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Americans keeping vehicles a record 11.4 years

Researcher says higher quality, money are factors

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Americans are keeping their cars and trucks longer than ever, and even with sales of new cars increasing, the average age will continue to rise, a research firm says.

The average age of the 247 million cars and trucks on US roads hit a record of 11.4 years in January — the latest figures available. The Polk research firm gathered state registration data to conclude that.

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The average was up from 11.2 years in 2012, and was nearly two full years older than in 2007, before the start of the Great Recession, Polk said.

People are keeping their cars because the quality is so much better and they are trying to avoid monthly payments, said Mark Seng, a Polk vice president. The annual percentage of vehicles sent to the scrap yard has dropped 50 percent since the recession, he said.

‘‘Cars are just lasting longer,’’ he said.

The company does not see the age dropping for at least five years, even though US vehicle sales are running at an annual rate of about 15.5 million, which is near prerecession levels. And Polk predicts that the percentage of cars age 12 or older will rise in the next five years.

The change creates a big opportunity for repair shops and auto-parts stores, Seng said.

‘‘Customers from independent and chain repair shops should be paying close attention to their business plans and making concerted efforts to retain business among the do-it-for-me audience, while retailers have a unique and growing opportunity with potential consumers wrenching on their own vehicles,’’ he said.

US sales have risen gradually from a 30-year low of 10.4 million in 2009 because of low interest rates, appealing new models, and pent-up demand as people replace aging vehicles they kept through the recession. The rebound prompted Polk to raise its estimate of the total number of vehicles on US roads by 5 percent to more than 260 million in five years.

But Seng said many people intend to keep running their older cars into the future, adding that he can’t remember another time that the average age has grown as quickly.

The growth rate in the average age will slow in coming years, but it won’t start falling until new-car sales rise and stay high for several years.

Older vehicles would have to be scrapped at a higher rate, as well, Seng said.

‘‘With the quality of the vehicles, that’s not going to happen,’’ he said.

Also, more people are financing cars for 72 months, meaning they will keep their cars for at least six years and probably longer, Seng said.

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