Age of U.S. cars hits record high 10.8 years

Our cars are getting older and Americans may be ready to replace their clunkers soon. Here workers build a Ford Focus on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan.

The Pulse is up today on news that many Americans may finally be ready for a new car in 2012.

According to a study by Polk Automotive Research, the average age of our cars hit an all-time high of 10.8 years in 2011. That number has been steadily rising since 1995 when the average age of a car in America was a youthful 8.4 years. But average car age is really just a way to gauge our collective confidence about the economy: If our confidence is low, we wait; when it’s high, we buy.

In 2005, when middle-class Americans were buying million-dollar homes with the help of adjustable-rate mortgages and other maniacal inventions of evil bankers, 17 million people drove home in new cars. That number shrank to just 10.4 million in 2009 as U.S. households continued to tighten their belts and stretch their dwindling paychecks.

But cars don’t last forever. Last year, the U.S. economy got a boost when almost 13 million drivers replaced old clunkers and many looked to American-made vehicles. Experts see those numbers rising through 2016, as more and more of us literally break down and find ourselves in a car dealership inhaling that intoxicating Eau de Nouveau Voiture.

This is very good news for car salesmen on commission, but the real winner would be the broader economy. More car sales means more jobs in areas that could desperately use them. That scenario's already playing out in Tennessee (where VW hired 2,000 new workers to staff a recently opened factory), Detroit (where various car companies have pledged to add 10,750 new jobs) and Indiana (where Honda will add an additional thousand employees to production lines). Experts expect a 28 percent increase in the job force by 2015.

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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