year old Octavia (now twelve). It’s low mileage but there are so many on the roads, usually as a taxi, that there are spare parts everywhere. They are still building them, so I’m hoping for anther ten years as I have only 60,000 on the clock…..we will see. Probably banned by then as it’s a diesel..

    • Nathan Dumbrowski says:

      Singapore doesn’t allow vehicles over 10 years old on the road without exceptions. It was strange travelling where all the cars were newish compared to USA where you get a full mix. So we could get that I suppose

      • Dan Romig says:

        Germany does it better with two-year inspections for anything four years old or older.

        Too many dangerous pieces of junk on the motorway I reckon.

    • Joe Crews says:

      Spot on about electronics. Was ready to buy a ’20 Honda Pilot but the electronics have real issues. Popping noises while driving, screen blacking out. Funny, a common topic on Honda Pilot forums is whether to buy an extended warranty to cover the cost of repairing the electronics. Went with the appliance looking Toyota Highlander instead.

  21. YuShan says:

    The thing I fear most with EV is planned obsolescence by means of software, like is done with smartphones. Will your car be a smartphone on wheels?

    Because that seems to me the only way for manufacturers to keep their profits up with cars that are mechanically more durable and of which the most expensive parts (incl batteries) are easily commoditised.

  22. YuShan says:

    Personally, I’m looking forward to not owning a car anymore. Living in an urban area in Europe/UK, I would prefer to just order a cheap driverless taxi for my transportation when I need it. No hassle with parking (charges), insurance, tax, maintenance. Just pay as you go.

    • eg says:

      You will be long dead before the ready availability of driverless cars comes to a city near you — if the technical hurdles weren’t challenging enough, the regulatory and insurance implications are, I suspect, insurmountable.

  23. IanCad says:

    We owe a great deal to the Japanese auto manufacturers who taught our domestic industry how to build vehicles that would be wholly reliable.
    Hey!! We knew all along but why bother!

  24. Nicko2 says:

    What does the average American spend on their car per year now? Something like $9000?

    Forget about it, no car for me- probably ever. I’ll stick to taxis/ubers/public transit – which is perfectly viable if one lives in a sufficiently sized city (my usage amounts to a few thousand dollars a year; a tiny fraction of ‘owning’ a car).

    • Sailor says:

      My 14 year old (10 when I got it) F-150 costs me $3,000 per year ex-fuel. $4,000 with fuel. That’s everything; repairs, consumables, insurance, and depreciation assuming it dies tomorrow. It has so far saved me $4,100 per year in avoided delivery fees and public transport, and in the used goods I’ve been able to buy and bring home. In essence, my freedom is free.

  25. drifterprof says:

    Flashed me back to my first well-functioning car, a 1972 Plymouth Duster 318 v8. It was two or three years old when, on returning from 2 years overseas in the Peace Corps, I bought the Duster off some lot in central California (recommended by a guy my sister knew). It was a reliable car, and over the years I took auto classes and learned how to repair various things.

    At one point (late 70s), when I was barely making enough money to live in an old dilapidated single car garage in Los Altos, I took the heads off to have it and the valves ground. I can remember taking each head, one at a time, on a city bus to valves to have an auto shop do the work. It was pretty cheap that way.

    It lasted many years, and I finally took it to the grave yard because the front end was more expensive to repair than the car was worth.

  26. Brtsvg says:

    Here in the Midwest it’s the corrosion issues that appear at about 15 years that eventually doom your car, regardless of mileage incurred or initial quality ( or lack of the same). I see many vehicles here in Iowa that have rust holes you can stick your hand through, but amazingly still manage to run. GM and Ford pickups and SUVs are the worst for rust; Toyota and other Japanese brands less so.

    • MiTurn says:

      My northwest Minnesota family members buy their used vehicles from North Dakota folks (Craigslist, dealers, etc.) as ND doesn’t use salt on their roads in the winter like Minnesota does.

      Amazing that winters are so much worse east of the ND border that the state has to contaminate the entire road system with salt….

      • Dan Romig says:

        My work truck is an ’06 Chevy Silverado bought used in North Dakota.

        My sports car is a ’16 M4 bought as lease back from Penske’s Bloominton, MN shop that was originally from his dealership in Atlanta. It has never seen salt and I won’t drive it in Minneapolis in the winter.

        The ultimate winter car for me is my ’13 Lexus RX450h set up with Blizzaks. When I take it to the self service car wash, I spend half the time spraying the undercarriage.

        Hell, I even take precautions against riding my newest bicycle in the springtime because of all the damn salt that gets into the water from snow-melt which runs across the road.

      • NBay says:

        At the Postal Tech Training Center in Norman OK (spent 84 weeks there) I saw quite a few guys drive down from MN, etc, in big 4×4’s with a trailer looking for rust free project cars.

