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The New American Mantra: 2 Cars For Life

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Oran Viriyincy

There's a new reality for most Americans. After years of getting into the habit of buying or leasing a new car every 3 or 4 years, or even going one step further and buying a third car for a house with only two drivers, Americans are pulling back. That's right. The push for a 3-car garage has been parked, at least for now.

What's happening?

First, the recession, job cuts and a lack of consumer confidence have pushed people to put off buying a new car or truck. In fact, according to R.L. Polk, the average American now owns their vehicle for 46 months, the longest ownership period Polk has seen since it began tracking that data more than a decade ago. Not surprisingly, Polk is also seeing the median age for cars on the road rising to 9.4 years in 2008. That is an all time high. For some comparison, back in 1999, the median age for cars was 8.3 years. In other words, we are driving our cars and trucks longer before they head to the scrap heap.

We can get away with driving cars and trucks longer because they are better made and last longer than the models made in the 80's and 70's. Vehicles are simply more reliable. Also, fuel efficiency has steadily increased in since the late 90's, so those people driving older models are not as burdened with gas guzzlers. That's a huge difference than 10 or 15 years ago when "old" models were heavier and bigger.

Americans are also getting away from having a third car for a home with just two licensed drivers. According to CNW research, 10.9% of American homes now have 3 cars, which is the lowest percentage since the late 90's. It's also a sizable pull back from 2006 when 13.2% of American homes had 3 cars. 2.25 million fewer families now see the need, or more cannot afford to own a spare or "Sunday" car.

There will always be families with the means to afford an "extra" vehicle. Heck, back in the recession that started in 1990, CNW found more than 5% of Americans had a third car parked in the driveway. These days however, the trend of people buying that spare car is definitely over. The new mantra: Drive what you have, for as long as possible.

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