It's Not the Years, It's the Mileage (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

My sister was almost 12 when I was born, and the difference in our ages seemed enormous until I reached about 40. I remember thinking how very old she would be when and if the 21st century ever rolled around and how relatively young I would be. Now 12 years doesn’t seem like nearly such a gulf. Now 12 years doesn’t seem nearly as long as it used to — shoot, I’ve been editor of Arkansas Business longer than that and sometimes I still wonder what I’m doing. What’s more, it’s now been more than 12 years since we entered the new millennium (but for some strange reason, I frequently say 1980-something when I mean 2000-something).

The phenomenon of time speeding up as we get older is universal, and there are various theories on why it seems that way. Twelve years was 100 percent of my life when I was 12, but it’s now less than a quarter of it. And every passing year represents a smaller percentage of an increasingly long life. A school year was an eternity when I was a kid, but an entire calendar quarter has already passed since we had that big snowfall on Christmas, and that seems like last week.

My sister has a theory that, rather than being a straight run of fabric unwinding evenly from a bolt, time actually stretches and folds. Some periods of time seem much longer than they were. The movie “American Graffiti” was promoted with the tagline “Where were you in ’62?” It was practically a costume drama, complete with nostalgic soundtrack, dated hairstyles and classic cars — but 1962 was only 11 years in the past when the movie came out. Think of all the events and social changes that were packed into that period of time, which certainly had to stretch to contain it all.

Eleven years ago — that would be the spring of 2002 — only seems long ago when I think how little and adorable my sons were back in those days. Or when I research an old copy of Arkansas Business and remember when we had color ink available only on certain pages rather than cover-to-cover. I watch episodes of “The X-Files” on Netflix, and I forget that 20 years have passed since the first season — until I see Mulder calling Scully on a cellphone the size of a brick. I think I’m living in a fold in time that is much shorter than the years would suggest.

Believe it or not, what got me thinking about my sister and her theory of time stretching and folding was a Wall Street Journal article I read last week called “Introducing the 97-Month Car Loan.” The anecdotal lead on the story told of a 34-year-old woman who still owed several thousand dollars on her trade-in, so she rolled that onto the $23,000 price of her 2013 Toyota Camry and financed it all for 75 months. “The car won’t be paid off until her 1-month-old daughter is heading to first grade,” reporter Mike Ramsey wrote.

Nothing makes time speed by faster than having a baby, but while time may not be linear, auto mileage certainly is. That car is likely to have 80,000 miles on the odometer before it’s free and clear. (“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” Indiana Jones said — 32 years ago.)

And this baby’s mama isn’t even outside today’s norm: “In the final quarter of 2012, the average term of a new car note stretched out to 65 months, the longest ever, according to Experian Information Solutions Inc. Experian said that 17% of all new car loans in the past quarter were between 73 and 84 months and there were even a few as long as 97 months. Four years ago, only 11% of loans fell into this category.”

With the average price of a new car now above $30,000, and wages still stagnant, buyers who won’t settle for used cars have little choice but to spend more of their finite time on earth paying off auto debt. Financially, that’s certainly not ideal, but something else has happened while we weren’t looking, according to the WSJ report: “[T]he average age of a vehicle on the road today is 11 years. Vehicle durability continues to improve and used vehicles don’t depreciate in value as fast as they used to.”

In other words, Merle Haggard — who in 1982 sang “I wish a Ford and a Chevy would still last 10 years like they should” — has gotten his wish.

At least something is holding up better. Here’s the lead from another article I read last week, this time from the Daily Mail of London: “Today’s adults are so unhealthy they are 15 years ‘older’ than their parents and grandparents at the same age, researchers say.”

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at



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