The department of the bleedin’ obvious

The average age of a car on Britain’s roads is at its highest level since the turn of the millennium with the proportion of motorists behind the wheel of an old banger surging.

UK cars and vans in 2017 had an average age of 8.1 years which is believed to be the first time that the average age has been above eight since at least 2000.

We’ve just had a deep and bad recession. People delayed replacing capital equipment.

We’re surprised, right?

35 comments on “The department of the bleedin’ obvious

  1. That, and the recent rises in “road tax” for new cars, but not for old. It’s almost as if taxing something means there’s less of it.

  2. And also modern cars aren’t rusting heaps of shit. I’ve had two cars since 2000. Both bought two years old, the first ran perfectly well until I traded it in seven years ago. Current one working perfectly well.

  3. I am too slow. Looks like I will be the 3rd person pointing out that is should be good news that cars last so well these days. In fact given the energy required to produce a car it could be argued that car efficiency has improved by more than you see from the simple mpg stats.

  4. What Rob and abacab said. Cars have become mechanically very reliable, and are cheaply fixed thanks to there being many small mechanic businesses and the internet has made sourcing parts (especially used parts) far cheaper too.

    Its perfectly possible to buy a reliable secondhand car nowadays for a pittance that is often only being sold because someone is buying a newer fancier version, and/or doesn’t like/need the old one.

    Cars have become consumer items in effect, rather than major life purchases the way they used to be. People also run several cars – they may have one under 5 years old car for general use, a ‘play’ car such as a sports car or 4×4, and maybe another older car as a spare runaround, the latter two being often much older. Thus the average age of the cars on the road is far greater than the main one in use.

    It used to be that secondhand cars were a lottery – finding a good one was hard, now its the reverse, they’re mainly pretty good, the real dogs are few and far between.

    You can thank computer controlled manufacturing for this wonderful improvement in quality, and reduction in price. No longer some unionised dolt producing ‘that’ll do’ quality components by hand, instead an electronic worker producing exact spec work, hour after hour, day after day.

  5. The Sage has it – higher taxes for new cars.

    But why is cars being older a problem? Isn’t this what we’ve been told for years we’re supposed to do? Repair rather than replace? End the “throw-away society”?

  6. A somewhat irritating thing about the durability of cars over the last few years is that the current generation of cars have some far superior safety features – not an expert on these matters but eg side air bags, back seat air bags, better bumpers, automatic braking, cars that can “phone in” to the emergency services when a serious accident occurred. Not sexy features admittedly but one bonus of your old car being knackered and having to get a newer model is that it would almost automatically be safer. If your old car remains perfectly serviceable however, there’s a rather big cost disincentive to upgrading.

    Okay, obviously this is all tradeoffs and I’m not made worse off by having the choice of upgrading or not instead of just being forced to upgrade by a conked-out car that’s uneconomical to maintain. Cheapskates can prefer to stick with the dodgier vehicles. But there are some externalities if this becoming more common eg driving round on roads with a greater proportion of unsafe cars increases risks of causing serious injury in an accident so presumably raises insurance premiums. And people would be less likely to bang into me if they had automatic braking or parking sensors. There are also externalities relating to older vehicles having worse emissions for example. Doesn’t Singapore enforce that its national fleet of cars is kept pretty shiny and new for these kind of reasons?

    (As an aside, I’m not sure how this trend of increasing longevity and reasonably cheap maintenance will cope with the increasing integration of electronic gizmos. Nor if there is further clamp-down on emissions if you take your car into major cities and the criteria for which cars are exempt from paying extra are aggressively upgraded over time.)

  7. Hmm, a car which doesn’t call the emergency services, or which doesn’t have parking sensors is not ‘unsafe’. Even automatic braking. The car is perfectly safe. The driver may not be, but such drivers are unsafe in any vehicle.

    Consider the opposite – that the safer and more automated cars become, the less care people take driving them. More accidents? Anyway, I don’t want to get into that whole quagmire of Google self-drive cars again, just an observation that older cars, if maintained properly to MOT standards, are perfectly ‘safe’.

  8. “We’ve just had a deep and bad recession. People delayed replacing capital equipment.”

    New cars are cheaper in a recession, while secondhand models rise in price. Supply and demand.

  9. @Rob

    Risk homeostasis is a somewhat controversial hypothesis but the intuition that people will compensate by taking further risks that reduce at least some of the purported benefits seems feasible to me. (Similarly cars with better fuel economy may well end up being driven further because it is cheaper per mile now, and so on.)

    I wouldn’t say that an older car is “unsafe”. I will say that it may be less safe than an equivalent newer model. If an idiot hits you from the side in a way you couldn’t have avoided then you’d rather have side air bags for example. Looking at crash tests there has been a really obvious improvement over the last 20 years and even within the last 10. Would be interesting to know what the comparative safety statistics are “on the road”. I do know I don’t like modern cars with big touchscreen displays – look very distracting to me.

  10. The UK has always had one of the lowest average age of vehicles on the road in the world. We replace our cars more often than most other countries. If we’re now just above 8 we’re still replacing them more frequently than the US where it’s around 11 years.

