Data Spotlight: Does Age or Mileage Affect Lifecycle More?
Originally published July 2020. Updated May 2023.
More often than not, fleet managers write their vehicle lifecycle policy in terms of a vehicle’s age and the number of miles it has driven. In such a policy, a light-duty truck – like a Ford F-150 – might have a lifecycle of 10 years or 150,000 miles driven.
This raises the question: Do key factors, like age and miles driven, that typically determine vehicle lifecycle, actually help you determine how expensive a vehicle will be to operate as it ages?
Can age or life-to-date mileage determine operating costs?
Both age and mileage impact the cost over time of operating a vehicle. These two variables can give insight into maintenance costs associated with the vehicle as well.
The table shown below displays the maintenance cost of an F-150 equivalent truck broken out by age and life-to-date (LTD) mileage.
In this table, each cell shows the average maintenance cost (consisting of parts and labor) per mile for a vehicle of the specified age and LTD mileage.
For example, a four-year-old pickup truck with 50,000 LTD miles can be expected to cost you an average of $0.16 per mile in parts and labor to stay on the road every time you drive.
In this table, the green cells highlight the sweet spots where it is less expensive to operate these vehicles. Whereas the red cells represent the points at which operating costs become more expensive.
Recognizing patterns within our data
As we look at the table, the colors illustrate an unexpected pattern. Moving across the row horizontally (representing LTD miles), you’ll notice slight changes in color, rather than a dramatic shift.
For example, whether a five-year-old pickup has 40,000 or 100,000 LTD miles, it still costs $0.20 per mile to maintain and operate.
This signifies that LTD mileage seems to have less impact on calculating the anticipated maintenance cost per mile than age may have.
If you move down each column, conversely you’ll almost always notice a dramatic shift in color from green to red.
This is due to older vehicles, on average, being significantly more expensive to operate – even with a constant rate of LTD mileage.
As we analyzed the data, we asked: Why would a pattern such as this occur? Perhaps it’s because problem units are either sold or scrapped before making it to high lifetime mileage, or it could potentially be due to other factors affecting the cost-per-mile as well.
Should it stay or should it go?
Does it make sense to keep older vehicles with lower LTD mileage counts?
This is a decision that many (if not all) fleet managers have to make at some point. It may seem like a good option, given the low mileage, but holding on to a vehicle with low LTD miles may end up being more expensive than initially expected.
In view of this, fleet managers need to be careful about how they structure their vehicle lifecycle policies, taking into account many variables – regardless of patterns and data – and should always be cautious when considering vehicles for replacement.
A friendly reminder: just because it’s a low mileage unit doesn’t necessarily make it worth hanging on to for the long-run.