Department of the Environment

About us | Contact us | Publications

Settlements Header ImageSettlements Header ImageSettlements Header Image

Publications archive - Waste and recycling


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environmental Impact of End-of-Life Vehicles: An Information Paper

Environment Australia
ISBN 0642547513

Number of ELVs and trends

Number of end of life vehicles

Australian Bureau of Statistics' Motor Vehicle Census figures show a steady increase in the "attrition" rate (vehicles removed from national vehicle registration databases). The attrition rate was 4.6% of the total vehicle fleet, or 572,530 vehicles in the 12 months to October 19991. In the following 17 months to March 2001, a further 908,106 vehicles ceased to be registered, accounting for 5% of the vehicle fleet.

ABS figures include all motor vehicles, of which about 80% are passenger vehicles and about 14% are light commercial vehicles.

Estimated Vehicle Attrition Rate

1996 - 1997 1997 - 1998 1998 - 1999 1999 - 2001(a)
No. % fleet No. % fleet No. % fleet No. % fleet
442,467 3.8 404,430 3.3 572,530 4.6 908,106
(641,016 p.a.)

Source: ABS (Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, various years)
(a) "No." figures are for 17 months since the October 1999 survey (Previous year figures are for 12 months periods to October each year). The figure in brackets is the annualised equivalent derived by the consultant. "% fleet" figure is annualised by ABS.

It can be expected that there would be a high level of correlation between the year on year attrition statistics and ELV numbers. There may not be exact correlation for a particular year, as a small number of vehicles that had previously been de-registered may be re-registered in a following year. However, this possible anomaly would tend to average out over time.

Discussions with the author of the ABS reports indicated that minor statistical anomalies may arise due to some States occasionally clearing a backlog of registration paperwork, although this was considered relatively insignificant over time and when looking at national results. For this reason, some caution should be exercised in examining the relative rate of attrition for each state. New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory had the largest proportions of their vehicle fleets retired in the most recent survey (5.7%, 5.2% and 7.0% respectively).

The ABS statistics were discussed with the statistician and author responsible for the ABS Motor Vehicle Census report. Other than the caveats above, there appear to be no methodological or other grounds to doubt the accuracy of the ABS estimates of vehicles being "retired".

It should also be noted that APRAA estimates that approximately 500,000 ELVs are received annually by auto dismantlers, with a roughly equivalent number exiting each year for metal salvaging. Of those, the recognised auto dismantling industry handles approximately 80%. The methodology for calculating the APRAA figures was not tested in this review and APRAA recommends caution in their use. However, as these figures broadly correlate with the ABS attrition statistics, the ABS figures are considered a reasonably strong proxy for ELV numbers.

It is the case, however, that the ABS figures do not provide any guidance on the subsequent question of what happens to deregistered vehicles (this is discussed in Chapter 5).

Key Finding:

Trends in the volume of ELVs

As can be seen from the figures above, the number of ELVs has been increasing in each of the last few years. Of particular note is the 12% increase in the average number of vehicles deregistered each month between the 1998-99 and the 1999-2001 censuses (53,418 compared with 47,711 per month).

There is a continuing upward trend in the number of registered vehicles in Australia - the October 1999 figure represented a 1.7% increase over October 1998, which in turn was up 3.4 % over October 1997. The rate of growth of total motor vehicle numbers has also been higher in recent years.

On a pro rata basis, Western Australia has the highest number of vehicles (0.72 per person), and the Northern Territory the lowest (0.54 per person) along with New South Wales (0.57).

Along with the continuing increase in the number of vehicles, so to the average age of vehicles on Australian roads continues to decline, dropping from 10.7 years in 1998 to 10.6 years in 1999 (Ref 60) to 10.1 years in 2001 (ref. 66). This decline reverses the previous historical trend - the average age of vehicles was just 6.1 years in 1971. In contrast to passenger vehicles, there was an increase in the average age of campervans, trucks heavier than 4.5 tonnes and non-freight carrying trucks.

Over 780,000 new vehicles were sold in Australia in year 2000 (Ref 59).

The States with the oldest vehicles are Tasmania (12.4 years) and South Australia (12.0 years) while the Northern Territory has the newest vehicles (9.2 years) followed by New South Wales (9.4 years).

Over half of all passenger vehicles (56%) were manufactured in the last 10 years, with only 9.2% manufactured before 1982. 23% of all vehicles currently on the road were manufactured to operate on leaded petrol (down from 64% in 1991).

No reliable figures on the life expectancy of Australian vehicles were found (although there were some clearly inaccurate statistics found in some papers, which confused average age with life span, eg. Ref. 27). In the UK, the life span of vehicles is estimated at about 14 years. By deduction from the statistics given above, it is likely that vehicles on Australian roads have a life span slightly greater - probably at least 15 years.

The ABS figures show that the most common vehicles on Australian roads are Fords (21.4% of all registered vehicles) and Holdens (19.7%). They are also amongst the oldest, with 36% of all Ford vehicles and 40% of all Holden vehicles more than 13 years old. Assuming no significant changes to economic or regulatory variables affecting vehicle-purchasing decisions, it can be expected that the trend of the last five years towards more, and newer, vehicles will continue unabated.

Discussions with stakeholders indicated that a key reason for the trend is probably the ongoing increase in affordability of new vehicles. The lower cost of new vehicles may be due to several factors including rationalisation of the number of vehicle producers, partly as a result of the trend towards global rather than domestic markets. Additionally worldwide demand, including from developing economies, and hence increased production volumes, and more efficient production techniques and use of materials may play a role. Most recently in Australia new vehicle costs have also fallen as a result of the changed taxation arrangements resulting from the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax and low interest rates.

Along with the lower initial purchase costs of new vehicles, the cost effectiveness of owning older vehicles also continues to decline due to the greater operational efficiency of new vehicles, and the benefits of increased reliability and lengthy warranty periods. Three year and even five-year warranty periods are now common on new vehicles. The Auto Parts Recyclers Association of Australia (APRAA), amongst others, nominated lengthy warranty periods as a significant factor in the declining market for used vehicle components.

Key Findings