Cars Original Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

By Julie Blackley

The top 15 cars that original owners keep for 15 years or more are exclusively Japanese models and predominantly Toyotas, according to a new study by iSeeCars.com.

The automotive research firm analyzed over 750,000 cars from the 1981-2003 model years sold in 2018 to determine which cars are most likely to be kept for at least 15 years. Among the top 15 models, Toyota holds 10 spots followed by Honda also earning multiple spots on the list with three.  “Japanese vehicles are known for their quality and reliability, which is reaffirmed by the results of this list,” said iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly.

Top 15 Cars Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Average

1 Toyota Highlander 18.5% 2.5x
2 Toyota Prius 16.2% 2.2x
3 Toyota Sienna 16.1% 2.2x
4 Honda Pilot 15.3% 2x
5 Toyota Tundra 14.1% 1.9x
6 Toyota Sequoia 13.5% 1.8x
7 Toyota Tacoma 13.4% 1.8x
8 Honda Odyssey 12.6% 1.7x
9 Honda CR-V 12.4% 1.7x
10 Subaru Forester 12.1% 1.6x
11 Toyota RAV4 12.1% 1.6x
12 Toyota Camry 11.5% 1.5x
13 Acura MDX 11.4% 1.5x
14 Toyota 4Runner 11.2% 1.5x
15 Toyota Avalon 10.8% 1.4x
Average for All Cars 7.5% -
Link to Table

“While SUVs account for the majority of the vehicles on the list with eight, the list includes a mix of additional vehicle types including pickup trucks, sedans, minivans, and even a hybrid, showing that consumers can find an enduring vehicle to match their unique needs,” said Ly.

Earning the top spot is the Toyota Highlander midsize SUV, with 18.5 percent of original owners keeping the vehicle for 15 years or more, two and a half times the average for all vehicles. Three additional Toyota SUVs make the list including the sixth-ranked Sequoia, the eleventh-ranked RAV4, and the fourteenth-ranked 4Runner. “These Toyota SUVs all have above-average reliability ratings, which likely contributes to why their owners choose to hold onto them,” said Ly.

The second-ranked Toyota Prius is the only hybrid on the list. “Because of the added upfront cost of hybrid vehicles, owners have the incentive to keep their cars for longer to accrue fuel savings to offset the initial expense,” Ly noted. “The oldest hybrid vehicle to remain in continuous production, the Prius’ appearance on the list helps dispel concerns about battery durability and shows that Toyota’s quality and reliability standards extend beyond its conventional fuel vehicles.”

Two minivans make the list--the third-ranked Toyota Sienna and the eighth-ranked Honda Odyssey. “Minivans are the consummate family vehicles ideal for families with younger children due to their practicality and accessibility,” said Ly. “However, these vehicles are so reliable for families that they may be keeping them after their children have grown when a minivan is no longer necessary.”

Two Honda SUVs, the fourth-ranked midsize Pilot and the ninth-ranked compact CR-V, are among the vehicles most likely to be kept for 15 years or more. “Both vehicles consistently earn high reliability and safety ratings making them popular family vehicles that stand the test of time,” said Ly. The lone luxury vehicle on the list comes from Honda’s luxury marque, Acura, with the MDX in the thirteenth spot. “The MDX shares a chassis with the Pilot, which suggests that both are well-made vehicles that are depended on by their owners.”

Also making the list are two Toyota pickup trucks: the fifth-ranked Tundra and the seventh-ranked Tacoma. “The Tundra has frequently been named as the ‘Most Dependable Large Pickup’ according to JD Power, and the Tacoma has consistently been the best-selling midsize pickup truck,” said Ly. “The fact that their owners don’t want to give their trucks up speaks to the dependability of Toyota pickups.”

Two Toyota midsize sedans, the twelfth-ranked Camry and the fifteenth-ranked Avalon round out the list. “The Camry and Avalon are built on the same platform and both achieve excellent reliability ratings,” noted Ly. “While many manufacturers are discontinuing sedans due to the declining popularity of the segment, there is still a demand for the popular Toyota sedans due to their excellent quality,” said Ly.

The lone Subaru on the list is the tenth-ranked Forester compact SUV. “The Forester is a reliable vehicle known for its safety and affordability, which are both characteristics of the Subaru brand,” said Ly. “The vehicle offers standard all-wheel drive and impressive fuel economy, which appeal to practical consumers.”

