Hooniverse Asks: How Old Exactly is Old These Days?

Do you think that, on average, cars are better today than they’ve ever been before? I ask that because the average age of cars and trucks on America’s highways and byways is now an amazingly robust 11.4-years. That means that people are happy enough with driving old iron to keep doing so instead of buying something more modern. And that’s in a year when U.S.car and truck sales exceeded their pre-recession levels. By the way, what’s a Byway?
The problem with consumers keeping cars so long is that dealers aren’t keeping up with the curve. Try this: go and attempt to trade in a ten-year old car at a dealership. You’ll likely be surprised to learn that they will only take it grudgingly, and that the price they offer might make selling it to the two kids with the lemonade stand down the block a better deal.
That discordance causes all sorts of problems with people who eventually do want to trade up to something newer, and that brings up the question of how old is too old? What do you think, at what age do modern cars and trucks no longer seem like they’re of the current generation?
Image: Dealerfraud.org


  1. Part of it is design freshness. If, 11.4 years later, the manufacturers are still building similar looking cars under that nameplate, the car doesn’t seem that old. If the car has gone through three complete design cycles in that period, however, then it does seem old.

    1. I like this answer. With longer design cycles, what we know as current can be up to a decade old.
      I’d propose 2 generations from current as the limit. 3 generations (or significant restylings) becomes old.

    2. Which I guess is why an LJ Wrangler seems still somewhat fresh, while an early WK Grand Cherokee looks and feels old. Or maybe the Wrangler just doesn’t work under “normal” theories…

      1. The timeless Wrangler was the first Dorian Gray I had in mind. All the more amazing considering the strong resemblance to its WWII ancestors.

      2. If it weren’t for the throngs of rusty ones with split seats and cheap aftermarket radios, the ZJ would seem contemporary enough. But, yes, the WJs and WKs definitely feel aged.

        1. This is why I’m so glad my ’98 5.9L was untouched when I bought it a few years back.
          Untouched as in original spark plugs…at 163K miles.
          Seats are fine, everything works (save for the CD player in the OEM radio…though the steering wheel radio controls work just fine), no rust nor rot, a few minor dings and the like, but I still like it. I need to put new headlamps in it, but they’ll be glass, not plastic.
          Even bone-stock, it’ll go places which raise eyebrows.

          1. The Niner is a great rig. I’ve been looking for one in good shape for a few years and (as is the case with all somewhat collectible vehicles) they’re getting really tough to find.

        2. I gotta disagree, drove a 5.9 ZJ a few weeks ago and it felt very dated. Possibly because of the low seatbacks, though, that always makes something feel older than it is to me

  2. 1 year and 20,000 miles more than whatever I am currently driving, haha. So right now that would be 8.5 years and 129,000 miles, next year it will be older and higher.
    The dealers typically won’t stock something out of warranty, or something that can’t (or at least without significant penalty) be financed. For most cars that is 5 years and 85,000 miles when the banks will no longer write a check. For a Kia Sephia, that’s not a huge deal, but for a now $60k Suburban, at that point in its life, it could still be worth $25k and some people don’t have that cash (and may or may not need a 5 year old, out of warranty Suburban, but that’s a different argument.)
    So to a dealer, that is the cut off for most lots, as that is what is considered “Retailable.”
    To me, I like to think a car 100% out of all warranties, so the “You’re on your own bucko” moment is when a car is old. For many, emissions systems are covered to 100k miles, sometimes that’s powertrain. With CPO warranties, that can also reach 100k.
    So 9 years and 100,000 miles? Sounds good.

    1. “For most cars that is 5 years and 85,000 miles when the banks will no longer write a check”
      Only if you’re looking for a 5 year loan. Most banks will let you owe on a car until it is ten years old, but the shortest loan they’ll offer is 3 years.
      So, you can get a 3 year loan on a 7 year old car (as long as it has under 100,000 miles)
      Credit unions are generally less particular.

        1. My credit union was going to finance the 1989 Bentley I found with a crate 502 motor and a supercharger on it, just last year, at that.
          This truly surprised me, but I had a backup plan, too.

    2. “retailable”
      ACK!!!!! I think my brain just exploded.
      Otherwise, I think you’re 100% correct.

      1. It’s a made up word, but it’s a word that is well in use at NADA meetings, haha.

  3. Being “of the current generation” is a much higher bar than “too old to feel comfortable driving.” I think, without any actual evidence, that a lot of cars from the late ’90s and early ’00s still on the road because that’s about when there was a precipitous dropoff in terrible new cars on the market–or maybe the mainstream cars just got a lot better. The Saturns, Bonnevilles, Escorts and Camrys of the world seem to have survived quite a lot of abuse. I think “has airbags” is a pretty standard–albeit low–bar for safety among the used-car-buying populace.

