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The 3-Year Vehicle Purchase Cycle Is Dead And Not Coming Back … Even If The Economy Does

A new survey of nearly 4,000 car owners by AutoMD.com proclaims that the two- to three-year vehicle purchasing cycle is dead. It backs this claim up by pointing out that three in four respondents agreed that buying a vehicle every two to three years is a thing of the past, and 78 percent indicated that 10-plus years — or until it dies — is the appropriate vehicle lifespan. Additionally, more than half said that a better economy would not change their habit of holding onto a vehicle for longer.

The survey indicates, furthermore, that the longer ownership trend is spurring consumers to seek out independent repair shops over dealership service centers.

AutoMD says its survey results confirm other industry data showing an aging vehicle fleet on U.S. roads …
• For the second year in a row, 60 percent of survey respondents said that their primary vehicle has more than 100,000 miles;
• 66 percent said they plan to drive their primary vehicle for more than 150,000 miles or until it dies; and
• More than half plan to rack up 75,000 additional miles than on their previous vehicle.

While the economy continues to be the No. 1 reason for holding on to vehicles, vigilant repair and servicing also ranked highly. “There is nothing surprising about the economy driving car owners to hold onto their vehicles for longer. Our data has been showing this trend for the past three years. But what is most compelling is that longer ownership has become an embedded habit for car owners, regardless of what the economy does,” said Brian Hafer, vice president of marketing at AutoMD. “This significant lengthening of the ownership cycle looks like it is here to stay, and it’s being supported by better-made vehicles on the road, more choices for and information online about repairing those vehicles, and a more scrupulous focus on service and maintenance.”

An Aging Fleet on the Streets … According to the survey, the primary vehicle of 60 percent of respondents has more than 100,000 miles — a number unchanged from 2011 and up in excess of 13 percent from 2010. When asked why they plan to keep their primary vehicle for more than 100,000 miles, respondents cited the economy (47 percent) and vigilance with repair and service (44 percent) as the top reasons, followed by cost savings (37 percent), DIYing (28 percent) and better built cars (19 percent).

Longer Vehicle Lifespan Not Just a Trend, But a Reality … While the economy has driven car owners to hold onto their cars for greater periods of time than ever before, the survey indicates that this is no passing trend. AutoMD says that 45 percent of those surveyed said that their viewpoint on the appropriate lifespan of a vehicle has changed in the past five years — they now view vehicle ownership as a much longer-term proposition. Three in four respondents agreed that getting a new vehicle every two to three years is the old model. The majority said the appropriate vehicle lifespan is more than triple that — nearly 80 percent consider it to now be 10-plus years (or until it dies), with 93 percent saying eight years or more.

And, of those who are more likely to hold onto their vehicle for longer, more than half said that an improving economy would not spur them to shorten the lifespan and buy a new vehicle.

Independent Repair Shops Preferred … While half of those who are holding onto their vehicles longer said it has not changed their approach to service and maintenance, 57 percent of DFMers holding on to their vehicles longer said it has indeed changed their approach, making them more scrupulous about sticking to the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule. Of those, 76 percent said they are more likely to visit an independent shop “to save money” versus the dealership.

When all DIFMers — not just those holding onto their vehicles for longer — were asked which kind of service shop they were most likely to use, 69 percent said they would likely opt for the independent repair shop over chains (8 percent) and dealerships (20 percent). DIYers, who prefer their own garages for repairs (57 percent), also preferred independent shops (33 percent) versus chains (4 percent) and dealerships (6 percent).

Of the survey respondents, about 20 percent of DIFMers and 13 percent of DIYers said they plan to purchase a new vehicle this year — with more than half saying that they are purchasing simply because they have no choice (i.e. their vehicle is at the end of its life).

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