• Drivers averaging 6 years in new cars.
  • Pre-owned cars also aging.
  • Prices could go up, availability down.

Drivers are keeping new cars longer than ever before, which could indicate a changing market for shoppers interested in used cars. According to a recent study from automotive data analysis firm R.L. Polk and Company, drivers are now keeping their new cars for an average of six years--the longest ownership period ever tracked by the firm. That could signal several new trends for shoppers interested in a pre-owned vehicle.

The first thing pre-owned shoppers are likely to see as they consider a two- or three-year-old vehicle is a lack of availability. With an average new car ownership period of more than 70 months in 2011, compared to just 50 months ten years earlier, it's likely that finding a recent used car could become increasingly difficult in the coming months and years.

Used car shoppers who do find available vehicles might notice that cars cost more than they had expected. That, too, is due to availability: As the total number of cars decreases, vehicles that remain will become more expensive. In some cases, shoppers might notice used cars available for only slightly less than what a new vehicle would cost, leading buyers to consider a new car instead.

But as price increases and availability shrinks, there's a silver lining for drivers interested in buying used. One of the main reasons new car buyers are keeping their vehicles for longer periods is an improvement in automotive quality, a trait that transfers to pre-owned vehicles. Indeed, used car buyers are also holding onto vehicles for longer, with the average driver keeping a used car for around 50 months in 2011--up from around 30 months in 2002. That means while drivers might have to pay more or wait longer to find the right car, they'll likely end up with a better vehicle that lasts longer.

Nonetheless, many shoppers still choose to buy new, taking advantage of longer warranties, fresh designs and more modern features. Regardless of whether your next car is new or used, prepare for improved build quality, and a longer ownership period.

What it means to you: Shoppers looking for a quality used car might face increasing difficulty, as buyers hold onto their new cars longer.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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