        It occurred to me a good cross country biz would be hauling motors S&W and entire vehicles N&E.


  27. Ron says:

    So true it’s the brine they put on roads in winter because every idiot that can’t drive is out by the way I drove a snow plow

  28. Micheal Engel says:

    1) OJ Ford Bronco rejuvenation, today.
    2) 28 UFO entered Taiwan air defense , today.
    3) SPX day #8.

  29. David Hall says:

    The percent of retirees in the population increased since 2010. Boomers are retiring. A retiree may drive less. Low mileage cars may be worth more than high mileage cars as people think they could last longer.

    • billytrip says:

      That is a good point, but being a car guy there is no doubt whatsoever that vehicles made today last much much longer than those of yesteryear.

      When I was a teen in the late 60s a car was pretty much considered a hoopty at 5 years old. At 100,000 miles you were running on borrowed time.

      Nowadays, most vehicles will do 250K miles without major repairs. Hondas and Toyotas will do a lot more than that. I for one am glad that cars are so much better now. I do agree that some of the tech is getting a bit frothy, the “radar” stuff is more annoyance than anything, I know what a safe following distance is for my current speed I don’t need a computer to tell me. And driverless cars, well IMHO people put a lot more credibility into what software can do than is deserved. You will never see me in one.

      • lenert says:

        Aren’t you glad the person behind you eating their breakfast, shaving, putting on makeup, and texting has auto-braking though?

        • billytrip says:

          I don’t mind the auto-braking on close encounters, I just don’t like the cruise control telling me I need a 300′ setback. It just won’t work unless you are on a very sparsely populated hiway. It sucks when you are tooling along and someone changes into your lane the the car slams on the brakes. I’ll decide.

          And yes, I’m glad that most people have auto-braking because way too many people are not paying attention.

  30. Micheal Engel says:

    Of the 2016 to 2020 only 68% of ICE are registered : hurricane
    Harvey 2017 and other hurricanes sent condemned ICE, south of the border.

    • Anthony A. says:

      Harvey cars were sent all over the U.S. too.

      • Harrold says:

        A lot showed up in Texas where for a small fee that salvage title magically became a regular title.

        • NBay says:

          Auto Electric shops there will NOT be hurting for time consuming work for a LONG time, longer than the running gear outfits even.

          As usual, those who can afford it least will be pushed down further economically.

  31. Artem says:

    So based on the charts, miles driven has been stagnating while the number of vehicles is growing linearly.

    The cars are just standing around?

    • lenert says:

      If you drive 10 hours a week, yeah the car just sits around for the other 94% of the time.

      • Artem says:

        So then why is the number of cars still growing, while number of miles driven is flat?

        • lenert says:

          More people getting cars but driving less individually? I used to drive 10 hours a week for work in the ‘burbs, then I got a job in the city and drove 5 minutes to the station for an hour train ride. Now I’m home all the time writing blog comments but I live in a car-dependent neighborhood so I still need a car for a few days a week. So for my own anecdotal contribution I went from driving like 15k miles a year for 30 years down to about 3k miles a year for the past 10.

      • OutsideTheBox says:


        But if you drove it 10 hours every day….it would need replacement in 18 months….if it was new to start with.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      Miles driven per capita shows an even better picture: people drive less than they used to!

      And yes, cars mostly sit around and cost money. That’s part of the problem.

  32. A says:

    50% of all carbon emissions generated by a vehicle occur before it’s ever been driven off of the dealer’s lot. The best thing we could do for the environment is drive our perfectly fine used cars for as long as they’ll go.

    But billionaires can’t stay billionaires if we just all sensibly live within our means. They need us to buy and consume forever in order to stay in their ivory towers.

    • MiTurn says:

      I could not afford a new car if I wanted one. The prices for new vehicles is beyond ridiculous. A low-mileage used car is always a best bet, but as Wolf has been pointing out the past few weeks, the prices for these vehicles is also becoming prohibitive.

      But what goes up, must come down. Right?

      • Bobber says:

        In a debt-funded economy, the government can’t let prices fall, otherwise the loans would go bad and depression would result. This is what gives people comfort when buying an overpriced house or car.

        The plan is to keep printing money and raising prices. If a person’s wage doesn’t keep up and they face hardship, they get stimulus or guaranteed payment. The government’s message is: don’t worry about anything, just keep borrowing and spending.

        Mama Bear will take care of you, unless she gets hit by a truck. Then you die too.

