Six to eight times a month now, someone who brings an F-150 into Earnhardt Ford for service ends up buying a new truck instead of going ahead with the repair.
The trucks coming in are so old and run-down that it makes more sense to replace them, says John Nissen, general manager of the dealership in suburban Phoenix.
"The trades we're getting are just worn out," Nissen says. "They have 120,000 miles, when they should have been traded in at about 75,000."
These falling-apart trucks are good news for the Detroit 3, which used to sell more than 3 million pickups a year and made gobs of money doing it. Amid positive signals from the housing market, declining unemployment and relatively stable gasoline prices, more consumers and businesses that held onto their trucks through the recession finally are upgrading to new models.
As a result, U.S. pickup sales appear on pace to hit 2 million this year for the first time since 2007. Deliveries of full-sized pickups, including the F-series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram, rose 13 percent in the first half of 2012 and appear headed toward full-year sales of 1.7 million.
About 55 percent of pickup sales typically occur in the second half of a year, when harsh weather is on the horizon, truck marketing heats up and businesses have a better idea of how their budget is looking.
"Now that housing appears to be turning, you do have an opportunity to have that growth accelerate," says Jim Cain, a spokesman for General Motors, which is launching redesigned versions of the Silverado and GMC Sierra next year. "We are marching pretty systematically back toward prerecession levels of sales."
The average age of full-sized pickups reached a record 12.7 years old in the first quarter of this year, according to Experian Automotive, up from 11.5 in 2009. Among all vehicles, the average age was 11 years old, also a record, an Experian study found.
"We have 'Built Ford Tough' trucks, but at some point you're going to have to replace those trucks," Mark Fields, the president of Ford Motor Co.'s Americas division, told Automotive News in June.
"When the housing market rebounds," Fields said, "and it doesn't have to turn up anywhere near the records it was ... I really feel that we're very well positioned for a recovery in trucks.