How long will cars last? How long should they last?

Auto sales fell off a cliff during the recession from 2007 to 2009. Sales rebounded temporarily with the Cash For Clunkers program in 2009 before falling again.

But long-term trends suggest that auto sales will pick up. Either that, or Americans are going to have to start getting much more time and mileage out of their cars.

I’m cheap. I drive a 1996 Plymouth Voyager mini-van. It got a new transmission a number of years ago. And the engine has been rebuilt. And, well, other stuff has been done. I’m thinking that it could last several more years, easily.

But will it survive to 2016?

Check out this post from Calculated Risk detailing current auto sales. As you can see from the following graph, the number of registered vehicles compared to the current pace of sales suggests that Americans are currently expecting their cars to last about 20 years.

Note that the trend for decades has been for fleet turnover to increase. Cars are being made to last longer, and maybe growing income disparity has forced more Americans to keep their cars longer before considering new ones. But the recent spike is obviously recession-related.

This has to be considered good news for automakers, autoworkers, and the economy generally. Even if the recovery remains choppy, we could see something in the range of a 20% increase in auto sales over the next couple of years. Maybe even more if the economy finds firmer footing.