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Boomers Going the Distance: 2018 Consumer Insights on the Driving Experience

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Lifelong Love Affair: Older Americans’ Automobile Attachment Rumbles On

For many Baby Boomers, a car is about much more than transportation.  Nearly half say their vehicle is an extension of their personality and self image.  About eight in ten say driving is a key to their sense of independence and freedom.

This glimpse into Americans’ continued love affair with cars comes from a national survey conducted by AARP Auto in November.  Just over 1,500 adults who owned or leased cars were asked about their attitudes toward driving, technology in cars, and handling inevitable repairs. About 600 of the respondents were Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964); the remaining were Gen Xers and Millennials.

Cars Drive Happiness

Americans have a strong emotional connection to the experience of driving and to cars themselves. The survey finds one-third of Boomers have given their vehicle a name. While 77% percent say their vehicle brings them happiness, 54% say a car is a purchase worth splurging on and 45% say their vehicle is a reflection of their commitment to the environment (more than Gen X at 35% and Millennials at 33%).  Nearly half (47%) of Boomers say fuel efficiency was a top factor in their last car purchase.

When asked to recall a favorite driving memory, the feeling of getting a license or first car was the top response. Other popular memories stem from a sense of freedom or independence from being behind the wheel, the results show.

A large majority (85%) of Boomers say their vehicle allows them to see new things and many recall fond memories of road trips with friends and family. Most Boomers don’t entertain the thought of giving up their car.  More than half (57%) believe they will drive the rest of their lives.

About three-quarters of Boomers say that driving is both an opportunity for “me time” – and that they get a lot of good thinking done while driving. Where’s the best spot to sing your heart out? The survey finds 87% say their car is a better place to sing than their shower.

Feelings toward Tech

More than other Americans, Boomers (68%) believe technology has disrupted the auto industry while just 60 percent of Millennials and 57 percent of GenXers feel the same.

Over one third (35%) report wanting to keep up with the latest auto trends and 41% are willing to pay more for the latest tech gadgets in cars. Indeed, Boomers say car tech makes driving more enjoyable (72%) and safer (77%). Many already have new auto features, such as Bluetooth technology and back-up cameras. 

As for ride sharing services, one in five Boomers have used them and one in three of those who have not yet tried them say they are open to using such a service. While there is lots of buzz about self-driving cars, 78% of Boomers would buy a standard vehicle design over a self-driving one. The survey showed Gen Xers and Millennials are more open to self-driving cars and would embrace the idea of multitasking while driving.

Up to Speed on Car Know-how and Repairs

No car owner wants to confront the inevitable bump in the road of paying for repairs. But the survey found that Boomers, more than younger Americans, understand the basics of auto maintenance and repair.  They scored better on a car maintenance quiz than Gen Xers or Millennials.  Boomers are confident about their car know-how: 63% report having a great deal of knowledge and experience with vehicles, but 60% still wish they knew more about how their car worked.

Bringing their car to the mechanic takes a toll on Boomers. More than seven in ten say repairs always hit at the worst time and more than half say surprise repairs have wrecked their budget.  Nevertheless, given the choice, survey respondents said they’d rather go to the mechanic than visit the dentist (58%) or do their taxes (60%).

The AARP Auto online survey was conducted among 1,511 males and females age 18 and older in November 2017. Respondents were owners or leasers of a vehicle. Final data have been weighted to the Current Population Survey. For more information contact Colette Thayer at or Vicki Gelfeld at


Suggested Citation:

Gelfeld, Vicki and Colette Thayer. Boomers Going the Distance:  2018 Consumer Insights on the Driving Experience. Washington, DC: AARP Research, February 2018.

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