Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever before, as used-car prices hit record highs

Used car
Used car lot. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • The average age of a US car is over 12 years old, IHS Markit found.
  • Soaring prices for new cars have increased the market for used vehicles.
  • Car owners looking to repair aging vehicles could face delays and auto-supply shortages.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The average age of US cars hit an all-time high last year.

The average car in the US was about 12 years old in 2020, an increase of nearly 2 months over the previous year, as COVID-19 shutdowns kept many people at home and their cars off the road, according to data from IHS Markit.

The average age of cars has been steadily increasing for about 15 years now due to higher prices for new cars and the increasing longevity of vehicles, IHS said. The firm said the pandemic lengthened the average age of cars, as cars did not tack on as many miles last year and many drivers looked to save money, forcing new car sales to slump at the onset of the pandemic.

“2020 was a radical departure from the norm and challenged assumptions about how vehicle owners use their vehicles and accumulate miles,” Todd Campau, the associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS, said in the press release.

Campau told The Wall Street Journal the longevity of vehicles has helped push used-car sales higher in an already red-hot market. He said cars are now more likely to change hands multiple times and last for over 321,869km.

“For that second or third or fourth owner, there’s still meat on the bone,” he said.

Last month, used-car prices hit a 68-year record, as shortages of several key goods, including computer chips, slowed the production of new cars. The average price paid for a new car last month hit a record of over $38,000, according to research firm J.D. Power.

Surging prices for new cars have made used cars an increasingly valuable commodity. Many used-car sellers are profiting from sales, and even making money off vehicles with broken engines and car frames. Used-car prices show no signs of flagging, IHS said.

Repair and maintenance shops are poised to benefit from the lengthening life span of cars, as more car owners look to salvage older vehicles, IHS pointed out. But, supply chain snags could make car repairs even more expensive.

Last month, Fox reported that Texas customers were waiting anywhere from 15 to 30 days for new parts to come in from overseas as several key ports face months of shipping backlogs. Typically, drivers would turn to rental cars when waiting for vehicle repairs but rental cars are in short supply this year. In April, Insider’s Brittany Chang reported that some rental cars in Hawaii are going for over $500 a day.

Overall, the pandemic has made it an expensive time to be a car owner. Skyrocketing new and used-car prices have made it inadvisable for many to invest in a new vehicle, while supply chain snags could make it difficult for drivers to maintain aging ones. A surge in gasoline prices has also tacked on new expenses for drivers with long commutes.