    It’s why manufacturers want to sell cars to the UK.

    Any article which doesn’t mention this was written by someone who hasn’t bothered to research the subject.

  11. Meanwhile over on Spud’s site, you know when you’ve got under his skin when he bans you. You know when you’ve really got under his skin when he doesn’t publish your comment.

    He got on his high horse about the lack of accountability of the UK accounting regulator.

    I asked him who the Fair Tax Mark was accountable to. He didn’t answer.

  12. I agree with the greater longevity points.
    Most of my old banger cars were killed off by rust – often out of sight and only spotted during MOTs, but even a barely visible chip in the paintwork would soon develop into a gaping hole unless quickly addressed. That hasn’t happened for years now.
    Similarly, even a fair thump will leave a modern bumper unscathed whereas a few years ago it would be twisted and hanging off after a fairly minor tap.
    I suspect that even people obsessed with the cosmetic look of their car will have had less pressure to sell quickly and even a few months difference over a lot of people would make quite a difference to the average.

  13. If we replaced our current car by a younger diesel it would be a worse vehicle for us, because prone to expensive problems with the DPF. Balls to that.

  14. Some research on safety, though there must be better stuff out there.

    From 2013 (MY = model year)

    https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/811825

    The analysis shows that conditional on being involved in a fatal crash, the driver of an older vehicle is more likely to be fatally injured as compared to the driver of a newer vehicle. In fact, the model estimates that the driver of a vehicle that was 18+ years old at the time of the crash was 71 percent more likely to be fatally injured than the driver of a vehicle that was 3 years old or less. The model also produces an estimate for the driver of a vehicle 4 to 7 years old, being 10 percent more likely to be fatally injured than the driver of a vehicle that was 3 years old or newer; a driver of a vehicle 8 to 11 years old (19% more likely); a driver of a vehicle 12 to 14 years old (32% more likely); a driver of a vehicle 15 to 17 years old (50% more likely); and a driver of a vehicle 18 or older (71% more likely). Each estimate represents a comparison to the baseline vehicle age category of 3 years old or newer.

    The analysis also shows that conditional on being involved in a fatal crash, the driver of an older MY vehicle is more likely to be fatally injured as compared to the driver of a newer MY vehicle. In fact, the regression model estimates that a driver in a MY 2003–2007 vehicle was 20 percent more likely to be fatally injured than a driver in the baseline vehicle MY category of 2008–2012. The model produced comparable estimates for drivers of MY 1998–2002 vehicles (32%), drivers of MY 1993–1997 vehicles (41%), and drivers of MY 1985–1992 vehicles (76%). Each estimate represents a comparison to the baseline vehicle model year category of MY 2008–2012

    From 2015

    http://www.tac.vic.gov.au/about-the-tac/media-room/news-and-events/2015-media-releases/aeb-triggers-dramatic-reduction-in-rear-end-crashes

    New research has found cars fitted with low-speed auto emergency braking (AEB) stand a 38 per cent better chance of avoiding a rear-end crash.

    Research from Australia (ANCAP) and Europe (Euro NCAP) has revealed a sharp decline in rear-end crashes for vehicles fitted with low-speed AEB compared to those without it.

    TAC chief executive Janet Dore said the study showed why AEB should be included as standard for all new cars.

    “Almost one in five injury crashes on Victorian roads (19 per cent) and one in ten fatal or serious injury crashes (10 per cent) since 2010 have been rear-end collisions,” Ms Dore said.

  15. Not a “stats out in the real world” thing but instructive on just how fast the standards are moving:

    http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/fiat/punto/102055/fiat-punto-scores-first-ever-zero-star-euro-ncap-safety-rating

    Back when it was first tested in 2005 and under different test criteria, the Punto (then known as the Grande Punto) scored five stars for the protection it offered adult occupants, and three stars for child passengers. This, Avery told us, “reflects the fact Euro NCAP has moved on, and Fiat hasn’t with the Punto”.

    Addressing the Punto’s score, a Fiat spokeswoman said: “Safety is of the utmost importance to the FCA group. When Punto was launched 12 years ago, it was the first five-star EURO NCAP car in its class

    But reassessed for the 2017 ratings:

    The Fiat Punto has been awarded no stars by independent safety expert Euro NCAP – the first time such a score has been given.

    The Punto – first introduced in 2005 – was re-examined as part of Euro NCAP’s regular reassessment of vehicles as the body seeks to find cars “that are past their sell-by-date where safety is concerned”. The Fiat was found to significantly trail its modern contemporaries. …

    As well as no stars overall, the Punto was given zero per cent in the safety assist category. This too was the first time such a score had been awarded by Euro NCAP.

    With a 51 per cent adult occupant score, a 43 per cent child score and a 52 per cent pedestrian safety score, the Punto trails cars like the five-star Volkswagen Polo, which scored 96, 85 and 76 per cent in those respective areas.

  16. My motor is fast approaching its fifth anniversary, having clocked up 35k miles. Apart from a covering of mud it is in excellent condition, has started first time every morning. Totally reliable. Had thought of trading it in for a new one but have decided that would be little more than gratuitous spending. Of course there’s nothing wrong with discretionary spending, people – even car salesmen – need jobs, money has to circulate. But I need an incentive, and the government isn’t providing one.