SUVs Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

When analyzing the list to determine the SUVs that owners are most likely to keep for 15 years or more, iSeeCars identified 12 vehicles that were above the 7.5 percent segment average for the vehicle category. While eight of the top vehicles are Japanese, the remaining vehicles are split between two Korean and two American models.

Top 10 SUVs Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to SUV Average

1 Toyota Highlander 18.5% 2.5x
2 Honda Pilot 15.3% 2.0x
3 Toyota Sequoia 13.5% 1.8x
4 Honda CR-V 12.4% 1.7x
5 Subaru Forester 12.1% 1.6x
6 Toyota RAV4 12.1% 1.6x
7 Acura MDX 11.4% 1.5x
8 Toyota 4Runner 11.2% 1.5x
9 Hyundai Santa Fe 9.3% 1.2x
10 Kia Sorento 8.3% 1.1x
11 GMC Yukon XL 7.7% 1x
12 Chevrolet Suburban 7.7% 1x
SUV Average 7.5% -
Link to Table

While the top eight are all Japanese vehicles that also appear on the overall list of vehicles owners are most likely to keep for 15 years or more, the ninth-ranked Hyundai Santa Fe and the tenth-ranked Kia Sorento Korean midsize SUVs join the list of longest-kept SUVs.

“Both the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento receive high reliability ratings and are among the more affordable vehicles in the midsize SUV segment,” noted Ly. “This shows that these vehicles resonate with practical buyers who want a dependable and long-lasting vehicle.”

Rounding out the list are two American-made full-size SUVs from General Motors--the eleventh-ranked GMC Yukon XL and the twelfth-ranked Chevrolet Suburban. “These large SUVs feature body-on-frame construction, which means they are built like trucks and have truck-like durability,” said Ly. “They are also popular family haulers, which means that parents are likely to not replace them until a large family vehicle is no longer necessary.”  

Ranking of Pickup Trucks

iSeeCars also analyzed which pickup trucks are most likely to be kept by their original owners for 15 years or more.

Ranking of Light-Duty Pickup Trucks Kept for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Pickup Truck Average

1 Toyota Tundra 14.1% 1.8x
2 Toyota Tacoma 13.4% 1.7x
3 Nissan Frontier 10.7% 1.4x
4 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 8.7% 1.1x
5 GMC Sierra 1500 7.0% 0.9x
6 Ford F-150 6.5% 0.8x
7 Ram 1500 5.9% 0.8x
8 Ford Ranger 5.9% 0.8x
Pickup Truck Average 7.7% -
Link to Table

Categorically, pickup trucks are kept longer than other vehicles with a segment average of 7.7 percent, compared to 7.5 percent for SUVs, 7.1 percent for sedans, and 3.6 percent for sports cars. “Because pickup trucks are often used as work vehicles, their owners are more likely to keep up with the necessary preventative maintenance to keep these vehicles on the road for longer,” said Ly.

Four of the eight light-duty pickup trucks on list are more likely than the average pickup to be kept for 15 years or more. Of the top four, three are Japanese and one is American. “These results speak to the dependability of Japanese trucks and show that these vehicles are able to serve their function for many years,” noted Ly.

American trucks round out the remainder of the list, and while they are close to the average for all pickup trucks, they are all less likely than the average pickup truck to be kept for 15 years. “Although it may not be as kept as long as Japanese pickups, the American Ford F-150 is the country’s best-selling vehicle,” said Ly. “This suggests that F-150 owners likely replace their trucks before the fifteen-year mark because they want a newer model.”

Ranking of Sports Cars

When examining the list to determine the sports cars that are most likely to be kept for 15 years or more, iSeeCars identified three models that fare above the 3.6 percent average for the segment.

Ranking of Sports Cars Kept for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Sports Car Average

1 Mazda MX-5 Miata 6.1% 1.7x
2 Audi TT 5.1% 1.4x
3 Chevrolet Camaro 4.2% 1.2x
4 BMW M5 3.6% 1x
5 Ford Mustang 3.6% 1x
6 Audi S4 3.5% 1x
7 Chevrolet Corvette 3.2% 0.9x
8 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class 3.2% 0.9x
9 Porsche 911 3.0% 0.8x
10 BMW M3 2.9% 0.8x
11 Acura NSX 2.7% 0.7x
Sports Car Average 3.6% -
Link to Table

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is the sports car that owners keep for the longest time, with 6.1 percent of owners keeping the vehicle for at least 15 years followed by the Audi TT at 5.1 percent and the Chevrolet Camaro at 4.2 percent.

