Scrappage rate dropped to lowest in two decades, as used vehicle prices spiked the most ever.
By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.
The average age of all cars and light trucks in operation in 2022 rose to a new record of 12.2 years, according to S&P Global Mobility today. The metric tracks the average age of vehicles on the road, and not the average length of ownership.
“Average age” is a function of two factors – and we’ll get to those in a moment:
- The number of new vehicles added to the national fleet in operation. Strong sales of new vehicles lower the average age of the whole fleet; weak sales raise the average age.
- The number of older vehicles removed from the fleet through scrappage.
The average age of “trucks” rose to 13.1 years. “Trucks” is an industry misnomer that includes not only pickup trucks, vans, and truck-like SUVs, but also compact SUVs that are car-like and smaller than station wagons used to be, and that are immensely popular. The average age of “cars” rose to 11.6 years.
New vehicle sales plunged by total of 5.29 million vehicles in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
New vehicle sales in the US have been marked by 25 years of stagnation interrupted by steep plunges and recoveries. The peak was in 2016, when 17.55 million new vehicles were sold, just a hair above the prior record in the year 2000! Sales started declining again in 2017, and by 2019 were down to 17.11 million vehicles.
Then came the pandemic in 2020, and vehicle sales plunged. In 2021, demand returned, but the semiconductor shortages curtailed vehicle production globally, and new vehicle inventories vanished amid strong demand, and prices spiked by the most ever in recorded history, and these supply shortages kept sales at 14.95 million vehicles, roughly the same as in 1973.
If new vehicle sales in 2019, 2020, and 2021 had each year been the same as in 2018 (17.23 million), then 5.29 million more new vehicles would have been added to the national fleet.
And not getting better at the moment: In 2022 through April, new vehicle sales are down 16.6% year-over-year, as the semiconductor shortages and production problems continue to prolong the vehicle shortages.
This dramatic slowdown in new vehicles being added to the national fleet was in part responsible for the rising average age.
One of the reasons for this stagnation in new vehicle sales, despite a growing population, is that vehicles have been improving, and they last longer with fewer issues, and they look better for longer, and so consumers in aggregate drive these vehicles for longer before they finally end up in the junk yard.
This process, which has been going on for decades, allows people to drive older vehicles without problems, and they’re doing it – and so the average age of vehicles in operation (VIO) nearly doubled from 6.6 years in 1980 to 12.2 years in 2022.
Less wear and tear: miles driven plunged in 2020:
In 2020, the total number of miles driven by highway-legal vehicles of all types – passenger vehicles, buses, motorcycles, medium-duty and heavy trucks – plunged by 11% to 2.90 trillion miles in 2020 from the prior year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
In miles, this plunge amounted to 325 billion fewer miles driven, which amounts to a lot of wear and tear that didn’t happen, and less need to replace vehicles, and less need to send vehicles to the junk yard. In 2021, miles driven bounced to 3.23 trillion, but was still below the levels of 2018 and 2919:
So scrappage declined.
In 2021, the number of vehicles that were scrapped fell to a little over 11 million vehicles, amounting to a scrappage rate of 4.2% of total VIO, the lowest scrappage rate in two decades, according to S&P Global Mobility. By contrast, in 2020, over 15 million vehicles were scrapped, for a scrappage rate of 5.6%.
The plunge in the scrappage volume and scrappage rate makes sense as the plunge in miles driven in 2020 extended the remaining lifespan of vehicles, while used vehicle retail prices spiked by 38% in 2021, and by 53% between February 2020 and December 2021. Given the spiking costs to replace older vehicles, more of them kept getting driven and repaired, instead of getting replaced and scrapped.
The national EV fleet is young and tiny, but growing.
The average age of EVs in operation declined to 3.8 years from 3.9 years, as new EV sales soared in 2020 and 2021, while sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines dropped. According to S&P Global Mobility, there were 1.44 million EVs in operation at the end of 2021, up by 40% year-over-year. But in the overall national fleet, they’re still only a minuscule factor, accounting for about 0.5% of all VIO.