  33. Is this similar to what happened in the PC market? I am still running old refurb Dells with Windows 7. They are the ICE of computers. They just keep going despite all the warnings. Automakers sell EVs into a declining market, and cars are computers on wheels, or a laptop with a giant battery. When people no longer need desktops they buy laptops and tablets because they are mobile. Consumers don’t use them the same way. Now we have the internet of things, computers are everywhere, and we have self driving cars. Would you spend 50K on a luxury car to ride everywhere while the car drives you?? Would you carry your desktop to work? Now a high end computer is a gaming model, lots of power, and the high end cars are 700 hp street racers. Many similarities. Everything is eventually going public transportation, whether its commodities or information

    • Anthony A. says:

      AB, we have partially self driving cars. We are a very long way away from true self driving, if ever.

      • NBay says:

        What’s being LEARNED from the stupid “self crashing car” programs is easily and much more effectively applied to “Drone Swarming”, i.e., computer/sensor/actuator devices and effective algorithms.

        There are many already calling for Drone Swarming to be declared a WMD.

        There…..my very first conspiracy theory, in print, if Wolf leaves it.

    • Sallie Ann says:

      I, too, enjoy 2 refurb Dell laptops with W7. Dell Inspiron 5721 and 5720. I have a spare Dell 5720 with W8 in a dresser drawer as a spare that I’ve never used in more than 7 years now. These former ‘office model’ Dells are definitely work horses. Mine is on almost 24/7 with zero problems. I download and burn movie DVDs every day on external burner and have a 3TB external drive as the HD is not too large….

      I do have a Gateway PC from 2001 that only had the power pack replaced about 10 years ago. It’s in my closet now. Was told it will work forever as it was one of Gateway’s first best models.

      Sometimes older IS better for some things.

  34. LibDis says:

    Buy a Toyota, change the oil, replace parts when you need too, so the maintenance, fix the window when it breaks, touch up dents, etc etc.

    They will run for a half million miles or more.

    I am still driving my 1996 Camry Wagon. I plan on keeping it another 25 years……

  35. Toyota Lover says:

    Family has 4 Toyota’s, all 2000 models oddly. Combined mileage is approaching 1.4 million. Last few months did Timing Belt and Water pump service across them, parts cost about $1,000 bucks total and saved labor buy owning tools. One camry has almost 400k so its only the 4th TB in 20 years. That’s low cost of ownership. The original alternator just died at 380k. The US market has no interst in building that type of reliability. Not there business model. For Toyota they have the world as there market

  36. cas127 says:


    “One reason for the rise in the average age of vehicles over the decades is the improved durability of vehicles”

    But that is just one reason.

    Another big one is median household economic stagnation (or worse). Another one is the relentless increase in average new car prices in light of said stagnation.

    I may have missed it, but I think it has been a long time since you have done a post wholly dedicated to doing a really deep dive on household/individual median income over the decades.

    You do incidentally touch on the issue when looking at macro stats for other topics (car sales, home sales, employment levels, etc.) but I think there are a *lot* of methodological and longitudinal data issues you could dig into when it comes to household/individual median income issues.

    (For instance, are we *really* sure the G is including the entire universe of households/individuals when reporting median income?

    Or are households/individuals earning zero from work – living off savings/gvt benefits/etc – being excluded from calculation of median income?

    I don’t know…but I do know the G has a history of gaming economic stats (see top line reported unemployment rates)).

    For me, median household/individual income data across decades is one of the absolute best indicators of US economic well-being…with many other macro stats (like car sales, etc.) simply being manifestations of that one primary number.

  37. gerry says:

    When I see these comments about cars that run forever, the question I have is where these drivers used their cars. In New York City, traffic jams, potholes, rough road surfaces, salt in winter and streets with snow all do their damage. Plus many people leave their cars parked outside, no garage, where severe weather conditions and unhinged drivers are a threat. To me, it seems that drivers with cars that age well brag about their old cars while drivers whose transmissions go kaput and whose car engines burn oil keep a low profile. I had a 2001 Toyota Camry bought new and it was a nice car, it lasted 110,000 miles over 10 years (before I traded it in) and had crap V-rated tires, a transmission and front end that went bad and a rotten suspension. Maybe just luck of the draw. I will never buy a Camry again.

  38. Jdog says:

    We are very lucky indeed to have our choice of quality cars that will last decades and hundreds of thousands of miles. It is defiantly not the case with everything produced today. Appliances are a good example, most things like refrigerators produced today are basically junk made to last less than 10 years, and some much less. I just had a repairman come to look at my 8 yr. old refrigerator and tell me it is $1700 to repair it. He said I was lucky to get as much use as I did, and the average is about 5 yrs. He said even the high end units costing several thousand are unreliable and usually not cost effective to repair. It was only a few decades ago, you usually replaced appliances because of their looks, not because they broke down. I sure hope the automotive industry does not go the way of the appliance industry…

  39. John says:

    Interesting and good stuff. I can relate to the mustang, didn’t get mine till April 2013. A six cylinder cyclone engine they call it with 305 hp. Loaded with everything. 73,800 something miles with rust proof underbody. I took the mufflers off and put pipes on there, love the sound, they hear me coming. I love the sound and love to drive it, all gas pedal shifting. I don’t think I want electric for whatever reason, something about a combustible engine and the feel of it. A mustang anyway or a porche. I hear electric is fast starting out and that’s about it.