    1. Keep in mind a disproportionate amount of our would be cheap cars were removed from the road with Cash-4-Clunkerz stuff.
      When I was in high school in the mid to late 90s, our lot was some new cars, but more than a few 10-20 year old cast-offs. There is a significant chunk of cars from 1995-2005 that were junked for a rebate on new metal.

        1. I’d argue that it’s normalizing after being artificially young for 2011.
          I don’t have the numbers in front of me, though.
          (Also, maybe the rust issues of the past for the 70s and 80s cars put a natural end date on many.)

      1. C4C removed 750K vehicles from a fleet of 250 million (0.3 percent) five years ago. Aside from being a tiny percentage then, most of those vehicles would have been junked by now anyway. Today, it has approximately zero impact on the market.

  4. Interesting – in 2011, the average car in the EU was 8.6 years old, the 2014-number for Norway is 10.5 years. Usually, high taxes on new cars are blamed for this deviation. Here’s a table showing cars by brand, market share and age bracket. A few decades ago, VCNA would make a huge point out of their cars lasting an average 11 years, much longer than most of the industry, so there’s no doubt this number is a good approvement of today’s quality cars.
    I’d say that a car is “old” when it’s neither the current model nor priced such that people who pay in cash aren’t interested yet. 100000km used to be a threshhold, which I guess is now raised to about 150k km. So a ten year old csr is probably on the verge of getting old. All XC90’s though very suddenly looked old when the new one arrived, so there are different forces at play.
    As a car buying strategy, I look for 10-12 year old cars whose value depreciation curve starts to flatten. So the fact that a car isn’t losing much value anymore could also be taken for an indicator.

        1. It can be polished out…to a degree.
          I’d like to have a chat with GM about the ‘lenses’ on my ’05 STS.
          Shut up, Slid, nobody mentioned you. (inside joke)
          Even the covers on my wife’s ’02 RX300, which spent two years in Vegas, pointed south, buffed out too bad.

  5. Here in the Netherlands, I believe they take anything. If it’s newer than five years old they try te resell themselves. If it’s older, it proabably dissapears into the secondhand markets of eastern Europe or North-Africa, which are relatively close by. There are some tradedays especially organised for those markets. There wont’t be any problem to get rid of 15-year old VW’s, BMW’s or anything else (sub)premium for a decent price. Nor would Japanese or Koreean makes. My mother has had uninvetid interest and bids for het 1996 BMW 3-series, not exactly a classic.
    What this means to 12-year old FIAT’s, Peugeots or Renaults, I don’t know,
    Looking at what moves around in the streets, somewhere between 12 and 15 years old cars seem to dissapear in the unknown.

    1. ” If it’s newer than five years old they try te resell themselves. I If it’s older, it proabably dissapears into the secondhand markets of eastern Europe or North-Africa, which are relatively close by. ”
      I’m thankful for that attitude since I bought my project car in the Netherlands – I’m in Norway.

    2. I’ve seen trailers full of Peugeot 406s (1995-2004) with Eastern European plates (the truck) in the Netherlands as late as 2015. When I was in Warsaw in 2013 most taxis I saw were 15 year old Peugeots. Recently, when I visited a shop specialized in 5-25 year old PSA vehicles in my ’88 205 GTI there were a bunch of Romanians checking out some Citroën C5s from around 2002 or so. I believe they mostly looked at the dirt cheap C5 diesels with 400k on the odometer.

  6. My car would be laughed at on trade in. Not even a Merc dealer would offer me anything more than a lollipop for it.
    On the upside, it will qualify for antique plates this year. Not sure if I should get them, though — I need to look into whether there are mileage restrictions on antique-plated cars in KS.

    1. Yeah, but you know the diesel W126 machines are pretty much like a mobile bank vault, and as long as it’s not the 3.8L diesel motor, you’re solid for at least 3/4 of a million miles.

    1. Mee too, wrong person to ask. My newest “car” is a 1977 FJ40… most all look like newish ditto cars to me.

  7. I still look at cars from 2004 and think they’re new; my girlfriend’s S80 is positively modern. Then again, I still sometimes look at cars from the late 90’s (like every car I own lol), and think /they’re/ new.
    Apparently my awareness of the evolution of cars internally stopped when I was seven.

    1. The only exception to this is the Grand Am, which from 1999 until its demise in 2005, looked like a product from 1994.

