Thought Leadership

Aging Vehicles Require Auto Dealers to Review Their Customer Engagement Strategy

A mechanic working in a vehicle.

With the improved quality of vehicles, technological advancements in automotive component systems, as well as smart manufacturing and better vehicle diagnostics we have seen over the past two decades, it is unsurprising that the average age of a passenger car in 2022 is 13.1 years—four years older than in 2000. The average age of a light-duty truck is also up by three years, averaging 11.6 years in operation.

Based on an ongoing Escalent study exploring attitudes and behaviors of vehicle owners and intenders, there are several indicators that the upward trajectory in vehicle age may continue. This suggests there is significant potential for automotive dealers to lean into maintenance and repair offerings that can extend vehicle life spans, thereby further building a positive vehicle ownership experience and relationship with customers.

Four Key Factors Driving Vehicle Age

  1. Increasing Concern About Financial Future: According to our study, more than half of consumers are less optimistic about the direction the United States is heading compared to a year ago, which is up from about one-third in 2019. Furthermore, more than one-quarter are less confident in maintaining their household income also compared to a year ago—up from 13% in 2019.
  2. Rising Vehicle Costs: One-third of consumers who do not plan to acquire a vehicle in the next 12 months say they cannot afford to acquire a vehicle right now, and another one in seven says interest rates are too high. Meanwhile, new and used car prices are at record highs. Given the average sale price for a new car in December 2022 was $49,507—an almost 5% increase from the previous year—and the average used vehicle listing price was $26,213 in March 2023, it is understandable that some consumers are not in a position to make such an investment in the short term. Furthermore, nearly two in ten survey respondents state that investing in a new vehicle is a poor value for the money right now.
  3. Changing Vehicle Acquisition Plans: With record-high transaction prices and an uncertain economy, almost three in ten vehicle intenders are postponing or abandoning their plans to acquire a vehicle.
  4. Maintaining Current Vehicles: Instead of trading up, drivers are seeking ways to keep their vehicles on the road. Almost four in ten owners of a 2013 or older vehicle prefer to keep their older-model vehicle. The majority of these owners find automotive parts and accessories an easy and affordable way to keep their vehicle feeling new, increase the resale value and enhance safety—thus prolonging the viability of the vehicle and keeping it in operation longer.

Opportunity for Dealers to Strengthen Customer Relationships

Although car sales may be slowing, this constellation of factors presents a tremendous opportunity for dealers to further strengthen the relationship with their customers and sustain a positive vehicle ownership experience by leveraging the service department as a relevant and frequent touch point.

Service departments, traditionally, have not taken the lead with marketing and customer retention efforts. However, customers with a decade-plus aged vehicle will appreciate the proactive stance and commitment by dealers to help them preserve a vital asset, especially during volatile economic times.

The vehicle aging trend also presents an opportunity for dealers to explore emerging business models such as car sharing and car subscriptions. These alternatives to vehicle ownership may be a perfect fit for a customer who has an older vehicle where investing in repairs no longer makes good financial sense. These new business models also offer a recurring revenue stream for the dealer, which can be a strong motivating factor for adoption.

Supporting Vehicle Owners and Nurturing Brand Loyalty

A lot has changed in the industry since 2000 when the average age of a vehicle was nine years and customer expectations were much more manageable.

It is important for dealers to review customer engagement strategies targeted at older-vehicle owners to ensure messaging encompasses a transition from solely preventative maintenance to maintenance and repair-or-replace. By doing so, dealerships can continue nurturing a positive relationship with owners of older vehicles and strengthen brand loyalty.

To learn more about our findings or how we can help you best meet consumers’ needs, click the button below to send us a note.


About the Study

Escalent interviewed a national sample of 1,020 consumers ages 18 and older from March 2, 2023 to March 24, 2023. Respondents were recruited from various opt-in online panels of US adults and were interviewed online. Demographic quotas of age, gender, ethnicity, and income were in place to represent the US adult population. As the sample for this research comes from an opt-in, online panel, any reported margins of error or significance tests are estimated and rely on the same statistical assumptions as data collected from a random probability sample. Escalent will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request.

Dania Rich Spencer
Dania Rich-Spencer
Vice President, Automotive & Mobility

Dania is a highly accomplished market researcher with a track record of designing and implementing complex research and analytical programs that positively impact business performance.

Kimberly Doherty
Insights Director

Kimberly Doherty is an Insights Director on the Automotive & Mobility team with Escalent focusing primarily on ad hoc research across OEMs and suppliers. She has over 10 years of research and consulting experience. Kimberly supports the research from beginning to end, starting with the development of a research idea and following the project through survey development, fielding, data analysis, and reporting. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan – Dearborn in Business Administration and Psychology.