For the first time since the mid-1990s, automotive registration data issued by RL Polk reveals that Americans are keeping older vehicles on the road for longer periods.

Polk has announced that the median age of cars and light trucks in use in the US - known as the light vehicle 'parc' - has increased for the first time since 1996.

In 2002, light trucks experienced an increase in median age of 8 percent, the largest single year increase since Polk's light truck report started in 1993. Similarly, the median age for cars increased more than 4 percent, marking the largest percentage increase since 1993 and the fourth largest single year increase in the last 33 years.

According to Polk, the trend of declining median age was reversed in 2002 due to lower scrappage rates of older vehicles and only a 1 percent increase in new vehicles registered during the report year (July through June).

There was a 6 percent overall decrease in the number of vehicles scrapped in 2002. This was primarily driven by the second lowest rate in the last 53 years among passenger cars.

"The 2002 median car age of 8.4 years represents the highest median age since we began tracking the statistic in 1970," said Mike Gingell, vice president of Polk's aftermarket team. "The median age for light trucks is still significantly lower than cars due to the recent boom in new truck registrations over the last few years."

"Advances in vehicle quality and engine technology have allowed American car owners to keep their vehicles on the road longer," said Eric Papacek, an analytic consultant at Polk, in response to the decline in scrappage rates among passenger cars. "Better overall quality is apparent throughout the passenger car segment -- from luxury cars to economy cars. This represents a double-edged sword for auto manufacturers in that better cars allow consumers to stay out of the market for longer periods, especially in response to a soft economy."

        MEDIAN AGE OF U.S. VEHICLES
    Year    Cars    Light Trucks*    All Trucks**
    1993    7.3          7.1             7.5
    1994    7.5          7.2             7.5
    1995    7.7          7.4             7.6
    1996    7.9          7.5             7.7
    1997    8.1          7.3             7.8
    1998    8.3          7.1             7.6
    1999    8.3          6.9             7.2
    2000    8.3          6.7             6.9
    2001    8.1          6.1             6.8
    2002    8.4          6.6             6.8

    Source: R. L. Polk & Co.; *GVW 1-3; 
    **GVW 1-8; # as of 7/1 for each year
            VEHICLE SCRAPPAGE RATES
    Year    Cars    Trucks*    All Vehicles
    1970    9.5%     5.0%          8.7%
    1980    8.1%     5.1%          7.4%
    1990    7.2%     4.1%          6.3%
    1995    6.1%     4.4%          5.5%
    2000    6.4%     7.5%          6.8%
    2002    5.6%     7.0%          6.1%

    Source: R. L. Polk & Co.; *GVW 1-8; # as of 7/1 for each year