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Cars play essential roles in people’s lives, getting them to and from work, school, and activities. Vehicles also create significant memories for their owners. So it’s no wonder that when cars get old, some owners struggle with the decision to retire them. Interestingly, recent data shows that Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever. Continuing to drive aged vehicles might provide emotional satisfaction and save money, but it can jeopardize car safety. So, when is a car too old to drive?

Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever

A 2012 Toyota Camry sedan parked on a road. When is a car too old to drive?
2012 Toyota Camry | Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Buying a car can be a complicated and expensive process. Not only does it require days of research and a hefty time commitment to purchase a vehicle, but it also requires the consumer to learn the ins and outs of a new car. So it’s no wonder that Americans are keeping their cars longer than in previous years.

According to a March 2023 report from S&P Global, new vehicle sales remain below average, with the number of passenger cars hitting the lowest point since 1978.

Additionally, the average age of cars and light trucks in the United States has risen again this year to a new record of 12.5 years. That’s up by over three months over 2022, in line with S&P Global’s prediction last year that poor sales of new vehicles would continue to affect and put upward pressure on the average age of cars on the road.

These numbers point to a hard fact: Americans are keeping their cars longer rather than upgrading to newer vehicles every few years.

So, when is a car too old to drive?

There’s no set timeframe dictating when someone should stop driving a car based on its age. However, some telltale signs could answer the question, when is a car too old to drive?

The first indication that a car is getting too old to drive safely is when parts begin failing. Dashboard indicators are a vehicle’s primary means of communication, and their lighting up like a Christmas tree is a clear sign the car needs attention. Also, major mechanical failures and large areas of rust signal that a car is getting too old to drive.

Finding replacement parts is easy enough for most vehicles. However, the older a car gets, the harder it becomes to find parts to fix it. They also become more expensive. At this point, an owner must decide whether to continue spending big bucks on difficult-to-find parts or buy a new car.

What are the safety ramifications of driving older cars?

Driving an older car doesn’t automatically mean it’s dangerous. However, there are some safety ramifications to consider when driving an aged vehicle.

Tires wear and require regular replacement because driving on old rubber can cause accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a tire should be replaced if it’s approaching 6 to 10 years old. In 2020, 664 traffic fatalities were tire-related.

To keep a car running safely, take it for regular tune-ups and ensure the tires are in good condition. During servicing, ask the technician to conduct a thorough inspection. And if any dashboard lights are on, check them to ensure they don’t signal major problems.


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