After 21 straight weeks of appreciation, it had looked like used car prices were finally returning to normal (aka depreciating). Following the 21 straight weeks of appreciation, we experienced seven straight weeks of declining used car prices. This is the expected behavior in the used car market, because used cars become less valuable as more miles are put on them, and new vehicles make it to market. However, as we’ve documented extensively in 2021, we’ve seen used cars, trucks, and SUVs appreciate considerably.
The run of seven straight weeks of declines was short-lived. We’re now experiencing a reversal, and used car prices are increasing again. In this article we’ll break down the numbers and answer a few key questions such as; When is the best time to sell my used car to make the most money? When will used car prices go down again? And, how much higher will used car prices go?
Let’s dive in.
How fast are used car prices increasing?
To track the movements in used vehicle pricing we rely on data from BlackBook. BlackBook is an industry leader in providing vehicle valuations and data insights. They are a YAA partner and an industry authority.
BlackBook’s weekly market insights report is full of interesting data. None more than the chart displaying weekly changes in wholesale used vehicle prices. Wholesale used vehicle prices are a leading indicator for what will happen to retail used vehicle prices.
2017-2019 Average (Same Week)
Truck & SUV segments
The red line in the chart above represents zero change week over week in wholesale used car prices. Each dot represents a week. As you can see, for the past three weeks, wholesale used vehicle prices have been above the red line (cars, the blue line, have been above the red line for four weeks now).
Earlier this year we saw week over week increases in price of up to 2% across entire vehicle segments. Right now, price increases are more modest (at .43% for cars and .36% for trucks and SUVs), however our expectation is that price appreciation will increase in velocity. We would not be surprised if we see week over week price appreciation of 1%+ later in 2021.
Within the car segment we can get more granular on the week over week wholesale price changes.
Sporty cars are the anomaly here. Mid-size cars, compact cars, and sub-compact cars are leading the way in week over week price appreciation in the wholesale market. The seasonality that effects sports cars is likely at play right now (sporty car values typically increase in the spring and summer, and decrease in the fall and winter).
We expect to see used sub-compact and compact car prices continue to increase at rapid rates. This is because they represent the only segment of vehicle that is still moderately “affordable” compared to full-size cars, trucks, or SUVs.
Truck and SUV segment
We also have more granular data on the truck and SUV market.
Similarly to the car segment, we see the greatest price increase among the sub-compact and compact segments. This is again because those vehicles are at lower price points, making them more attainable for a broader buying audience.
Minivan prices are increasing at above average rates as well, and we expect that to continue. Minivans and full-size vans experienced truly remarkable appreciation earlier this year, and we would not be surprised to see that again.
How much higher will used car prices go?
Wholesale used car prices are currently up 36% from the beginning of this year.
You can see the weekly declines we had been experiencing on the purple line above. You can also see the increases we’ve now experienced for the past few weeks.
Retail prices are currently up 25% from when we began this year (again, the purple line).
Unlike wholesale prices, we have not seen any significant downward movement in used retail pricing.
Can wholesale and retail prices increase even more? We think so.
We would not be surprised to see an additional 10% increase in wholesale used vehicle prices and a commensurate 5-7% increase in retail used vehicle prices.
When will used car prices go down again?
Used vehicles can’t appreciate forever, can they? We don’t think so. Used car prices have increased in price because of the ongoing chip crisis and supply chain issues plaguing automakers. Expectations for when new vehicle production will return to pre-pandemic levels vary based on who you talk to.
From our sources, we expect that new vehicle production will return to pre-pandemic levels in the third or fourth quarter of 2022. The other question that is top of mind is, if automakers will produce as many vehicles as they did in the past?
We’ve heard from the chief executives at multiple automakers who have said they will not go back to stocking their dealerships will hundreds or thousands of cars. Instead, they will retain a business model where there is less supply because they’ve found it to be more profitable.
Does that mean used car prices will continue to appreciate? We don’t think so.
