New Zealand's average vehicle age belies huge regional variations, and many of the vehicles outside of the main cities are much older and have many fewer modern safety features, MTA says.
The commonly-accepted average age of vehicles on New Zealand roads is 13 years – which is still old, compared to those we benchmark ourselves against. However, Ministry of Transport (MoT) figures obtained by MTA also show startling variation across the country, with a significantly older fleet outside of the three main population centres. As an ‘average' is effectively an arithmetic midpoint, for every brand new vehicle you see, its 26-year-old counterpart is still operating, somewhere in New Zealand.
MTA has found the average registered vehicle age also generally gets older the further south you travel, with huge regional variation. By region, Waimate has the oldest fleet in the country, at an average age of 17 years, followed by Tasman and Waimakariri. The newest cars in the country, by region, are registered in Auckland, North Shore City and Wellington – not surprising, as this is where the majority of company-owned vehicles are based.
"This isn't just about driving a new car with all the mod-cons – the increasing number of old, often poorly-maintained, vehicles has serious safety implications for anyone who travels on the roads of New Zealand," MTA spokesman Ian Stronach says.
Features like airbags and ABS braking, once only installed on high-end luxury models, have become standard on newer vehicles. Vehicle construction technology has got much better, too. These factors drastically increase the chances of survival for vehicle occupants in serious crashes.
"The world was very different in 1996, but the majority of our vehicle fleet was built then or before."
Our slow-moving economy and our poor maintenance culture are in head-on collision.
Economic factors are forcing people to keep old cars longer than they used to. MoT data shows that, in 2000, NZ new vehicles were being scrapped at 18 years (on average), and used imports scrapped at 15 years (on average). However, as more modern vehicles are increasingly reliable and durable, and many New Zealanders are feeling the economic squeeze, they are holding onto their cars longer. In 2011, NZ new cars were still being scrapped after 18 years, but the average scrapping age of imported used vehicles had climbed to 19 years.
Added to the unique New Zealand driving environment, many New Zealanders adopt a casual approach to vehicle servicing. An MTA survey carried out in July this year found 51 percent of vehicles needed work done on the day they were booked in for a warrant of fitness, so they could pass the minimum test for road safety. The most common faults picked up were bald tyres, non-functioning windscreen wipers, and broken indicator, stop and headlights – easily noticeable, fundamental and worryingly overlooked requirements for safe driving.
Old cars, poor maintenance and challenging roads add up to make driving in New Zealand more dangerous than it needs to be. MTA considers this is even more reason to keep the current vehicle inspection system – the best time to consider changing the frequency of warrant of fitness inspection is when the average vehicle on the road is 10 years old.
MoT's figures show:
* Waimate has the oldest average vehicles in the country, at 17 years old.
* Next is Tasman, at 16 years old, followed closely by Waimakariri, at 15.75 years old.
* The newest average vehicles in the country are still not that new – those in Auckland are 11 years old, North Shore City are 11.25 years old, and in Wellington city are 12 years old.
* The "light vehicle fleet" includes cars, vans and trucks up to 3.5 tonnes.