Journal: Fewer Teens Are Driving–What Does This Mean for Vintage Cars?

Fewer Teens Are Driving–What Does This Mean for Vintage Cars?

By Aaron McKenzie
March 26, 2014
19 comments

Photography by Afshin Behnia for Petrolicious

Back in January 2013, Petrolicious featured an interview with Mr. Kevin Boesky, a then-16-year-old owner of a 1941 Studebaker Champion (check it out here). Kevin and his car, as our headline pointed out, make for an unlikely pair in an age in which young people seem to be losing interest not only in pre-World War II automobiles but in driving anything at all. Granted, demographic data on the ownership of pre-War cars is hard to come by, so you’ll just have to trust our impressions, but the numbers on teen driving support our hypothesis and we wonder what they portend for the world of vintage cars.

According to a 2013 American Automobile Association report, only 44 percent of American teenagers get their driver’s license within a year of turning sixteen, and just over half are street-legal by the time they reach legal adulthood, compared with more than two-thirds of eighteen year-olds twenty years ago. Perhaps driving is too expensive nowadays; maybe it’s no longer the symbol of maturity that it once was; perhaps teenagers have moved past cars to other interests. Regardless, teens just don’t drive as much as they used to.

Teens, as it turns out, tend to become adults and adults buy most of the world’s vintage cars. But will today’s children have the same passion for vintage cars and, especially, the sorts of pre-War vehicles that can’t hope to match the performance of newer sports cars? These same adults will also be among the first generation to commute to work in driverless cars, which will be subject to ever-tighter emissions regulations.

What attitudes toward vintage cars have you seen among today’s teens? What do these attitudes, especially when coupled with the other trends mentioned above, tell you about the future of the vintage car universe?

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Eric H.
Eric H.
5 years ago

Hello Petrolicious,
I am only 16 but am very interested in classic cars. I have a very low budget but would like to purchase at some point (1-2 years). I know I wouldent be able to drive it as a daily, but are their any insurance company’s that would offer some low amount of driving hours insurance?

Loquendo
Loquendo
8 years ago

I think it depends on where you are and where you grew up. There are many classics in Chicago, where I am from but you never see them; chances are you’re neighbor doesn’t have a classic car or your family. Often times, the vintage cars were bought by people who couldn’t afford them so there was some moral dilemma that my family would push on the child. I now live in Overland Park, KS; where there are beautiful old cars everywhere. I would bet that if a kid didn’t get into a car yet, they will later in life they just haven’t met the right car. I don’t live in a nicest area (cheapo apartment complex) of Overland Park, but even my neighbor’s have “enthusiast” cars at the very least. Anything from 1960’s Bronco’s, fully built mustangs, Saab 900’s, Mini’s, Ford SVT Focus. The point is, if I was a kid living in Overland Park, I bet I would at least buy a enthusiast car (or my parent’s would get me an enthusiast car) and if not, i could simply go over to my neighbor and hang.

Xavier Corral
Xavier Corral
8 years ago

smug attitudes from older vintage owners. Lack of interest or time from people (adults) who should be showing kids how to use their hands. Old farts overpricing their crap and pricing out all the good iron. I’d say a lot of it comes from the generation before me.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
8 years ago

I’m on a few different car-related forums and I’d suggest there are still plenty of younger people around who love older and classic cars – and let’s not forget, for someone born in the 1990s who recently started driving, a car from the 1980s is probably already a classic – and currently affordable, too.

Allow me to put a different positive spin on it though: If we’re to see the number of drivers interested in classics declining, it might soften the price of those classics for those of us who still want them…

C9k
C9k
8 years ago

I agree with what others have said about younger people simply not being able to afford a car at all anymore let alone a vintage car. Most young are strapped with so much college debt that even the thought of buying a house or garage to work on the car in is unobtainable.

Also another thought on the matter. The article mentions pre-war cars specifically but I have had this conversation about muscle cars as well. The cars that I tend to gravitate towards are 80s-90s European cars and most of my friends of similar age would probably prefer an 80-90 European or Japanese car as car to collect, keep, restore, etc.. My father and other family friends often question how I can be into cars but not care much for American muscle cars or hot rods. My answer to them is simply is that those are not the cars I grew up with. I had posters of the e30 M3, 993 turbo and NSX on my wall and not 60s Muscle cars. I will admit that the muscle car era was a great era in cars but it wasn’t my era and I didnt live through it. If I have a little extra disposable income I am going to spend it on the dream cars I had as a kid. I also probably doesn’t help that the offerings of the big 3 during the 80’s and 90’s was pretty poor as a whole so a generation grew up not really appreciating any car made in the US. This translates to the same group of people not looking into, researching or considering the past or the future cars made by the big 3, the vintage cars and the cars currently on the lot. I have an appreciation now for vintage BMW and Alfa that I didnt even know about as a kid because I love my BMW e30 and now appreciate the whole brand and other cars like it. I, however, will admit that my knowledge of GM cars is pretty poor since there wasn’t really a car I grew up admiring that sparked me to research the brand and its history. I dont think a lot of people who lived through the muscle car era really understand this. So while the younger generation cant afford a a car, the ones that can perhaps do not necessarily like or appreciate the cars that the traditional cars guys of today want them to. I don’t think this makes us less of an enthusiast, just a different generation. The prices that Hemi Cuda and Shelby GT500s go for today, i think will be reserved for the R32 GT-R, Supra Turbo, RX7, e30 M3 and 993 in a few decades time. I know those are the cars I would want sitting in my garage when I am an old man and look nostalgically back upon my youth…