  17. Spud is proud of his aging Volvo (I think). 11 years old or something like that and he sees no reason to change it.

    Such splendid parsimony is considered as a strong sexual attraction in some communities. Well, communities populated by self-loving old fat accountants with egos the size of Norfolk.

  18. “Almost one in five injury crashes on Victorian roads (19 per cent) and one in ten fatal or serious injury crashes (10 per cent) since 2010 have been rear-end collisions,” Ms Dore said.

    I imagine the number of fatal rear-end collisions at low speed is very low. AEB has obvious benefits but Ms Dore is definitely over-egging the pudding there.

  19. @MBE
    There’s something left out of your first extract which distorts it entirely.
    Cost.
    New, inexperienced drivers, are more likely to drive older cars. They tend to be younger. Drives up insurance costs as does lack of NCB. And also have less disposable income to spend on cars so opt for older.
    And worth bearing in mind that very old cars. Those regarded for tax, MOT & insurance as classic cars, have a far above average safety record, despite being almost devoid of modern safety features.

  20. Andrew C

    Such splendid parsimony is considered as a strong sexual attraction in some communities. Well, communities populated by self-loving old fat accountants with egos the size of Norfolk.

    And Murphy is on the market again it seems. Dogging in the car parks of Ely anyone?

  21. @bis

    On top of the problem of different driver characteristics for different aged vehicles (wouldn’t surprise me if younger people driving too fast so having accidents of greater lethality bias the results for the older cars as you say), conditioning on being involved in a fatal accident is a funny way of doing it. The advantage of much of the safety kit is to prevent accidents occurring in the first place, or to turn those accidents that do occur from potentially fatal to non-fatal. I was rather hoping to see “serious injuries per 100,000 miles of driving” or similar which would be more informative but still confounded by factors such as you mentioned. A really good analysis may even be able to control for these, because I believe reference data may be available for the miles driven by different sexes and age bands.

    @Rob

    Agreed. Also there seems to be considerable variation in the different autonomous braking systems available, particularly their sensors. My limited understanding is that LIDAR is the most common system but only suitable at urban speeds (a good proportion of rear-enders happen this way but as you say it must make a fairly slim proportion of fatalities) whereas fancier radar/camera combined sensors extend the range of operation and therefore the speed they are effective at. I think it is fair to say that my or your chances of suffering a whiplash injury would be reduced if other people drove more modern and higher spec cars.

  22. I’ve never understood the reasons for people buying new cars. My current car was 8 years old when purchased, and I intend to run that till it either dies or becomes significantly unreliable. I’m expecting to get 6 – 7 years and 150,000 miles out of it before it goes.

    Best value I’ve ever had from a car was a 17 year old diesel Skoda pickup I gave £300 for. 18,000 miles later without having even bothered with an oil change, (although I did get it an MIT) I shoved it on eBay and got £325 for it.

    Electrionics death is an ever increasing problem in the old banger market – it effects some brands much worse than others. I’ve no idea what is got to happen to all the out of warranty Renaults and Vauxhalls at about 6-7 years old, as no one who knows anything about bangernomics will go near them. On the other hand, old Toyotas are the future (not for nothing do our RoP friends tend to like old Corollas – they are both totally uncoo, and thus cheap, but also almost indestructible).

  23. @Jim, April 13, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Plus those you refer to

    Reliable and don’t rust rapidly are the huge postives. Yes we should be celebrating.

    Over several years, I’ve convinced my mother to keep her 2004 Micra. Her mindset was memories of 50s to mid 80s cars.

    Her largest costs are petrol (mostly tax), annual insurance (+tax) and VED tax.

    Depreciation is now zero.

    .
    @The Sage has it too – pre-announced higher taxes for new cars meant purchases brought forward to avoid or abandoned/delayed.

  24. Also remember that for many years the UK was the home of ‘the company car’, one of the many tax breaks that have been completely removed in recent years. It was why the UK was known to car manufacturers as “treasure Island’

  25. Does any of this matter?
    An observation that cars are old sounds like a precursor justification for government action of some sort.

  26. Mark T,

    And why was that? Because government tried to fix prices (of labour) and the market accordingly.

  27. Its perfectly possible to buy a reliable secondhand car nowadays for a pittance that is often only being sold because someone is buying a newer fancier version, and/or doesn’t like/need the old one.

    Not here in the US, where “Cash for Clunkers” destroyed (literally) a bunch of old cars and screwed up the used car market.

    And somehow I don’t think that 2005 Fiat Punto has become dramatically unsafe in 13 years, more that the regulators have gamed the standards to manufacture a “crisis” of unsafe cars and/or to push people into buying newer, “safer” cars.

  28. You can hire a car at Heathrow for £4.68/day at the moment. I assume it’s a consequence of car companies offloading surplus stock.

  29. @Dave C, April 14, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    You can hire a car at Heathrow for £4.68/day…

    Interesting. From? Link please

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