The main components of the hot mix asphalt that is used on driveways are rock, sand, and asphalt cement, a tar-like petroleum product. A new driveway starts with a 4 to 8-inch layer of compacted granular fill for a solid, well-draining base. This gets topped with 2 to 3 inches of fresh, hot asphalt, which quickly gets compacted by a heavy rolling machine (what you might call a "steamroller"). New asphalt driveways typically require a 72 hour cure time after installation.
To get the most life and best appearance from an asphalt driveway, sealcoat the asphalt every two to three years to ensure an attractive, water-resistant surface. Cracks and holes should be repaired as soon as possible.
Asphalt driveways typically last 12 to 20 years, depending on the quality of the installation, the climate, the usage they get, and how well they have been maintained. Like most everything else, the better care you take of your asphalt driveway, the longer it will remain in service.