Car Facts: The Life Cycle of Cars

by | Mar 26, 2019


Cars are amazing. The typical modern car is made of 30,000 parts coming from hundreds of suppliers. Here are a few selected facts about cars through their life cycle.

Planning and Design

It takes on average six years to go from concept to a car actually being sold to consumers.

This great amount of lead time is challenging for car manufacturers; what will consumer preferences be 6+ years in the future, what will competitors be rolling out in 6+ years?

What is the Average Age of Cars on the Road?

In 1980 the average age of a car on the road was just under seven years. Today, the average age is nearly 12 years! Less than 1/3rd of Americans drive a car less than five years old.

What has driven the increase in average age? Mainly increased reliability. Cars and light trucks can easily be driven to 150,000 – 200,000 miles. As cars become more reliable there is less need to upgrade to a newer car.


Americans Love Trucks!

Recently Ford and GM both announced ends to some of their passenger car lines such as the Taurus and the Cruze. This is being driven by falling car sales and increased light truck sales (pickups and SUVs).


An interesting point is that demand for light trucks is increasing in the face of greater new truck prices while car prices have been declining on average. This chart is adjusted for inflation (prices shown in 2016 dollars):


End of the Line


The average car will have 3 – 6 owners during its lifetime and will last 165,000 – 200,000 miles. At the end of its useful life, it will be sent to a scrapyard for recycling.

Steel is the most recycled material in the world and automobiles are the most recycled consumer product and 95% of cars are recycled. About 65% of a typical car is steel and iron and in total about 75% of a car is recycled. Over 12 million cars and light trucks are recycled each year. At the scrapyard:

  • The tires are removed and sent for recycling. About 80% of tires are recycled with the most common new use being roadway base
  • All remaining fluids are drained and sent to a separate processing plant
  • Valuable parts are dismantled for re-use as used auto parts
  • The engine and transmission are removed and stripped of usable parts
  • The car is crushed into a more compact unit and sent to a shredder
  • Machines in the shredding process separate the car into three streams: iron and steel, nonferrous metal and “fluff” (fabric, rubber, glass, etc.).
  • Magnets are used to separate out the iron and steel from the other materials and is sent to iron and steel recycling plants.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting to know as people buying cars on a low budget trying to steer away from high mileage. Like over 100.000 But because I have read this the mileage isn’t a problem Thank you


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