“The Mazda Miata, the Audi TT, and the Chevrolet Camaro are among the lower-priced vehicles in the sports car segment, which suggest that they appeal to more practical buyers who keep them on the road for longer,” said Ly.

As a vehicle segment, sports cars have the lowest percentage of owners who keep the vehicles for at least 15 years at 3.6 percent. “Sports cars typically aren’t daily drivers and owners likely want to trade them in for something more practical,” said Ly.

Luxury Cars Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

When analyzing the luxury vehicle segment, iSeeCars determined that nine vehicles are more likely than the segment average of 5.2 percent to be kept for at least 15 years.

Top 10 Luxury Cars Owners Keep for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Luxury Car Average

1 Acura MDX 11.4% 2.2x
2 Lexus GS 300 8.7% 1.7x
3 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 7.6% 1.5x
4 Lexus IS 300 7.2% 1.4x
5 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 6.8% 1.3x
6 Cadillac CTS 5.5% 1.1x
7 BMW X5 5.5% 1.1x
8 Audi A4 5.3% 1x
9 BMW 5 Series 5.3% 1x
10 Audi TT 5.1% 1x
Luxury Average 5.2% -
Link to Table

German vehicles account for the majority of the list of luxury cars that owners are most likely to keep for at least 15 years, followed by Japanese vehicles with three. “German luxury vehicles are known for their superior quality, and this suggests that drivers enjoy their vehicles so much that they keep them on the road for an extended time” said Ly. “

The sixth-ranked Cadillac CTS sedan rounds out the list as the only American model. The top-ranked Acura MDX and the seventh-ranked BMW X5 stand out as the only SUVs on the list.

“Along with having strong reliability and safety ratings, the Acura MDX offers great value as one of the lower-priced vehicles in the luxury midsize SUV class,” said Ly. “It attracts the more practical luxury vehicle buyers who are more likely to keep these vehicles for a long time,” said Ly.

Comparison of Brands

As reflected in the model analysis, Japanese brands produce the most cars that owners keep for 15 years or longer. Of the five brands that score above the 7.5 percent average for all vehicles to be kept for at least 15 years, four are Japanese. Korean brand Hyundai ranks fourth with 8.9 percent of original owners keeping cars made by the brand for at least 15 years.

Top 10 Brands Owners Keep for 15 Years or More

Rank Brand % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Average

1 Toyota 12.3% 1.6x
2 Honda 10.3% 1.4x
3 Subaru 10.0% 1.3x
4 Hyundai 8.9% 1.2x
5 Nissan 7.6% 1x
6 Kia 7.4% 1x
7 GMC 6.9% 0.9x
8 Volkswagen 6.8% 0.9x
9 Chevrolet 6.6% 0.9x
10 Mercedes-Benz 5.7% 0.8x
Average for All Cars 7.5%
Link to Table

Analysis of  Popular Vehicles

Absent from the overall top 15 list are some of the nation’s most popular vehicles. Among the top vehicles that are typically most popular with American consumers, the percentages range from 3.4 percent to 18.5 percent. Nine Japanese models and one American model are kept for 15 or more years at higher-than-average rates, while eight American models and one Japanese model are below-average.

Percentage of Owners Keeping Popular U.S. Vehicles for 15 Years or Longer

Rank Car % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years

Compared to Average

1 Toyota Highlander 18.5% 2.5x
2 Toyota Tacoma 13.4% 1.8x
3 Honda CR-V 12.4% 1.7x
4 Toyota RAV4 12.1% 1.6x
5 Toyota Camry 11.5% 1.5x
6 Toyota Corolla 10.1% 1.4x
7 Honda Accord 9.3% 1.2x
8 Honda Civic 9.0% 1.2x
9 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 8.7% 1.2x
10 Nissan Sentra 8.6% 1.1x
Average 7.5% -
11 Nissan Altima 6.8% 0.9x
12 Ford F-150 6.5% 0.9x
13 Ram 1500 5.9% 0.8x
14 Ford Explorer 5.9% 0.8x
15 Ford Escape 5.6% 0.8x
16 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.3% 0.6x
17 Jeep Wrangler 3.5% 0.5x
18 Jeep Cherokee 3.4% 0.5x
Link to Table

The popular compact and midsize sedans Toyota Corolla, Honda Accord, Honda Civic, and Nissan Sentra all fare above average. “This shows that these sedans are popular for good reason in that they are dependable and likely don’t require a great deal of expensive maintenance if they are well-maintained during their years of ownership,” said Ly.

