Why drivers are holding onto their older cars

People are holding onto their cars for longer because of the recession, reveals research from Halfords Autocentres – a trend that is leading to a big rise in popularity of the 'Middle Aged Motor'.

The service centre chain has collated statistics from its UK network, which reveal that, over the past three years, it has seen 36% more cars aged 10 years or older, and 22% more cars aged 15 years or older. More than one in five cars it sees are now aged 10 years or older – this has risen nearly 5% in three years.

These figures are interesting and reveal several things – the most obvious one being that the average age of UK cars seems to be increasing. This is supported by a trend the Cardiff Business School's Centre for Automotive Industry Research has observed. Professor Garel Rhys from the Centre confirmed that cars that are today perceived as 'old' are actually a lot older than they were in the past.

“25 years ago, cars were scrapped when they were 12 years old. Today, they are being scrapped at 14.5 to 15.5 years old. This is a dramatic change.”

Official statistics back this up. SMMT statistics reveal the average age of the UK's total parc of around 31 million cars was 6.73 years back in 2006. Last year, it was 7.25 years – this is a notable change within such a large number of cars that shows the UK parc is indeed getting older.

This is despite the 2009-2010 new car Scrappage Incentive Scheme taking so many older cars off the road. Scrappage incentivised new car sales by offering £2,000 off the list price (equally funded by the Government and car manufacturers) if people scrapped their old car – which had to be 10 years or older. Overall, scrappage removed nearly 300,000 such cars off the UK's roads.

Despite this blip in the trend, cars are being scrapped later because they are now lasting so well. Modern cars are built much better than older ones, which means the remain reliable and serviceable for far longer than they used to. Good paint quality and rust protection keeps corrosion at bay, and computer control for engines ensures cars are dependable for much longer than before.

Because cars are lasting so well, people are thus deciding to hold onto them for longer. Today, there are far fewer penalties to owning an older car and, as such, owners are reasoning there is no need to change them. They are instead deciding to look after them (this could therefore explain the rise in servicing and maintenance).

There is another obvious bonus to owning an older car. If is reliable and dependable, it is also much cheaper to run than buying a new one. All the costs associated with buying it will have been long written off: if parts do not fail and the motors keep on running, annual running costs can be kept in check.

And it seems this is what more and more UK motorists are doing, due to the effects of the ongoing recession. Private buyers have less disposable income and so are putting off buying a new car, something revealed by official UK new car sales statistics: they are down 17.3% (or more than 100,000 cars) so far this year.

The 'Middle Aged Motor' may in time become a staple of our roads as more people put off buying a newer one. What do you make of this new trend though – and is it something you plan to follow? Indeed, do you already drive a Middle Aged Motor and, if so, how are you finding the experience?

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