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My 2005 GMC Envoy has 190k miles on the odometer and my 2000
Lincoln Conti has 153k. No issues with either, both run great, and no hurry to replace either,
I’m dumping my classic F-150 as soon as Tesla Cybertruck is released later this year. Had it on pre-order since 2019, can’t wait.
This is sarcasm right?
I’ve heard few people on fixed income talk about not taking 2,000 mile trips this summer
but when I leave for work at 7-9am – bumper to bumper traffic
in afternoon we get the race drivers cutting in and out of traffic
so gas must still be to CHEAP
I haven’t looked at this for years, but I vaguely remember that many vehicles used to drop out of the US fleet via export (e.g. used vehicles to Mexico or wherever). Is that still a thing, or did Cash-for-Clunkers kill it?
If it’s still a thing, then with new vehicle sales down, and aging up, one would expect exports of used vehicles to be down hard. That might have interesting effects on some of those “downstream” markets too?
This is based on annual data through 2019. I’m not able to get more recent data. But it gives you a feel.
Mexico is a huge manufacturer of vehicles and exports a huge number of vehicles to the US and to other countries. It also manufactures vehicles for domestic use, and those can be far cheaper than those built for the US. And these vehicles built for domestic sales have been forming the source of used vehicles. This has been going on for 25 years. Mexico doesn’t need our cheap old stuff anymore. That was a long time ago. They’ve got their own even cheaper old stuff now.
So total exports to NAFTA countries (Mexico and Canada) has been dropping, and in 2019 hit a new multi-year low of just 61,000 vehicles (red line).
Used vehicle exports to the EU (think used Corvettes, Mustangs, Jeeps, not cheap old cars etc.) reached a new high of 115,000 in 2019, second biggest destination (purple line).
The Arab Gulf Countries (GCC) were the biggest and booming export destination with 193,000 vehicles (black line):
Total US exports of used vehicles in 2019 reached 989,531 vehicles:
The Middle East is a sizeable market for used American pickups, as this plumber in Texas found out when he saw his truck, still with his business name on the door, on the news being used by ISIS in Syria
Now there’s advertising that money can’t buy. Do you make international house calls?😉
Thanks! That was really informative.
Our “cheap old stuff” had been making it’s way south for a while. In June 1972, i saw three Ford Model A’s on a car lot in Mexico City for 2500 pesos each. We didn’t live in the US at the time, or my dad would have flatbedded them to Dallas somehow.
Here in AZ, we will still see caravans of clunkers towing clunkers with Mexican plates that have little/no market value in the U.S.. The bumpers are off and stuffed in the back of the towed car. The hitch is bolted to the face bar mounts. Most look to be likely totals or near totaled (extensive body damage but still mobile).
I don’t know how those are accounted for (or if they are accounted for).
I only have eyes for cars over age 45.
I wouldn’t say new cars look better for longer. They have looked the same forever is more like it. Like a frickin shoe with windows. The same windows swooping up the back of the station wagon, err, truck.
With the advancements in fuel efficiency there ought to be room for at least a little more body style. Maybe some real chrome? Nah, we get plastic chrome.
I was in Floriduuh driving some kind of backtalking and beeping white Nissan shoe car. Without the key fob to chirp the alarm I couldn’t find it in a parking lot. So many identically shaped cars.
Around here we call them “jelly bean” cars. LOL
My old ford pickup just hit 50. It’s a backup truck. My daily driver is 12 years old. My wife drives newer stuff. I could care less as long as it works.
I betcha vehicle repair and restoration services are booming these days, I betcha.
Far more cost-effective than buying a replacement, new or used.
Next up: spare part shortages.
Nephew closing on a new home DR Horton Salgado Tx hot 1000 population town north of Austin and has a 4.25 lock 30 year conventional mtg(home about 480k) that he locked in on April 8
Closing set for June 5.
