TodayApril 16, 2022

Just like people, cars are living longer

Grandma Dodie is 93, alive and doing well

Just like people cars living longer

Okay, Grandma Dodie isn’t 93, and she’s not a person. Grandma Dodie is a 1993 Lexus LS400, and she just got out of the hospital, commonly known as the service center at Lexus of Roseville, last week.

I named my car Grandma Dodie after an eighty-year young little old lady who loved my 1993 Lexus LS400. My girlfriend, Sheri, and I would take her mother, Grandma Dodie, places, and Grandma Dodie always wanted to go in my car because it had heated seats. Eighty years old and my Lexus was the first time Grandma Dodie had ever ridden in a car with heated seats.

It took me three years to pay off the loan for my Lexus and its beloved heated seats. I remember the final car payment I made. It was liberating, and I never wanted to make another car payment again. As my Lexus got older, little things started to go wrong, but I could afford them because I didn’t have a car payment.

Not having a monthly car payment is a primary reason to keep a car longer. The initial average price of a car has gone up. National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA) documents show the average price of a new 2000 car price was $24,923. By 2011, the average new car price had skyrocketed to $30,520, which means one would need another $450-$700 a month to buy a 2011 model, depending on how many years and the finance rate “ a hefty expense in a still-struggling economy.

Cars are living longer

According to R.L. Polk, the average age of a car on the road in 2000 was 9.1 years. The average age of a car on the road in 2011 was 11.1 years. Thus, just like people, cars are living longer.

And eleven years old is not that old, says AutoTrader’s spokesperson, Julie Shipp, “There are over a hundred 1981 cars listed on, the oldest year allowed on our site. In our AutoTrader Classic section, the oldest car listed is a 1910 Packard Model 10.”

One potential downfall of keeping a car longer is the increasing cost of maintenance. In 1950, the first year AAA started keeping statistics on driving costs, driving a car 10,000 miles annually cost nine cents a mile, and gasoline sold for $0.27 per gallon.

Jump to 2011, and driving a medium sedan 15,000 miles a year cost 57.3 cents a mile, and gasoline sold for $3.52 a gallon. While writing this article in February 2012, a gallon of gasoline cost $4.49 in Los Angeles, Ca.

AAA reported that those 2011 costs work out to $8,588 annually, or $715 a month, because of inflation.

AAA figures in average fuel, routine maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration, loan finance charges and depreciation costs, but doesn’t include the cost of the car loan.

An additional issue for owners of older cars is the well-known Japanese manufacturing system Just-In-Time, which produces car parts only when they are needed. Many car manufacturers have implemented the system.

Lexus has used that system and it has proved profitable. As cars are getting older, Lexus is realizing they don’t have a cache of parts they could make money on. For those out-of-production vehicles, there are few, if any, spare supplies for replacement.

Grandma Dodie and I have experienced this issue first hand. Over the last couple of years the lights in Grandma Dodie’s, instrument panel would come on slower and slower. Finally, the lights went out altogether. I couldn’t see my fuel gauge or my speedometer.

Dr. Carlson, aka, Lexus of Roseville service manager Mike Carlson, called to tell me the prognosis of Grandma Dodie. The circuit board assembly had an internal failure.

Carlson told me we had two options. “We can order a brand new part from Japan. It would take a couple of weeks and it would cost you $2,500, or we can refurbish the part for a tenth of the cost.”

Despite these potential problems, keeping cars longer is still preferable for many people, since they have one less fixed cost to contend with.

Most of the costs included in the AAA figure are variable costs that can be put off if money is tight. Sure, you have to buy gasoline to go to work, but you don’t have to use your car on the weekend, and you can put off buying new tires till the next paycheck if your child needs braces.

My neighbor, Jill, bought her 1995 Honda Odyssey outright, brand new. She also bought her 2000 Toyota Avalon in cash, brand new. Two kids “ now teenagers “ later she has 240,000 miles on her Odyssey and 165,000 miles on her Avalon.

I asked Jill if she was considering getting rid of either car yet. Her answer was instant. “Not at all,” she said. “I won’t get rid of these cars till the car dies on the side of the road.”

Jill had the 65,000 and 95,000 mileage check-ups. The only extra amount spent was for a timing belt. I asked Jill what she would buy if she were to buy something new, “I don’t know. It would have to be something I would be happy with for twenty years.”

As for Grandma Dodie, she is back from the hospital, tucked into her garage, sipping on her new fluids and feeling years younger, now that she has her sight back.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.