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Car Buying

Buying a Car: How Long Can You Expect a Car to Last?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

Buying a car is a major expense. That's especially true if you purchase a brand-new car, which will likely incur bigger depreciation than a used model, along with the usual repair and maintenance costs, insurance expenses, fuel bills and more. As a result, you might be looking to own your next new car for a long time -- or, as some say, until the wheels fall off. But just how long can you actually expect a car to last? In other words, how many years can you reasonably expect to get out of a car before it's time to upgrade? We have some answers.

It Depends On the Car -- and You

In some cases, the length of time you'll be able to own a car depends on the car itself. Certain models are built better than other cars, which allows them to last longer. But even car models that are notoriously well built may have fatal flaws that develop later in life, such as an expensive engine or transmission issue, making them expensive to own long-term. When you're buying a new car, it's hard to know exactly how long it'll last.

Similarly, you play a huge role in the car's longevity. It isn't luck that some 1940s and 1950s classic cars are still on the road: Many of those vehicles were owned by drivers who took great care of them for many years, performing by-the-book oil changes, fixing any issues and routinely servicing them at recommended intervals. The result is that these cars are still driving 60 or 70 years after they were made.

So how long can you expect a car to last? The answer could be infinite, depending on how much money and time you're willing to spend to keep it running -- and depending on just how reliable the car stays as it gets older.

Automotive Averages

In general, however, people don't really keep their cars forever. Research by R.L. Polk says that the average age of a modern vehicle is 11.4 years, while the average length of time drivers keep a new vehicle is 71.4 months -- around 6 years. So even if you plan to own a car forever, the statistics are against you. You might get in an accident, you might start to have expensive issues or you might simply decide it's time to upgrade to a newer model.

Don't Forget About Advancements

Even if you do decide to keep a car for a long period of time, technological advancements may change your mind. Consider this: A car made 12 years ago, in 2003, likely won't have side airbags. It'll have front airbags, but it may not have anti-lock brakes. There will be a CD player, but no navigation system, no auxiliary input for an iPod and certainly no USB player. Don't expect voice controls or app recognition, either. And you won't find a backup camera or parking sensors unless you install them as aftermarket accessories.

Advancements in technology is one major reason why people move on to just about any good -- whether it's a computer, a phone or a car. And even if you buy your car with the desire to drive it forever, we suspect technology advancements -- or at least new safety features -- will have you eyeing a newer model eventually.

So if you're buying a car today, how long can you expect it to last? The truthful answer is: a very long time. But at some point, it may become cost-effective -- or simply desirable -- to upgrade to a newer model with more equipment, better safety protection and improved dependability.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: How Long Can You Expect a Car to Last? - Autotrader