Man, Austin metro is really spreading. When I lived there in the 90s Hutto was a tiny farmville of a few hundred way out of town, now it’s a suburb of 26k. You could get an average suburban house in Round Rock for about $100k.
I have already had to go to the “Pull it yourself” junkyard to get unavailable parts for my 2005 Pontiac minivan. I’m also seeing parts listed as Manufacturer’s Closeout being sold at a deep discount at the internet auto parts sites, which means they soon will be unavailable. Common parts are still easily available, but obscure and body parts are getting hard to find. Soon, professional mechanics will refuse to work on it, or charge extra for the time spent chasing parts.
A co-worker’s experience may support this. He was in a collision recently and tried to pay for his damages himself (no insurance). All the body shops he talked in the Seattle area couldn’t take his business. They are only taking insurance jobs because they are so busy. Any customization work is getting pushed to the back.
So perhaps customization isn’t booming, but the repair/restoration business seems to be. It’s only one data point though.
The body shops don’t like retail all that much. Insurance companies are accustomed to “add-orders” for hidden damage and payment is assured. However, with retail, the customer will think he’s being ripped off if the body shop finds hidden damage and bumps the estimate… plus there’s the issue of payment. Checks are often bad and the credit card eats 4% or so of the profit. Insurance companies pay by wire transfer.
He could probably find someone, but he’d have to pay out the wazoo.
I recently went into a body shop for some estimates. They were very busy due to extreme parts shortage. One of the car in the lot has been there since last Thanksgiving. They just can’t get the parts to complete the repair. So unless the car is not drivable, they would ask the customers to keep driving until the parts arrive, then bring in the car for repair. Otherwise, even with insurance, the rental coverage may run out.
These are interesting charts. I am thinking that slowly changing American demographics are having an affect here. Lots of Boomers have been retiring since around 2008. So that means less commuting, which equals less miles driven, yada yada yada.
It would be interesting to see charts for the average age of drivers and the miles driven by the age groups. I remember when my mom got into her late 60s she stopped driving on the freeway. In her early 70s she stopped driving at night. By 78 she quit driving (Alzheimer’s started setting in).
It works the other way too. Lots of Millennials delayed getting their licenses due to the Great Recession and the advent of car sharing services. As they grow up though they are finding that plan doesn’t really work too well for them anymore.
My parents are in their 80s. Mom can’t drive anymore due to a stroke affecting her memory and Dad won’t drive at night due to the really bright LED headlights of oncoming traffic disorienting him. They like the interstates though.
The youngest millennials in 2020 were already 24. You were probably thinking of Gen Z.
I was thinking of them eight to ten years earlier actually.
Those darn LED headlights are giving me trouble even though I am not 80 yet. Got a pair of yellow tinted night driving glass to make it better. I wonder how many accidents had happened due to those blinding LED headlights that is way to bring and set way to high?
The last new car I bought was in 2001. I prefer to drive quality used cars and let someone else eat the depreciation. Couldn’t care less about what I look like driving from A to B.
Yeah I am driving a 2001 Chevy Tahoe with almost a half million miles on it. This is the second time that I have driven a vehicle for over a dozen years… and Wolf is right… the quality in modern cars is just incredible.
My 1986 Ford Bronco needed three tailgate replacements (due to rust) in the eighteen years that I owned it. This Tahoe lost its clear-coating a few years ago and even now still looks pretty rust-free. I would re-paint it if I didn’t plan on selling it at some point. I do have to spend about $1000 a year on repairs (spent $600 the other day on a new water pump)… but compared to the monthly cost of a new car (to say nothing of a new SUV) then I am coming out WAY ahead on this deal.
My previous boss has a Chevy Tahoe. He had 350,000 miles on it the last time we talked. He said it has been very reliable. He uses it to tow a camper trailer as well as daily driving.