The lone popular American vehicle to be kept for 15 years or more at a better-than-average rate is the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck. Two additional pickups, the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500 are close to average.  “Although they are two of the more popular pickup trucks, the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500 aren’t as likely as the average vehicle to be kept for fifteen years,” said Ly.

Popular American SUVs aren’t as likely as the average vehicle to surpass the fifteen-year milestone. “Although they have shown improvement in recent years, American cars are still plagued by the perception that they aren’t as reliable as their foreign counterparts,” said Ly. “While these vehicles show that they are reliable enough to be popular, they don’t measure up to Japanese vehicles in terms of prolonged ownership.”

Rankings by Metro Area

iSeeCars analyzed the data geographically to determine the metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of cars with original owners who keep their vehicles for at least 15 years. iSeeCars identified 35 metro areas where the percentage of cars kept by original owners for at least 15 years is at least 1.2 times greater than the national average of 7.5 percent.

Metro Areas with Most Cars Original Owners Keep for 15+ Years
Rank Metro Area % Original Owners Keeping Car for 15+ Years Compared to Average
1 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA 17.2% 2.3x
2 Honolulu, HI 15.4% 2.1x
3 Houston, TX 13.6% 1.8x
4 Baltimore, MD 12.9% 1.7x
5 Austin, TX 11.8% 1.6x
6 San Diego, CA 11.7% 1.6x
7 Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX 11.5% 1.5x
8 Salt Lake City, UT 11.5% 1.5x
9 Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD) 11.4% 1.5x
10 Reno, NV 11.2% 1.5x
11 San Antonio, TX 11.1% 1.5x
12 Las Vegas, NV 11.1% 1.5x
13 New Orleans, LA 10.8% 1.4x
14 Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX 10.7% 1.4x
15 Milwaukee, WI 10.5% 1.4x
16 Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville), NC 10.5% 1.4x
17 Portland, OR 10.3% 1.4x
18 Eugene, OR 10.3% 1.4x
19 Philadelphia, PA 10.1% 1.3x
20 Cincinnati, OH 10.1% 1.3x
21 Tucson (Sierra Vista), AZ 10.0% 1.3x
22 Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA 9.9% 1.3x
23 Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo, CA 9.7% 1.3x
24 Los Angeles, CA 9.7% 1.3x
25 Wilmington, NC 9.7% 1.3x
26 Baton Rouge, LA 9.7% 1.3x
27 New York, NY 9.7% 1.3x
28 Providence, RI-New Bedford, MA 9.5% 1.3x
29 Lubbock, TX 9.4% 1.3x
30 Denver, CO 9.4% 1.2x
31 Pittsburgh, PA 9.4% 1.2x
32 Detroit, MI 9.2% 1.2x
33 Chicago, IL 9.1% 1.2x
34 Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, PA 9.1% 1.2x
35 Greensboro-Winston Salem, NC 8.8% 1.2x
Overall Average 7.5% -
 

“Vehicles that are kept for so many years show that they can stand the test of time and likely don’t have to frequently undergo expensive repairs,” said Ly. “Those looking for a reliable and enduring car have a variety of options across all vehicle types.”

Methodology

iSeeCars.com analyzed over 750,000 used cars from model years 1981-2003 sold between January and December 2018. For each model, the number of cars sold by the original owner was expressed as a percentage of the total number of cars sold. “Original-owner” cars were bought as new by the owner. The models were then ranked by the original-owner percentage. Models with low sample size, heavy-duty trucks and work vans, and models which were no longer in production as of the 2018 or 2019 model year were excluded from the analysis.

About iSeeCars.com

iSeeCars.com is an online car search engine that helps consumers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars VIN report. iSeeCars.com has saved users over $168 million so far by applying big data analytics powered by over 25 billion (and growing) data points and using proprietary algorithms to objectively analyze, score and rank millions of cars and thousands of dealers. Based in the Boston area, iSeeCars.com was founded by former TripAdvisor and SAP executives determined to improve the car shopping experience for consumers.

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