Driving

Survey: Average length of car ownership in America

Americans own their longest-kept cars for an average of about 8 years, according to a recent survey by The Zebra.

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For many, having the latest car is a status symbol and economic milestone that signifies being one step closer to living the American dream. However, with average car prices surging to astronomical highs, more and more Americans are keeping the cars they have for longer.

To get a sense of how long Americans keep their cars, we surveyed 800 people about their car ownership history and what they looked for in future vehicles. Below are our findings about the average length of car ownership and what factors Americans consider when buying a new car.

Key findings:

  • Americans own their longest-kept cars for an average of about 8 years.
  • In our sample, 64% have only owned their current cars for 5 years or less.
  • 80% of Americans considered cost before buying a new car.
  • Top factors that Americans consider before purchasing a new car are cost, fuel economy, maintenance and performance.

Whether you see a car as an investment you keep for the long haul or prefer to trade yours in every few years, it’s important that you take steps to protect your car and maintain it for the future. Looking to boost your car’s longevity? Jump down to our tips below.

The average time that Americans have owned a car the longest is about 8 years

Americans are keeping their cars for longer periods of time, with the length of ownership increasing by 60% in the last ten years. Our study found that on average, people have their longest-owned cars for about 8 years.


How long should you keep a car?

A typical car is expected to last 200,000 miles or more, with electric or hybrid vehicles going up to 300,000 miles. If you drive the average number of miles for an American, a typical car should last you about 14 years and an electric car will last about 21 years.

With a typical car meant to last around 14 years, it’s no surprise that the average age of vehicles on the road has increased to 12.1 years. This increase in the age of cars on the road is attributable in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that car shortages have had on new car sales.

As these conditions have yet to lift, it’s too soon to say whether the average age of cars and average ownership will continue to increase. Once car production is able to rebound, however, new car sales are expected to skyrocket and bring down both the average age of vehicles and length of ownership.

 state-of-american-car-ownership

64% of Americans have only owned their current cars for 5 years or less

A majority of car owners in our sample had purchased a car in recent years — with about two out of three people owning their current cars for five years or less. This finding is reflective of the high demand for cars and record highs of vehicles sold in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Those who purchased a vehicle before the pandemic were fortunate to skip out on the insanity that is characterizing the current market. With new vehicle production halted and used car inventory scarce, those that do have cars in decent condition are holding on to them.

Things to consider when buying a car

Despite holding onto vehicles for longer, the demand for new cars is still high. Many factors influence a person’s decision to buy a car, but we found out which ones are the most important to car buyers today.


Cost

Our survey revealed that cost is the top factor that buyers research before purchasing a new car. Although most Americans believe that car ownership is necessary, not everyone can afford a new vehicle. On top of the initial purchase price, owners also have to shell out around $5,265 in associated expenses every year.

With such a high cost of ownership, getting a deal on the initial purchase is more important than ever. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, try using our car affordability calculator to help you budget before buying. Remember to put your research to work in negotiations and use it as a bargaining chip with dealers.


Car insurance

Although only 25% of Americans research car insurance before buying a car, more cost-minded car owners should look into it because it makes up a large portion of ownership expenses every year. On average, drivers pay $1,529 annually for car insurance — nearly 30% of their annual car expenses.

Money-conscious car owners can take steps to save on their premiums by maintaining continuous coverage or bundling with a home or renters policy. Used cars are also less expensive to insure, and the model can impact the price of your premium. For example, getting a five-year old model can save you as much as 27%. Don’t forget to compare auto insurance quotes to make sure you’re getting the most affordable rates.


Other factors

Aside from cost, fuel economy, maintenance and performance were other top factors that buyers reported researching prior to a car purchase. Consumers are directly affected by the financial impact of rising gas prices, so it’s no surprise that fuel efficiency is a major priority. Maintenance expenses can also be a source of financial stress that prospective car buyers are wary of in a new car. Another top consideration is car performance. Many drivers want a vehicle that drives and handles well, so this is understandably a major car buying influence.

Another notable finding is that a majority of adults aged 65 and up placed a high priority on researching safety features. With technology like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) becoming more prevalent in modern cars, these features are a big selling point to keep owners safe on the road.

For a complete breakdown of the other factors buyers research, check out the graph below.

 factors-americans-research-before-buying-a-car

 

  1. Cost: 80%
  2. Fuel economy: 62%
  3. Maintenance: 46%
  4. Performance: 46%
  5. Safety features (e.g., ADAS): 44%
  6. Style: 35%
  7. Updated automotive technologies (e.g., Bluetooth, remote start): 28%
  8. Car insurance: 25%
  9. Convenience: 22%
  10. Other: 7%

Car models that Americans keep the longest

While many of us are familiar with the most popular vehicles on the road, did you know that they’re not always the cars that people tend to keep the longest? A study by iSeeCars.com found the top ten vehicles that people keep the longest after purchasing new, and they range from luxurious sports cars to your everyday sedan or SUV. Check out the list below to see if you own a car that’s built for the long haul.


1. Toyota Land Cruiser

Owned for an average of 11.4 years before being sold, the Toyota Land Cruiser takes the top spot as the car that Americans keep the longest. With most Americans feeling safest in SUVs, the Land Cruiser is a reliable long-haul option with a timeless style.

 1-land-cruiser-longest-kept-car

 

2. Chevrolet Corvette

As Chevrolet’s iconic sports car, the Corvette brings supercar performance and exotic styling to American drivers at a relatively affordable luxury price tag. Once owners invest in the Corvette, they tend to hold onto them for an average of 10.5 years.

 2-corvette-longest-kept-car

 

3. Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

A compact and agile sports car, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class came to life in 1953. Americans that buy this car new are likely to keep it for 10.3 years.

