Auto sales in the U.S. finished 2012 strong as consumers across the country headed to car dealerships to replace their aging vehicles.

Auto sales rose 9% in December compared with one year ago. Sales were up a whopping 19% from November to December. According to market researcher Autodata Corp., the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate was 15.37 million vehicles.

In 2012 as a whole, auto sales rose 13.4% to 14.5 million cars and light trucks, the highest point since 2007.

Before the economic recession began in 2008, U.S. auto sales typically ranged between 15 million and 17 million vehicles sold each year.

Compared to a year ago, General Motors (GM) said its car and light-truck sales rose 4.9% in December, while Ford reported a 1.6% gain and Chrysler, a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA, said its sales jumped 10%.

Other auto makers also reported strong sales gains. Toyota said its December sales rose 9% to 194,143 vehicles. Honda sales rose 26% to 132,774, and demand for Volkswagen vehicles rose 35%, marking the auto maker's best December in the U.S. since the final month of 1970.