It was easy to sell the chip shortage a couple of years ago. Now its just more control to steer people. Let’s look at diesel prices, almost the same fuel as jet fuel. American airlines buys it by the ton not gallon. Get your ev ready you have no choice.
The chip shortage is for real. It is having a HUGE impact on the business of the company that I work for (not automotive). I’ve been in electronics since 1984 and I have never seen it like this.
Hoarding. Pigmen are piggin’.
“ The last new car I bought was in 2001. I prefer to drive quality used cars and let someone else eat the depreciation”
Availability, pricing and mania killed that plan over the last couple of years…
Unless it’s way used, I think it’s better to buy new if you can get it and just move on….
The used auto world of today requires a reset of how you think…
Hmmm stagnating sales since the year 2000 or so eh? Maybe John Williams does have a point……… ;)
these charts seem reasonable
Less miles driven, less demand for new, no rentals sold into used market,
Work from home
More online deliveries
Now higher fuel so less demand
I rarely see any old vehicles anymore in the streets, all are leased cars or they have maximum 10 years old age. Can be very poor and rural areas that get to use the very old cars , since they operable vehicle age is keep going higher.
I have some property in rural south Alabama…
I’ve seen vehicles I forgot ever existed just a chugging down the road… :)
I keep an eye out for my old 1952 DeSoto Firedome. Haven’t seen it. Maybe it is now in Alabama ?
I’m in the “keep the old car plan” with my 2005 Mustang convertible with 65,000 miles on it. It’s in very nice condition being a Texas car that has been garage kept since new. Never hit, no rust, new tires last year and a looker being RED in color.
The main machine is a 2021 Hyundai Tuscon SUV (4 cylinder, non-turbo) bought a couple months before the pandemic (Jan 2020) was officially underway. Got that for 20+% under MSRP as it was model change year and the dealer was flushing them out making room for the 2022 models.
We are good for cars for the next several years.
Is it the GT or V6? It is a nice looking car, the convertible from that generation. I wouldn’t mind having a GT to keep for 15 more years. It’ll be a true classic by then.
I wonder how life span issues for hybrids and EVs will play out.
My 9 year-old Lexus RX450h is not as happy in the cold winter days as it gets older. It still does the job, but the switch to electric from ICE takes a while longer to kick in & it is definitely temperature dependent.
It also needs to be run for a lot longer in the winter before the ICE engine shuts off at a red light than when it’s summertime. Since it has a 3.5 litre V6, this is not an issue — other than it’s slower to accelerate in very cold temperature & uses more gas in city driving.
Of course, with an EV, there is only battery power. It’ll be interesting to watch how Teslas age in northern climates come winters down the road (bad pun, eh).
I’m sticking to my naturally aspirated V8 like an elf clinging to the tree because that’s where we always make cookies, dammit.
One of the reasons the ICE runs longer and when not needed in the winter, especially just after starting the engine, is to heat up the jacket water and provide heat for the interior. Ours does this too. And its fairly new. Once the engine block is hot, it stops that nonsense.
Of course, that was always the case on your car, so if it now uses the engine more than before, it likely means that the battery cannot hold a charge as well as it used to.
I think it’s the age and cold combined on the main hybrid battery. I replaced the small battery in the back, by the spare tire this winter.
I should add that I do keep an eye on the engine’s temperature gauge, and the water temp is pretty quick to heat up for the V6, but the hybrid battery system definitely works better after a few more minutes.
The battery pack does get warm as it is used, I believe. Curious to hear more on this too ….
Anyway, that was my main question for life span of both hybrid and EVs, as it seems that this is the “weak link” to longevity.
One consideration for newer vehicles is all of the new safety equipment like front collision control, blind spot detection, backup cameras, and lane departure warnings. A substantial number of auto deaths come from older vehicles and of course, folks who refuse to wear seatbelts.