Automakers may stock their dealer lots with a lesser supply of inventory, however there will still be enough new vehicle supply to offset the craziness we are currently experiencing in the wholesale and retail used car market.
Our expectation is that used car prices will fluctuate and generally increase between now and the third quarter of 2022. At that point, we would not be surprised to see a consistent depreciation of used vehicles like we have seen in pre-pandemic times.
When should I sell my car to make the most money?
This begs the most important question of all … When should I sell (or trade-in) my car to make the most money?
While we expect used car prices to continue to increase until the third quarter of 2022, we would not be surprised if we see a peak in prices in the spring of 2022. Spring is typically the season where used car prices are at their highest. While seasonality has not played a major role in used vehicle prices in 2021 (because of all the other factors), we still would not be surprised if used car prices peak during this time.
If you plan to sell or trade-in your vehicle we recommend tracking your vehicle’s valuation on an ongoing basis.
New vehicle inventory levels have plummeted. The ongoing semiconductor shortage has caused automakers to cut production. Drive around town and you’ll see your local car dealership likely doesn’t have much inventory on their lot, and if they do, it’s likely used vehicles, not new.
More and more dealerships are turning towards “factory orders“. Generally speaking, this is a good thing, as it allows the customer to get exactly what they want. The issue is, as far as we can tell from our community of thousands of savvy shoppers, those people who placed orders are getting the runaround.
“Your car will be built next week and shipped to us soon,” is a common phrase we’re hearing, and then sadly weeks go by without an update. Automakers are simply struggling to do what they’re supposed to do best; make cars.
To put into perspective how dire the current new vehicle inventory situation is, we’re going to compare the current market days supply and inventory levels of a few of the major automakers to their prior levels in 2019. Let’s dive in.
Ford Inventory Levels
Ford has made headlines for many reasons in 2021. Their current inventory levels are one of those reasons. In September of 2019, Ford had 621,000 new vehicles in inventory across the United States. At current sales rates, that represented an 82 day supply of inventory on their dealer lots. Today, as of September 2021, Ford has 210,800 units of inventory in the market.
Toyota was initially hailed as one of the automakers who would be able to mitigate the effects of the chip shortage and retain their production capacity. That was until Toyota announced a 40% decrease in production in October as a result of supply-chain issues.
In 2019 Toyota had 444,000 units of inventory in the market, at a 50 days supply. Today, Toyota has 135,200 units of inventory in the market, at an 18 days supply. Staggering.
If you’re looking to buy a car in 2021 the price you are going to pay will be higher than in prior years. We recommend you do not buy a vehicle right now unless you absolutely need to. If you do need a new set of wheels we encourage you to consider leasing instead of financing. More on that here.
Because of the shortage of new vehicles, used cars have appreciated in value as well. If you are going to buy a used vehicle, be sure to get it pre-purchase inspected.
As a result of the global pandemic, we have seen changes across every industry. The automotive sector has experienced some of the most dramatic. It’s not unethical to say that we’re running out of new cars in the United States right now.
Earlier this year lumber prices skyrocketed (and then fell back down to reality), home prices soared in value (and continue to), and other industries undoubtedly evolved as a result of the pandemic. However cars (both new and used), have experienced unprecedented impacts as a result of Covid-19.
Take a drive down to your local “dealership row” and you’ll see empty lots. Where did all the cars go?
Chips are to blame. No, not those chips … We’re talking about microchips, the unimaginably small, paper-thin integrated circuits that store data, transmit code and allow software to carry out their magical properties. Vehicles today are full of computers, microchips, and software. The reason you don’t see any cars on your local dealers lot is because production of these chips has been outstripped by demand.
We began documenting the chip shortage at the beginning of 2021. Initial news reports suggested that there would be a significant, albeit short-lived supply chain disruption that would affect new vehicle production.
10 months later, it is clear as day that those initial reports were wrong. Very wrong. There will be lasting and widespread impacts from this shortage.
