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COVID-19 helps push average vehicle age to 12.1 years, study says

Chip shortages and other factors haven't helped, either.

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Cars on US roads aren't getting any younger. Neither are we, but that's a story for a different time.
Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images

Last year, analysis firm IHS Markit published a study pointing out that the pandemic had pushed the average age of US cars to nearly 12 years. Now, with another year under our collective belt, its latest report shows that trend has continued.

The average age of a vehicle operating in the US has risen to 12.1 years, according to new research from IHS Markit. Over the past year, that average rose from 11.9 years, and in 2019, research showed the average age as 11.8 years. Two decades ago, the average age of US cars on the road was just 9.6 years.

The pandemic, according to IHS Markit, is one of the driving factors in the rising figure. Work-from-home policies and lockdowns meant fewer people were driving, which meant that fewer new vehicles were being purchased, although those numbers did start rising again in the latter half of 2020. IHS Markit's research shows a 13% reduction in vehicle miles traveled between 2019 and 2020. These two factors combined with an increase in vehicle scrappage (cars leaving the active population) pushed the average age north of 12 years, which strays from the norm, as an increase in vehicles leaving the general population would traditionally lower the average age of a car on the road.

While lockdowns are fading and workers are slowly coming to terms with the revival of the office commute, other factors may work in conjunction to help slow the growth of average vehicle age. Chip shortages and related new-car production woes have helped push used-car values to new heights, which may compel some buyers to offload what's in their garage.

"A vehicle owner who may have kept a vehicle in the garage that they were not using in 2020, now instead may take advantage of the opportunity to either reduce the number of vehicles in their garage or trade up to something newer while the demand and value is extremely high on their used vehicle," said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS Markit, in a press release.

Electric vehicles will likely boost average vehicle age figures, too. IHS Markit's data shows that there are now approximately 1 million electric cars on US roads, with an average age of just 3.9 years, a number that's held relatively steady since 2016. However, this number is unlikely to stay in this range for long. Once more electric cars are registered, and once more used electric cars start landing on lots, average ages are expected to rise.