Average Lifespan for U.S. Vehicles

By Scott VaughanAutomotive Technology, , ,

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Vehicle owners today are keeping their automobiles longer then ever. The average lifespan of a vehicle is currently 13 -17 years while the average age is 11.5 years. The number of vehicles on the road in the United States has reached a record level of almost 253 million, an increase of more than 3.7 million, or 1.5%, since last year.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation the average age of all light vehicles in operation was 11.4 years in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available on their website.

IHS Automotive is one of today’s leading authorities on market research for the automobile industry. Their July 2015 report announced that the average age of light vehicles in operation in the U.S. had risen to 11.5 years, an all-time high.

As IHS noted, the average age of a vehicle on the road has been rising, yet car sales in America have also been increasing. The takeaway from this, as USA Today points out, is that Americans are buying more cars but still keeping their older vehicles longer than ever before. Multiple factors, including global competition and government-mandated improvements in emission standards, have helped improve vehicles’ reliability and longevity.

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While an average lifespan of vehicles is not given in the IHS report, a 2014 Automotive News article stated that, at that time, the peak lifespan or “scrapping age” of a vehicle was 13 to 17 years old.

So what about forecasting the road ahead for vehicle age trends? Well, analysis conducted by IHS Automotive showed that the volume of vehicles 0-5 years old are expected to increase by 24 percent from 2015 to 2020. While vehicles in the 6-11-year-old category are expected to decline by 11 percent by 2020, vehicles in the 12-plus-year-old category are expected to continue rising, and should in fact increase 15 percent from 2015 to 2020. Also, IHS predicted that the average vehicle age will continue its slow and steady rise, hitting 11.7 years old in 2018.

Andrew Rassweiler, a Senior Director at IHS Electronics and Media, notes in his teardown analysis video of the Chrysler Uconnect Touch that, in general, the design cycles in automotive electronics are much longer than those associated with mobile devices. A car’s head unit may take one to two years to design and test, and it may remain in production for about four model years. Rassweiler also points out that manufacturers are making the units to last 15 years or longer. In order to make that lifespan possible, automotive electronics are made with more stringent requirements than typical consumer electronics, in order for the systems to endure extreme heat and vibration.

While vehicle forensics can be inherently challenging in terms of keeping up with changes effected by numerous OEMs, there is also comfort to be taken in the rising lifespan of today’s cars, and the long design cycle of their electronic control units. Not only are cars lasting longer for the driver, but also for the investigator.

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