I really like the front radar/camera assist…
While I do think the best safety system is an alert driver looking out the windshield, I appreciate all the help I can get to maintain situational awareness…
The vehicle slowing on its own definitely gets my attention…
Yes, and those things lower the cost of insurance too. My brand new mid-sized SUV doesn’t cost more to insure than my 15 year old compact did. I was shocked and very pleased. A different vehicle I looked at, without the safety package, was going to cost four times as much to insure.
I was really rather hoping for a report on How Wall Street banks cashed in on the SPAC craze. Wowsers. Plus other financial fads. Big fan of the Imploded Stocks category here, but there are so many others.
Got another imploded stock coming shortly :-]
Peloton? Or is that old news?
Snap — and it’s taking down the tech stocks afterhours
Well, this should be a non issue soon enough with new vehicle sales especially since Cathie Woodshed just said below and she is never wrong in her prediction. If used car price crater then perhaps new car will also come down in price and sales will improve…although I probably wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, I think a even a broken clock is right more often than her.
“, investment whiz and disruption guru, believes used-car prices will plummet. The CEO of ARK Invest even goes so far as to predict a “bloodbath.””
Although I’m a Porsche nut, my daily driver is a 2003 Toyota Tacoma EXT Long-Bed pickup, which, at 75,000 miles, remains totally reliable. I’d drive it cross-country today with ZERO reservations.
That’s nothing for a Toyota!
I know, that’s like 20% off MSRP for a Yoda pickup. LOL
My Dad sold his 20 year old Tundra with 30,000 miles recently. Didn’t ask, but I wouldn’t doubt that he got back more than half of what he paid for it.
Retired, no daily commute. Have three cars (one too many, but all paid for COD), all dating from 2008-09. Always garaged. To wit: a Honda Civic Hybrid, a Toyota Highlander, and a BMW 550i. The 550i is my favorite car for long distances and overnight trips: very comfortable and well maintained with 138k miles. Despite the increase in gasoline prices and a V8 engine, I wouldn’t even think of replacing it unless a thoroughly uneconomic repair was necessary.
Do you have the total number of vehicles on the road today?
Using some of your numbers above I crudely guestimate around 180 million.
If total miles driven is 3.23 trillion per year, that suggests an average of around 18,000 miles per vehicle per year – or an average of around 50 miles per day.
This becomes important to the EV debates around the duration and inconvenience of recharging. 50 miles per day for an EV with a 300 mile range suggests around 15% depletion per day. A daily (overnight) recharge only has to “top up” the battery by this 15% … reducing average recharge times.
Caveat: there is always a tyranny in averages.
Apologies – I shouldn’t have been so lazy. Duck Duck Go suggests around 280 million.
Ergo the above depletion calculation drops further to around 10%.
The new data will come out in June if it runs on the same schedule as last year. Yes, last year there was a tiny dip below 280 million vehicles (not 180 million). Here is the chart from last June. I’ll cover this when the new data comes out:
1996 Camry Wagon
2004 Acura LX
Both run as good as new. Notice, no GM or Chrysler…..the Camry and the Acura are both Made in America.
American car makers have no excuse.
My daily driver is a 1993 Mercedes e300d , 29 years old and it still runs like a top. No one has been able to convince me that there has been any significant improvement in automobiles since. Lots of gadgets and fluff , but nothing important.
The W124 was the last mid- or small- Mercedes model that was engineered and built to a higher standard.
When Lexus started kicking them in the marketplace they lowered their standards to get prices down, and are much more like ‘regular’ cars since then.
I heard of an overseas missionary who drove an old diesel Mercedes. People back home though that was not quite right, though he explained it was for the purpose of saving money. Eventually he relented and traded it for a minivan that cost more to keep going. People just didn’t understand.
Pretty sure the same cars are/were used as taxis in certain developing countries, for the same reasons.
I drove a Mercedes 240d for a friend’s cab company in Munich on weekend nights, long time ago, great vehicles.
