New Zealanders slow to scrap old cars

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

The Motor Trade Association (MTA) says that despite sound economic and environmental reasons to trade out of older vehicles, a combination of factors means many motorists are still unable or unwilling to do so.

In 2012, MTA estimates that 138,000 passenger cars were scrapped, a fall of 13,900 (9 percent) over 2011. In the same period New Zealand’s passenger car fleet grew by 22,623 units (0.9 percent) to reach a total of 2,425,332 units or 547 cars per 1,000 people.

New Zealand’s passenger car fleet has an unusual age profile with 1996 registered cars being the most common – a factor that has remained unchanged since 2004. It is the result of the large number of 1995–1997 registered used import cars which flooded in to the country during the early 2000’s. Most of these cars are still being used and skew the age profile of our car fleet. Today, the average age of New Zealand’s car fleet is 13.8 years; that is old by world standards and probably beyond the original design parameters of some models.

As vehicles age, they tend to be subject to more frequent breakdowns and face significant maintenance issues. Vehicle age is a proxy for safety technology, amongst other things, and MTA says the growing age of the fleet further supports Government’s direction under its Safer Journeys programme. As part of this programme, Government will be looking at ways to reduce the number of older, less-safe vehicles, as well as improving the performance of the fleet through initiatives such as in-service emissions testing.

MTA spokesman Ian Stronach says, “Age is a challenge for our fleet but you need to distinguish between classic or vintage cars, and old ‘everyday runners’. Owners of classic cars invariably maintain their vehicles to a high standard, and tend to run them for far fewer kilometres than average; meaning they pose less of a problem from both a safety and emissions perspective.”

The real issues are around older, high mileage, poorly maintained vehicles used as day to day transport. They pose a risk because of their lack of safety features and often high levels of exhaust emissions, which can be compounded by a lack of regular servicing. As these vehicles usually have a low market value, owners tend to put off servicing and defer repairs, as the costs are often more than the vehicle is worth. Because they are used on a regular basis, they increase the overall safety risk to owners and other road users, and at the same time have a detrimental effect on air quality.

Some owners are trapped with low value, poorly performing vehicles and do not have the means to trade up to a better quality vehicle. These are the types of owners that might respond positively to scrappage incentives, as part of a ‘whole of life’ stewardship programme.

For other owners though, it seems to be a case of a reluctance to let go of what is perceived as a functioning device, irrespective of the real costs involved in retaining it. Stronach says, “New Zealanders are renowned for their ingenuity and ability to make do with equipment and facilities that in other countries would be regarded as being well past its use-by date. We seem to have an enduring relationship with older vehicles, and as long as it is still going, it doesn’t need to be scrapped.”

While there are no clear indications yet from Government as to what its plans are, overcoming some ingrained attitudes towards the perceived value and risks around older, high mileage vehicles will need to be a priority if New Zealand motorists are to enjoy a truly safe driving environment in the future.