Jake Williams
Jake Williams
8 years ago

I’m turning 17 next Saturday, so that will make it an official decade that I’ve been a car enthusiast. Over the years, I’ve taken just about every opportunity I can to work on, research, and just be around cars. When I was 14, my dad surprised me with a 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500. I attempted to rebuild it, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it was just a money hole. When I turned 16, I figured, “Ok, I’ve worked up a couple grand. I got 2 summer jobs and a driver’s license, why don’t I get myself a project car?” Then, the reality of my situation hit. Teenagers can’t register an automobile, so I needed parent’s approval, which I didn’t have. Then, I’d have to pay for insurance, which meant I would again have to go through my parents. After going through a list of stops to an end that really wouldn’t be worth it, I am still working as passionately obsessed about getting a project cars to this day. It is EXTREMELY hard for a teen to own a classic car, especially in Ohio, home of the pothole. So, yes, I can understand why many teens would be deterred from owning a classic car. What a shame.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson
8 years ago

Being 19 I hope young people don’t have the same amount of car craze as older generations. Because then prices of classic cars will go down and I will be able to afford a bigger collection!

Todd Cox
Todd Cox
8 years ago

I have two sons. One wasn’t terribly interested in driving, and was in no rush to get a car. I’m not sure he’s mine… LOL (I’m kidding, there’s really no doubt he is). However he has developed a strong appreciation now and owns a 1994 Miata because he wanted something that was ‘classic’. My youngest son can’t wait to drive, and also insisted on a Miata; we bought him a 1990 (technically a 1989 built car; one of the first ones imported to CA as it turns out). My youngest son is only 14 though, and we’re working on restoring his.

To that end, I think it just depends on the person. There will always be folks who have a natural love of cars, and those folks that truly love cars are going to appreciate classic cars, where folks who just want transportation probably want the latest and greatest, or cheapest and most reliable.

Alex Del Olmo Roque
Alex Del Olmo Roque
8 years ago

Well as an 18 year old student that life’s in the Netherlands I can say to you that overhere we are having the same problem. Its just to expensive….. And also, most of young generation don’t find it worthwhile to own a car while they are still in college. Luckily for me! I am the proud owner of a Fiat Barchetta from 96.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
8 years ago

I think we’ve hit the nail on the head so many times throughout the comments, so I’ll just say that I agree with all of the above more or less.

Jared
Jared
8 years ago

I think there are several angles to this (skip to the end for the punchline):
A) Jolocho has already mentioned how these days working with your hands is for chumps (it isn’t – consider 1) the rising standard (aka cost) of living in China and elsewhere and the jobs beginning to come back to the States, 2) the threat of zombiepocalypse (a fantasy) and natural/manmade disasters (a reality) and the need for basic skills and 3) the plethora of BS/BA degree kids looking for jobs while many blue-collar markets are on the rebound).
B) A 16 year old, entry-level Romantic/Idealist has more plentiful, cheaper and simpler options to escape than the old model of getting a job, buying a car, learning enough about it to keep it running (even if by proxy through a shop) so that you can get out of Pleasantville/Isolation City/Dystopia-ton and find your own path. Why don’t you just check out mentally on Facebook, Grand Theft Auto, YouTube or American Idol and create your own fantasy? It’s far cheaper, easier and won’t offend your parents as much because you can do it from the safety of your own room. Then, just get a ride from a rich friend or take public transportation and scratch the save-the-world itch by doing nothing.
C) A 16 year old, entry-level Realist who wants something tangible in their hands rather than an Idea To Follow is encouraged to pursue a career as a professional athlete, musician or other performer (they aren’t lacking self-esteem). Many schools don’t know what to do with them since they no longer offer much in the way of shop classes. These kids end up with a college degree in something they don’t love, with debt they can’t really afford, prepared for jobs they don’t REALLY want and it taking 6 years from their (historically, anyway) most productive, ambitious and formative years of their lives.