 3-SL-Class-longest-kept-car

 

4. Audi TT

Celebrating over 20 years on the market, the Audi TT’s iconic design and enhanced performance have satisfied owners for an average of 10.2 years after purchase.

 4-Audi-TT-longest-kept-car

 

5. Ford Expedition

The Ford Expedition boasts plenty of space to relax and enjoy the journey. With the passenger and cargo space to accommodate growing families, it’s no surprise that owners keep the Expedition for just over ten years.

 5-expedition-longest-kept-car

 

6. Ford Mustang

Touted as one of the world’s best-selling sports cars, the Ford Mustang brings powerful performance to car owners who love their driving thrills. Owned for an average of ten years after purchase, the Mustang is an American classic that isn’t going anywhere.

 6-mustang-longest-kept-car

 

7. Toyota 4Runner

Known as a do-anything type of SUV, the Toyota 4Runner has been a go-to for adventurers over the last 40 years. With the ability to transition from the streets to rougher terrain, owners tend to keep the 4Runner for a decade, making it tied with the Ford Mustang on this list of longest-kept cars.

 7-4Runner-longest-kept-car

 

8. Porsche 911

With a minimum retail price of just over $100,000, the Porsche 911 models offer a nexus of power, style and status. Despite the hefty price tag on this luxury vehicle, it’s been voted the most dependable car model multiple times, so it’s no wonder that owners of this car see it as a long-term investment.

 8-porsche-911-longest-kept-car

 

9. Toyota Sequoia

With a spacious interior and powerful engine, the Sequoia is another dependable Toyota SUV that is kept for the long haul. Although a departure from the price tag and luxury finishes of the Porsche 911, the Toyota Sequoia is tied with the sports car because it also stays with its owners for nearly ten years.

 9-sequoia-longest-kept-car

 

10. Toyota Avalon

Coming in at the number 10 spot is the Toyota Avalon. As one of Toyota's more premium full-size sedan offerings, the Avalon has been a mainstay for owners and is typically kept for just under a decade.

 10-avalon-longest-kept-car

Tips to help you own your car for the long haul

Unless you’re in dire need of a new car, it may be best to ride out the car shortage and the dizzying car prices that come with it. To help you increase the longevity of your current vehicle, try out the following tips.

 six-tips-to-increase-your-cars-longevity

 

Fix car problems promptly

If your response to a check engine light is to deal with it later, it’s time to change this habit. Identifying problems and making timely repairs are essential to your car’s longevity. Learn what each car warning light means so that you know what’s wrong with your vehicle and can make a plan to fix it promptly. This will help your car last longer and potentially save you thousands of dollars’ worth of preventable damages.


Drive it consistently

If you find yourself driving your car less, it’s good to remember that it’s still important to run your car at least every two weeks. Driving regularly prevents your car battery from dying and reduces any tire degradation. It also helps circulate fluids and keeps any moving parts lubricated.

Maintain your car regularly

Performing regular maintenance on your vehicle is crucial to helping your car last. Do your best to stick to the factory-recommended maintenance schedule that comes with your car. Whether it’s replacing your air filters, topping off your fluids or changing your oil, you can learn how to do these basic maintenance tasks to keep your car running smoothly and save on maintenance costs.


Give it a wash

Did you know that something as simple as a car wash could prevent a variety of damages to your car? Your car’s exterior bears the brunt of rain, dirt, mud and salt, and these elements can cause rust or damage the protective paint job on your car over time. Regular car washes can prevent the build up of these damaging substances and improve your vehicle’s longevity.


Turn on safety features

If your car happens to have the latest safety features, it’s important that you turn them on and use them whenever you drive. ADAS features like lane-departure warnings and blind-spot monitoring help prevent any accidents that could put your car out of commission. By practicing safe driving techniques and taking advantage of safety features, you reduce your likelihood of damaging your car and prolong its lifespan.


Keep your fuel tank full

Many car owners drive until their tank is empty and then fill it up, but this habit can actually be bad for your car. When your tank is left below a quarter full, it leaves room for air to come in and fill the space. Water vapor from the air can mix with your fuel and result in worse fuel efficiency.

Additionally, condensation in the wintertime can travel to your fuel lines and freeze. This will keep your car from starting and cause damage from the expanded water. No matter the season, aim to keep your tank full — or at the very least above a quarter full — to prevent unnecessary fuel tank damage.


Check your tires

It’s important to check the air pressure of your tires regularly. You’ll want to make sure that the pressure isn’t too low, because this will increase your fuel consumption and your risk of a tire blowout. Make sure your tires aren’t overinflated either, because this reduces your traction on the road.

Find the recommended tire pressure for your car by looking at the sticker located inside the driver’s door. Use a tire gauge to check the pressure and adjust the air as necessary at a local gas station.

With the average length of car ownership at about 8 years, car owners should be mindful of ways to improve their car’s longevity. Using the above tips, you can extend your car’s lifespan and enjoy it for more miles on the road. Don’t forget to make car insurance a priority, because it can help you protect your car for the long haul too.

 

Sources: Audi | Chevrolet | Ford | IHS Markit | iSeeCars | Pexels | Unsplash | Toyota |

 

Methodology
This survey was conducted for The Zebra on YouGov Direct. A sample of 800 U.S. adults ages 18 and older were surveyed on January 26, 2022, between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Pacific time. Data is weighted based on age, gender, education level, political affiliation and ethnicity to be nationally representative of all adults 18 and older in the United States. The margin of error is approximately 3.5% for the overall sample.

Additionally, we acknowledge certain limitations due to the nature of this survey. In calculating the average length of ownership, respondents who selected not sure/other, less than 1 year, and more than 20 years were excluded from the average. Respondents were asked to self-report their ownership history, and as such, this measure may be affected by self-report biases.

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