      1. I was actually going to say that it’s less age that makes a car seem old, but general similarity to a Grand Am.

  8. From the outside, designs from the late 1990s still look modern to me. However, when driving a car, anything without a color LCD screen center display seems old. My 2011 Silverado WT doesn’t feel any different on the inside than our 2004 Trailblazer does or for that matte, any different than my 1994 Corvette did. Maybe that is just GM’S poor interiors. The Leaf feels modern on the inside.

    1. I really wish that the proliferation of brightly coloured LCD screens was a fad even though I know it isn’t. I’ve steadily realized I hate the damn things in a car, especially if they’re deliberately poorly integrated into the interior design like Mercedes does – the GLE interior looks like it had a bad aftermarket stereo installed by a 14 year old. They’re my old man moment.

      1. Backup cameras have been required since about 2014, so a display screen is now standard equipment. So they got the Countach interior designer to do the GLE?

      1. Must be at least theoretically capable of propelling itself* on level** ground.
        * Pedal-assist is okay. Feet touching the ground is not. Maybe.
        **Modest uphill inclines are a bonus.

        1. **Modest uphill inclines are a bonus.
          The best part of this is I used to live in Seattle, so I know it should have a reputation as bad as San Francisco.

          1. The two closest uphill routes leading away from my house are not negotiable in an HMV Freeway, at least not the twelve horsepower version. By Seattle standards I do not live in a noticeably steep area.

      2. Or “How new is too new?”
        Me: “Hey Harrell! Look at this 1984 Dodge Colt!”
        MDH: “What do I need with something so luxurious?”

  9. Read the title and was going to say “when they look like they’re not of the current generation”, then I actually read the post.
    Depending on the manufacturer and model, there are aesthetic and feature changes that went through in the late 90s to early 00s: higher belt lines, bigger standard wheels, more ubiquitous screens or heavily integrated infotainment and keyless entry.
    I will argue that we’re in the middle of another transformation now. Cars from the mid-10s have much more flame surfacing and LEDs than 10 years ago.

  10. On a chart showing 1, 2, 3, …, n years on the X-axis and percentage of fleet on Y, I’d put the old car vs. newish line around the 85th percentile oldest, wherever that happens to be. My ’96 Thunderbird is 20 years old as of this month and has 197,000 miles, I’d have to guess it’s close to that point.

  11. I think my current measure of old is made in the 20th century since all of the motorized vehicles I have owned are pre-2000 and the only newer stuff i have driven are rentals or loaners. Ironically most of our bicycle fleet is quite new, with the oldest solo bike from 2005 and most from 2007-11.
    I think 10 years/100,000 miles is around the threshold for purchasing a daily driver although I am comfortable running a 20 year old 200,000 mile car.

  12. Around here it seems that old car I would consider a beater car just five years ago seem to be over priced by at least fifty percent. Come on people an eight year old Yukon with 360k km isn’t worth $6500 to $7500. This is the rustiest place on earth, even decently taken care of its still going to have rust and is probably either well gummed up or ready to explode into red dust, er rust.

  13. One car is 33yo in June, the other one is 15yo in April. Of those two cars, 15 years is old, and 33yo is just quirky ergonomics but fresh in every other aspect..

  14. I would say that “Recent Generation” can be identified by there being a space in the dashboard for a SatNav screen.
    Current Generation can be identified by there being no spare wheel provided.

    1. This is fabulous! My mother was the most annoyed about my Volvo-fancy when I was 13. Look how far I’ve come 20 years later…

    2. I still kinda use the CHMSL as the break-point for ‘new’.
      That was 1986…the year a gradumitated high school, and still a decade before I owned a car which had one (and even then it was an 8 year old Bonneville LE with 155K miles on it).
      That Bonnie was a pretty good car, turned out.

  15. The lead photo reminds me of an HBO Canukistan show, “Call Me Fitz”.
    Hilarious for the first few seasons, but it’s NOT for children. When you learn who the primary character is, don’t write it off. You’ll be surprised.
    Cars are very definitely better made, require much fewer repairs, and appear to be so much better screwed together, even rattles and the like take quite a while to appear.
    Even our ’98 Jeep ZJ 5.9L, which just turned over 170K, is pretty solid. Doesn’t burn oil, still shifts fine…sure, it needed a headliner, stereo speakers (still needs at least four more), and suspension bushes all around, but those are pretty much all age-related. It’s an old design (AMC corp), too.
    Wife’s ’02 RX300 just clicked over 135K, yesterday, that car is an easy half-million mile machine…and it’s not Matt Farah’s million-mile LS400, either.
    Even my ’05 STS V8, with 143K on it, is doing okay. Sure, it needed a transmission, but then, it’s a GM (and I purchased it with 83K miles on it…along with a “sealed” transmission…so I wasn’t 100% suprised).

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