Used Cars Still Expensive, But Prices Are Falling

A sustained rise in new-car sales has boosted the supply of late-model used cars, and now ADESA Analytical Services reports the average wholesale price — what the dealer pays for a used car at auction — hit $9,550 in September, 2.1% below year-ago levels.

It's the latest bit of good news for used-car shoppers, and it caps price drops in the 4% range all summer, ADESA said. September's drop represents less relief, but prices are still falling. Large cars, vans and full-size SUVs bucked the trend with price increases in September, but small and midsize cars saw modest drops. Midsize and large crossovers (down 5.1%), luxury cars (down 5.9%) and midsize SUVs (down 11.2%) saw the largest drops.

That's not to say used-car prices are back to pre-recession levels, or will be anytime soon. In September, auction facilitator Manheim's Used Vehicle Value Index remained a few points below its 2011 highs, but it still outpaces any level before April 2010. And in August, CNW Marketing Research said the average used car sold for $11,138 at a franchised dealership (e.g., Bob's Honda) and $8,936 at an independent dealer (e.g., Bob's Used Cars). That's still $668 and $438, respectively, over August 2009 levels.

Lest you think the pricing relief means lower trade-in values, the Detroit News reports that shoppers are trading in more cars, but that hasn't affected trade-in values much yet, leaving a "gray area" where shoppers can capitalize.

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey