Once upon a time, a driver could get some form of pride, and perhaps even bragging rights when his car reached into the six figures for mileage. A consumer who owned a car that hit 100,000 miles without the need for any major repairs was a consumer who had chosen wisely when buying that car. Now, though, when the average car on the road is over 11 years old, any car that can’t reach 100K is pretty much considered a lemon.
Fashion writers might declare blue the new black. A travel magazine editor might toss around the idea that the Willamette Valley is the new Napa, or that, puzzlingly enough, Haiti or Libya could be “the new Dubai,” whatever that means. Newspaper health and lifestyle sections, along with the folks over at AARP have been known to promulgate the concepts that the age of 70 is the new 50, or perhaps that 50 is the new 30.
Now, the New York Times offers the viewpoint that, in terms of cars and mileage, 200,000 is the new 100,000. Two numbers make it apparent that 100K is no big thing anymore: The average car on the road is about 11 years old, and the average car is driven about 15,000 miles per year. Multiply those figures together and you’ve got a fairly average car with something like 165,000 miles on it.
Automakers may be frustrated that drivers are upgrading to new cars at the slowest pace in years. But considering how well vehicles are made today, there’s little reason to trade in or trade up cars in a hurry. Not long ago, a consumer might have felt the need to get rid of a vehicle once it hit around 60,000 miles, with the idea being that the car was probably about halfway through its life—and this was the last chance to get a good value for it as a trade-in.
More and more, though, the 100,000-mile mark is considered mid-life for a car, especially when it comes to brands known for long lives such as Honda, Toyota, and Volvo. If a car can easily be driven 200,000 miles, or perhaps even 300,000 miles, then there’s no reason to feel compelled to get rid of it after 60K or 100K miles. Given the state of the economy and unemployment, as well as the expected lifespan of recently built vehicles, it’s easy to understand why so many consumers are hanging onto cars longer: Doing otherwise wouldn’t be financially prudent.
The Times reports a robust market for used Hondas, Toyotas, and Volvos with 150,000 or 200,000 miles on them, and these vehicles aren’t expected to be scrappers plucked for parts, but as solid commuter cars with good life left in them. Given the longer life of cars, it also makes sense that the old ideas regarding dramatic depreciation once vehicles are driven off the lot are dying. Used car values hit what was then an all-time high last summer, and rising gas prices are only expected to drive secondhand car prices upward.
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Even as gas prices soar, relatively few consumers in the new car market are buying hybrids or electric cars. The main reason why this is so is because cars powered by standard fuel engines are so much cheaper to buy. The cheapest option of all, though, is not buying a new car at all but rather hanging onto your old car and getting as much life out of it as possible.