Second-Hand Cars

From 2009 to 2011
New vehicles offer significant improvements in terms of emissions and safety systems and technologies compared to older vehicles. Therefore, it is important to gain more insight into the characteristics of vehicle lifespans. For most models, it is assumed that all vehicles have an average lifespan and that, once the vehicle has achieved this, it is scrapped from the vehicle fleet and (possibly) exchanged for a new vehicle containing more modern technology. During the lifespan of the vehicle, emissions depend largely on the technology present in the vehicle. As a result, vehicle technologies remain present in a vehicle fleet during the lifetime of the vehicle before being replaced. Models often use such a theoretical approach for calculating emissions.

However, this representation of the lifespan of vehicles is not completely correct when compared to actual practice. A large number of vehicles (and corresponding technologies), rather than being scrapped at a certain mileage, are sold as second-hand vehicles, often before the maximum mileage is reached. In effect, this means that comparably outdated technology remains in use in a possibly different situation, for possibly a longer period of time and in different operating conditions than foreseen in the assumption of the model. This has consequences for estimations of emission and safety. The proportion of second-hand vehicles, their use in practice, and import and export streams between Member States of the European Union have, however, not yet been studied in detail.

As part of this study, data was collected and analyses were performed in cooperation with our partners Öko-Institut (Germany) and COWI (Denmark). Two important aspects of the second-hand-car market were investigated: the trade of second hand vehicles between and over the borders of the European Union, as well as the effective use of second-hand vehicles. Differences between Member States in the European Union and possible explanations for higher or lower markets shares of old vehicles were investigated. Based on the analyses performed in this study, an increased level of detail can be obtained for policy-supporting actions.


From 2009 to 2011


European Commission, DG ENV, Climate Change & Air


Öko-Institut (Germany), COWI (Denmark)

Our team

Lars Akkermans, Tim Breemersch, Kris Vanherle
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