  40. Micheal Engel says:

    1) CA is open. NY state is open today. Our biggest states are 100% open. The trend is up.
    2) New one family houses sold reached one million in Jan 2021.
    3) The trend is already old. It jolted in Apr 2020, almost doubled to lower high.
    4) People fixed their house : fresh paint, new roof, bought a fancy fridge, built a fence, replaced the old a sofa, financed by debt. Now they have to go to work.
    5) WFH was demoted.
    6) Residential investments will fall.
    7) A small RE correction and a 20% – 25% stock market correction will shave trillions.
    8) The triple tops SMH (Semi ETF) in a TR since Jan might be in distribution, due to planned overcapacity. It will be opportunity to buy, because UFO’s target Taiwan fabs.

  41. Micheal Engel says:

    9) Presidents preempt bubbles in the first year, after election. They blame the other side and jump start the economy in the last two years.
    10) $100 WTI will do wonders : HES !!

  42. Young Buck says:

    Some of you may be very intelligent when it comes to economics, but its painfully obvious most of you dont know anything about cars. So many comments with made up engines or things that never existed .

  43. Auldyin says:

    Great article, Wolf, you don’t get stuff like that anywhere else in a 5min read.
    Your Musy had ‘character’ and noise, not allowed now.
    Way back cars had girder chassis and coach built bodies and were expected to last 30+ years until you Yanks came along with monocoque construction which, you told us, made construction easier, but we all called it ‘built in obsolescence’. Some early GM Vauxhalls rusted out in 5 yrs. They’ve had their arms twisted ever since to make the bodies last longer and it’s now a minor miracle how they can make metal that thin last so long in a salt spray winter climate. Theoretically a car could last for ever, in UK some steam loco’s were in service for over a hundred years. It would be interesting to correlate designer ‘fashion’ changes to length of use.
    The Greenies should love this article for the fact that cars are being kept longer but they won’t because they don’t understand that making a car is far more energy intensive than using a car.
    My first car was a 1936 side valve Talbot Ten Coupe. I wish I still had it car now, money-wise and drive-wise for fun.

    • NICK DANGER says:

      Interesting…. Way back in the late 60’s – early 70’s I toyed with the idea of buying a Sunbeam Talbot. It was sitting on a used car lot along with a Cord 2 dr. Coupe. I passed on both ( what was I thinking ) and ended up with a 1959 Volvo 544 which turned out to be a great car. I was the only one in high school with an import. As it turned out, the Volvo wheel stud pattern was the same as a Ford and so I was able to put a set of Ford rims and Goodyear wide ovals on the Volvo. It looked pretty cool. That car was built like a tank. If you hit the fender with a hammer all you left was a dent the size of the head. There were 2 large round frame rails poking out of the body and running inside each fender to the front bumper. I T-boned a Valiant ( his fault ) in an intersection and pushed his driver door to within a foot of the passenger door. All that happened to the Volvo was both headlights were pushed in , the grill was toast and the hood popped open away from me ( the way it was designed to do ). A neighbour from Denmark once told me about an accident he witnessed in which a 544 hit a train at a crossing with 5 people on board and everyone walked away. With out doubt it was the sturdiest car I’ve ever owned.

      • Auldyin says:

        Neat post, I should have said I was in UK but I remember those early Volvo’s, the estates were fav. for antique dealers carrying heavy furniture.
        Great you saw a UK Sunbeam Talbot in US, they were relatively rare even in UK, a sort of sports version of a family saloon.

  44. joe2 says:

    If everybodies gonna get all misty eyed about their old cars — my first car was a 1957 Alfa Romeo Spyder. It was a backyard tarp deal that I rebuilt when I was in high school. I drove it (and continually fixed it) during my first years in college. In the 60s everything was not as nanny tight-ass as everything is today. I would race my friend who had a Sting Ray and I almost totaled against a building on a woman’s college campus (surprise gravel driveway). That car was the most fun and I should have given up cars when it finally died.

  45. c1ue says:

    I am 80%+ sure the reason EV owners keep their vehicles longer is because most of them are in CA, and the older EVs in CA have “car pool lane” exemption stickers meaning they can go in the car pool lane even if only 1 person inside.
    These aren’t being given out anymore.
    Thus the stats are likely being distorted by the above rich person subsidy passed years ago – among a raft of other regs – to encourage rich people to spend their money on EVs. Much as the monster tax breaks etc etc.
    Oh, and rich people tend to have more than 1 car as well.

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