Which Car Models Do Owners Keep Forever?

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Used car website iSeeCars.com commissioned a study of over 350,000 cars from the 1981-2004 model years to determine which Cars People Keep the Longest. Here are the Top 15 vehicles ranked by how many of the original owners kept them for at least 15 years:

Out of the Top 15 spots, 10 were from Toyota, 4 from Honda, and 1 from Subaru. The Toyota Highlander midsize SUV had nearly 1 in 5 original owners (18.3%) keep it at least 15 years, which is more than double the overall average (2.4x). The Toyota Sienna also has double the average rate of 15+ year original ownership. In this peak age of 3-year leases, 15 years feels like forever!

It is a widely-known fact that Toyotas are above-average in reliability. However, this survey isn’t specifically about what cars are still on the road after 15 years. It’s about people who buy a brand new Toyota/Honda and keep the same car for 15 years. Are these just random people who buy a new Toyota and then not replace it because it never breaks down? Or are they a self-selected group of practical-minded people who plan on buying a car and owning it forever, and thus choose a Toyota? Perhaps they simply hate the car-buying experience? Or maybe it’s just the stereotype that they are bought by old, boring people *cough*.

I was a little surprised that Ford F-150 trucks are not on the list. These are usually the best-selling vehicle in the country, so people must think that they have some level of quality. They are expressly mentioned in the bestselling book The Millionaire Next Door as the car most commonly owned by “real world” millionaires. However, if you look further down in the study, you will find that the Ford F-150 is below average and the light-duty truck that is least likely to be kept for 15 years. For some reason, people are more likely to replace their Ford F-150 than any other truck! Meanwhile, the Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Tundra are at the very top of the long-term ownership list by a solid margin. I wonder if Toyota Tundra owners in fact have a higher probability of being a millionaire?

I will admit, I chose a Toyota Sienna over the Honda Odyssey (and all the other brands) for my current car after reading about how their slow-and-methodical engineering process is specifically designed for maximum reliability. I simply hate the inconvenience of having to visit the mechanic shop, and am willing to give up sportiness and luxury at this point in my life.

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  1. A fully optioned F-150 can come in at $60K+. That’s a luxury truck, not a work truck. After 10 years, all the shiny chrome has dings and the truck looks dated. An owner who buys trucks to show them off will want to switch to a new one, since the value is gone for them. The truck may still run fine, but it sends a message to the Joneses “My owner isn’t rich and drives obsolete vehicles”. The same argument probably applies to any luxury vehicle. My guess is that Toyota trucks are used more for actual work, and by people who don’t care as much about dings.

  2. I have a 1998 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) that just passed 300,000 miles on the original engine and transmission. It didn’t make the list but, they don’t make those anymore. The only major work on it was a rear axle actuator, 2 radiators (1 every 100,000 miles) and 2 windshields due to highway stones. Regular oil and maintenance was done throughout the years.

  3. When I was deciding between a small Toyota pickup and small Ford pickup in 2004, I knew that the Toyota was meant to have better long term value. However I went with the 2004 Ford Ranger because I liked it more for various reasons. Now here in 2020 I’ve still got that same Ford Ranger (just over 15 years) and I’ve barely had any extra maintenance expenses with it that have been out of the ordinary. I see why the Toyota is popular but I have no regrets with my Ford Ranger.

  4. DirtyLilRat says

    Thankfully Toyota is starting to catch up to Honda in looks (Camry SE and the new Rav4 look great to me).

  5. Italiangirl says

    I was wondering if The Rav4 Hybrid, Camry Hybrid or Toyota Highlander Hybrid are in the mix?

  6. I’m not quite sure what the reason, but I have known a dozen friends, neighbors, and co-workers who have traded their Toyota Tundras in for Dodge pickups. I think it has to do with the power and price/value. I’ll have to start asking them.

    • Tundra’s are known for terrible gas mileage, they also quite bit more expensive. When it comes to a long lasting vehicle a Dodge would be very low on my list.

  7. I drove a 1989 Toyota pickup for 16 years and 183,000 miles with few problems but rust was taking its toll and I sold it. I am now driving a 2010 Toyota Tacoma with 107,000 miles, it runs like a top and it has only needed replacement of wear or age out items like tires, battery and serpentine belt. I hope to drive it another 2 to 5 years. The question I am wrestling with in my mind, is the ability to hang on to a vehicle economically for this long a thing of the past. New vehicles today are literally picked with computer chips that run everything. When electronic boards and chips fail their repair is usually very expensive and and may require tools that only a dealer has adding even more cost to the repair. I have bought every vehicle I have owned since 1982 cash and kept them a long time as my 2010 is my fourth vehicle since then. With the cost of a new Toyota truck at plus or minus $40K I beginning to question the economics of outright purchase since $40K in a very safe investment can produce $200 a month in income which greatly offsets the cost of leasing the next computer on wheels. Your thoughts?

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