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The average UK car is now 9 years old, as drivers delay replacements

41.4 million vehicles are on the road, but they’re getting older faster than they’re getting cleaner

Ford Fiesta Titanium front

There’s been a small 2.1 per cent decrease in the CO2 emissions of ‘the average’ UK car, even though it’s now more than a year older than the average car was in 2019.

According to latest analysis of the UK ‘car parc’ by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the number of vehicles on the road rose to a record 41.4 million last year, with car ownership rising by 1.6 per cent and privately owned cars accounting for the vast majority - 35,694,845 to be exact - of the vehicle total.

Rises in the cost of motoring and the cost of living generally, combined with two years of production delays, have delayed the rate at which cars are being replaced, and the net result is an ageing population of cars on our roads. According to the SMMT, while the car business has recovered from its post-Covid supply challenges, the implied scrappage rates for older cars have also fallen to the lowest recorded levels, hence the rise in average age from less than eight years in 2019 to over nine years now.

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Still, the recent influx of low emissions electric cars and hybrids to corporate vehicle fleets means the average CO2 output of UK cars - at least as far as official WLTP figures are to be believed - has fallen by a couple of percentage points. That means overall, the national car fleet is ageing faster than it’s cleaning up.

Car age infographic

In the light of the latest data, the SMMT has renewed its calls for an acceleration of investment in EV charging infrastructure - there’s currently just one standard public chargepoint for every 35 plug-in vehicles on the road, a ratio which shows no meaningful improvement since the previous year.

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According to the SMMT “compelling incentives” for company users have seen car fleet emissions drop by a healthy 11.5 per cent. Providing private car buyers with similar incentives would help dramatically decarbonise UK roads, the organisation says.

Another route to decarbonisation ought to be better public transport, but the SMMT figures show that while the UK is Europe’s biggest market for zero-emission buses and coaches, the UK’s bus fleet has fallen to 71,239 vehicles. Not only is that the smallest number of buses on record, but one in five of them is more than 18 years old.

Five fun facts about the UK car parc

  1. The UK’s five most popular cars on the road are: Ford Fiesta (1,487,925 million), Vauxhall Corsa (1,050,579m), Ford Focus (1,049,818), Volkswagen Golf (1,004,152m) and Vauxhall Astra (715,647).
  2. 51.5 per cent of cars are registered to men, and only 35.1 per cent to women. (The rest are unregistered or owners are not gender-specific - e.g. companies.)
  3. Manual transmissions are fitted to 63.5 per cent of vehicles - down from 66 per cent in 2022.
  4. One in every 35 cars on the road is a convertible.
  5. One in three drivers are behind the wheels of superminis.

Click here for our list of the best plug-in hybrids...

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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