Ottawa mechanics, dealerships coping with more older cars on the roads


Drivers are holding onto their cars for longer, leading to a trend that’s becoming good for mechanics but a challenge for dealerships. 

According to a recent new report from S&P Global Mobility, the average age of passenger vehicles on roads in the U.S. increased for the sixth straight year in 2023, reaching a record high 12.5 years. Nearly 122 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. are more than a dozen years old and S&P predicts that the number of older vehicles will keep growing until at least 2028.

While similar data for Canada is not available, Ottawa mechanic Jeff Cutts said it’s a trend that aligns with the rising cost of purchasing a vehicle, new or used.

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“We’re definitely seeing a lot of people who say they want to do something different, but with the prices, they’re keeping their cars going,” he said. “A lot more people are spending more money to keep their vehicles roadworthy.”

More aging vehicles means plenty of work for mechanics like Cutts, who owns the repair shop Medaglia Auto on Dobbie Street in the Carlington area. 

The older a vehicle gets, the more maintenance it needs to continue operating safety. Keeping up with regular wear-and-tear can be expensive enough, but is even more challenging in a climate like Ottawa, where cold, wet winters can shorten the lifespan of pricey parts. 

“It all depends on how well the vehicle is maintained,” he said. “It depends on the manufacturer, too.”

Cutts said his shop is dealing with plenty of aging vehicles with suspension, brake and tire issues, as well as other problems that don’t occur in a car that’s only a few years old. 

All these issues are keeping business steady. 

“We’ve been around for almost 40 years,” said Cutts. “We’ve got a pretty regular customer base already and now people are referring us to others with cars they need to keep going.”

While mechanics may be seeing the benefits of older cars being kept on the road, dealerships are having a harder time. 

Mike Cannon, sales manager at Barrhaven Ford, said supply chain issues and the pandemic have led to record low available inventory, which has sent prices skyrocketing for both new and used vehicles. 

“People used to be on a much shorter buying cycle, about four to five years,” said Cannon. “The cars (people trade in) are typically a couple years older than what we used to get.”

Interest rate hikes are also keeping people away from more expensive long-term loans. 

Despite the age and mileage on the vehicles, low inventory has forced dealerships to pay more for trade-ins and sell them at higher prices. That means customers looking to buy a used car are paying more for less as compared to a few years ago. 

“What that’s doing is putting a store like ours, a franchise store, up against the wall,” said Mark Bonneau, general manager of Barrhaven Ford. “Older cars don’t make really good inventory for us. We’re looking for the three- or four-year-old cars and they’re just that much harder to come by.”

The good news is that manufacturers are starting to recover from pandemic-related supply chain issues, which decreased production and slowed imports of new vehicles and caused prices to spike. 

“Production levels are starting to increase but those lag effects are still felt big in the market,” said Cannon. “We’re starting to see good supply on new at this point. A year ago it was more episodic, but now it’s starting to flow in.”

Also, demand in Ottawa is increasing as the city’s population grows. “The demand remains strong,” said Bonneau. “2023 is looking pretty good so far.”

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