As prices for used vehicles blow past any seemingly rational level, it is the kind of scenario playing out at many auto dealerships across the country. Prices have soared so high, so fast, that buyers are being increasingly priced out of the market.
According to AP, consider that the average price of a used vehicle in the United States in November, according to Edmunds.com, was $29,011 — a dizzying 39% more than just 12 months earlier. And for the first time that anyone can recall, more than half of America’s households have less income than is considered necessary to buy the average-priced used vehicle.
The days when just about anyone with a steady income could wander onto an auto lot and snag a reliable late-model car or buy their kid’s first vehicle for a few thousand dollars have essentially vanished.
The blame can be traced directly to the pandemic’s eruption in March of last year. Auto plants suspended production to try to slow the virus’ spread. As sales of new vehicles sank, fewer people traded in used cars and trucks. At the same time, demand for laptops and monitors from people stuck at home led semiconductor makers to shift production from autos, which depend on such chips, to consumer electronics.
When a swifter-than-expected economic rebound boosted demand for vehicles, auto plants tried to restore full production. But chip makers couldn’t respond fast enough. And rental car companies and other fleet buyers, unable to acquire new vehicles, stopped off-loading older ones, thereby compounding the shortage of used vehicles.
Bleak as the market is for used-car buyers, the computer chip shortage has also driven new-vehicle prices higher. The average new vehicle, Edmunds.com says, is edging toward $46,000.