These car makers are going to blame this all on supply and fix it by scaling up inventory just in time for the bullwhip.
Financial conditions are such that some old-school car company will discover they could manufacture a decent EV, put up a charging network, in an actual attempt to sell EVs while making $! The average age on the road will then get much longer (in time) as EVs have far fewer moving parts.
Noted: Salvage (aka Junk) yards are disappearing in PDX.
Evidently they cannot payout the elevated vehicles
prices that has become defacto and turn a profit.
Usual ratio is if a vehicle costs X, the yard has to see 3X returned as
not all parts sell immediately. And the body has minimal value (outside of ‘crash parts’: doors, front/rear clips) once the drive train is extracted.
re Proper & timely maintenance has kept my ’01 S-10 shop truck running continuously for 381k miles. Original (V6) engine and 5pd gets 21-22 mpg city/highway. Motor is bulletproof, vehicle build quality is “meh”.
Though it has consumed four radiators/three water pumps/two starters/
one alternator & distributor (no coil packs)/four sets disc brake rotors (and multiples of front rotor brake pads)/two intake gasket reseals/two fuel pumps/two sets of (lower) ball joints + one center link & idler assm.
Ironically, the tie rods (and heater core) are original.
One clutch slave cyl. assm. @279k. Clutch assm was still good (but replaced before returning to service).
Happy Motoring to all w/the forthcoming Memorial Day weekend.
I ask the following from a viewpoint of complete impartiality. I’ve occasionally heard from various sources that automakers, particularly from long ago, deliberately manufactured a substandard product so as to compel the buyer to buy again as soon as possible.
A similar conspiracy-minded idea as mechanics saying you should change your oil once every 3,000 miles.
Any truth to such accelerated scheduling to improve revenues through more frequent auto purchases and servicing?
I generally think that, if true, such shenanigans were a relic of long past.
Cars don’t need oil changed as often as they did in the stone age but the little lube shops are still quite happy to put a sticker on suggesting you come in twice as soon. Reading the vehicle’s manual is a great way to not overspend. I get by with a once yearly visit to the dealership for regular maintenance and detailing.
“ I get by with a once yearly visit to the dealership for regular maintenance and detailing.”
Oil not only has a mileage component but also a time component…
6 months is the recommended time frame regardless of mileage due to additive breakdown…
Re oil changes. They are one of the cheapest things you can do to keep your car running in top shape. Most important to use the right oil for your engine and driving conditions. Also a good quality filter. So says the man with numerous vehicles over the last 50 years.🤭
“ Most important to use the right oil for your engine and driving conditions. Also a good quality filter”
All manufacturers have an oil specification… for a reason…
BMW, for example, has additives in their oil requirement, not just for lubrication, but also seals, valve guides, etc…
Many a BMW went to an early demise due to improper oil changes once out of warranty that included oil changes and people started using the cheap oil change places…
The old 3000 mile oil change was prudent using crude based oil…
With synthetic oil, for me, it’s 5000 miles or 6 months… no more than that…
It’s cheap insurance…
It’s probably because of Toyota. Those things last 400k+ with just about everything still original. Honda is known of longevity too. Hyundai/Kia have 10 year warranties even as used CPO.
One of the last industries to not purposely design their products to self-destruct within X short years. I appreciate that. And I’m sick and tired of buying refrigerators!
Interesting times with 1978 and 2021 being equal with respect to new car sales.
Could the continuous and continuing rise in prices for each price sector have anything to do with the amount of time people hold onto their cars? It seems each time you get ready to replace your vehicle, the price for the old car’s replacement – even if it is as close as a one to one replacement – is always a lot more expensive relative to your income than the old car was when you purchased it.
12 years, OMG.
I recall Japan a few years back (may have changed) where cars had to be 3 (?) years old or less to be on the road.
I have 2 cars: 1 is 16 y/o 1 is 4y/o.