TL:DR
For all the Facebooking, Twittering, Ritalin-ing, Grand-Theft-Auto-ing, that we/they (I’m 29) are known for, this generation has the same heart aspirations and dreams as every other generation. We/they want to find That Thing that brings happiness and contentment. Technology has offered us/them FAR cheaper and more plentiful resources for tickling that part of the brain than ever before, short-circuiting the roundabout JOURNEY that previous generations walked in earning their gray hairs. As much as things change, they stay the same.

Daniel Cooley
Daniel Cooley
8 years ago

I’m 19, and I love vintage cars. Several of my friends are also interested in older cars, but I would say most of the people I know that are my age have other priorities. Most of this disinterest probably stems from financial reasons. I had a Datsun until a few months ago, when I sold it in order to help pay for college. It’s usually just cheaper for young people to buy something like a used Corolla. But I also think that a lot of the lack of interest in old cars comes from ignorance or misinformation. For example, contemporary cars are very complicated with all their computers and electronics, and these are the cars that the average young person is exposed to. As a result they might think cars are too difficult to understand. But in reality, many old cars have much simpler engines and are a great way to learn the basics of auto-mechanics.

Mihir
Mihir
8 years ago

Well I’m a high school-er, and I read Petrolicious, so I like vintage cars. I get what this article is saying though, because save a couple of my friends, very few people at my school are interested in cars. Very few of them even have cars. When I was a freshman, I was really confused by this, because in my mind, you went and got your license and a car as soon as you were allowed to. I’ll be getting my license shortly, and I hope to be driving something vintage to school everyday!

jolocho
jolocho
8 years ago

As others have said, they’re not making enough money. Entry level pay from a low end job most teens start with hasn’t risen much while the cost of everything has multiplied.

We now have a couple of generations that have grown up being taught that working with their hands is for chumps. They’re not mechanically inclined. Owning a car more than 20 years old usually means working on it yourself. If it’s taken to a shop, it’ll spend a week there waiting for parts or the techs learning/refreshing themselves on carburetors. Specialists for classics charge a premium, see problem #1.

It also doesn’t help that sellers think whatever old thing on wheels they have is worth a million dollars. Thank auction TV shows for that. People have the freedom to ask whatever price they want, but a teen isn’t going to look twice at VW Beetle for $10,000.

Matthew Haber
Matthew Haber
8 years ago

As a 16 year old like myself, I too have found myself often surfing the different sites from Hemmings to Ebay to even craigslist looking for a project car, I have a really diverse taste and like nearly anything old. I must say though, in October I went to look at a 54′ F100 with a 239 in it and I really, really wanted it but when I started calculating costs it was going to be too much, also because, unfortunately for me I live in Upstate New York, where we have fairly long and harsh winters so as easy as it would be to go out and find a junky old muscle car and just build it back up to my liking or anything along those lines its very difficult due to the poor weather, which is the biggest killer. That being said, I havent given up and I keep looking for something!

Yoav Gilad
Yoav Gilad
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Haber

Think early ’80s all-wheel drive!

Matthew Haber
Matthew Haber
8 years ago
Reply to  Yoav Gilad

Thanks for the suggestion, could you maybe suggest a few?

Daniel Levesque
Daniel Levesque
8 years ago

As a young student I know from experience that we’re just too broke. Cars are incredibly expensive and we can’t afford both them and college. College costs have been rising at four times the rate of inflation. Plus the economy is so bad we can’t find jobs to pay for it. Some studies are saying that it’s the poorest generation since the great depression. I would love to have a classic car, but I can barely afford to keep my 14 year old, 170,000 mile Ford running after my tuition payments are made.

I think in the classic car world, prices will fall pretty dramatically over the next two decades because of the lack of buying power, and the retirement of aging baby boomers. I certainly hope prices drop, maybe I might be able to afford one. Someday……

Here is a good article describing my view in more detail:
http://www.ericgarland.co/2012/08/31/generation-y-does-not-have-different-values/

JB21
JB21
8 years ago

Thanks for the link, that is quite interesting.
But…
Well, I have a sister who works for an auto manufacture as an executive human resources specialist, and she often attends the bigwig meetings. She tells me that very often the bigwig meetings turns into a discussion of why young people are so disinterested in cars and driving, and how the car companies can win them back. She says it’s all over the parts of the world where cars have been the major part of people’s lives (developed countries, that is).
I do hope the price will drop – right now it’s slightly ridiculous, with so many cars that are just riding on the wave instead of value of what it is (but then who am I to say that!!) – but I’m afraid that won’t be the case. This bubble may pop, or maybe not.