Today we’re going to explore how we ran out of cars, trucks, and SUVs, what impact that has on you if you need to buy a vehicle, and what this means for the “new normal” of buying a car.
Let’s dive in.
How bad is this “chip shortage” anyway?
Frequently you’ll hear my father, Ray Shefska joke that Frito Lay needs to increase their production capabilities because of the chip shortage. If only the solution were that simple!
Global semiconductor production is derived primarily from three companies; TSMC, Samsung, and Intel. Those aren’t the three companies you need to know about though. The one company you need to know about is ASML.
ASML is a Dutch corporation that has cornered the market on the one thing that is more important than microchips — the machines that make them. ASML produces EUV machines. These are the machines that TSMC, Samsung, and Intel use to produce their computer chips.
Wired recently produced an awesome article on ASML, and we recommend you take a look if you’re interested in a deeper dive on them.
The long and short of it is that there is one company that produces these machines (ASML), the machines themselves are incredibly complex (100,000+ components), and they’re unfathomably expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars). When someone says “we should just make some more chips,” they don’t understand that ASML holds the keys to that kingdom, and they are producing as many EUV machines as they can. There isn’t a quick fix when it comes to producing microchips.
Our current microchip shortage is in part exacerbated by the fact that these integrated circuits are in literally every electronic device we interact with. ASML has some quality information on that here. Chips are the new gasoline in a sense — they’re everywhere.
So how badly is the chip shortage affecting the automotive sector? Badly.
Market Days Supply is an industry metric that automotive manufacturers and dealerships measure to track their inventory levels.
When we founded YAA we built software that tracks Market Days Supply for consumers so that they could be armed with the same information the OEMs and dealers have. If a vehicle has a high Market Days Supply it would indicate a greater likelihood that the dealer would negotiate and sell it at a better price. When Market Days Supply is low, a dealer (and the OEM) have little incentive to negotiate or discount their product.
The chip shortage, and subsequent new car shortage is very real, and very impactful.
Used car demand is higher than ever before
With automakers unable to provide their dealerships with new vehicles, used cars have become increasingly popular. Black Book, an industry leader in vehicle valuations, and a YAA partner, produces a weekly market report on used vehicles.
For 10 months now we have tracked this report each week, and it is truly unfathomable what we’re seeing. Retail used car prices are up 25% from just the beginning of this year, while wholesale prices have risen more than 30%.
For used car owners (and lessees) who have a vehicle to sell (and don’t need to replace it), there couldn’t be a better time to be in the market. Traditionally used vehicles are depreciating assets, however over the past 12 months we’ve seen certain segments of used vehicles (we’re looking at you full-sized vans) appreciate over 100% in that timeframe.
Is this the new normal?
In short, we think the answer is yes, and there are two primary considerations that give us confidence to say that:
The new car shortage will likely drag on well into 2022 if not into 2023.
Automakers and dealers are finding ways to increase profits while having less supply.
It’s as simple as that. The shortage isn’t going to end overnight, and while OEMs and dealerships learn how to cope with that, they are finding innovative and new ways to increase their profits. Even if the shortage could be reconciled tomorrow, why would Ford go back to their old ways? Why would the new car dealership go back to stocking a 90 days supply of inventory? Why go back if profits are up?
For these two reasons, we anticipate there will be lasting and permanent changes to the retail automotive industry. Here are a few specific areas where we think the change will be felt.
Say goodbye to manufacturer incentives
The days of rebates and special interest rates are behind us. Why incentivize the sale of a vehicle when you don’t have enough vehicles to sell?
The average incentive outlay (how much the manufacturer spent to incentivize the sale of a vehicle) dropped 40% year-over-year in August from $3,969 to $2,432 (TrueCar), and this trend will surely continue.
Automakers have traditionally spent thousands of dollars to incentivize the sale of their vehicles. These are marketing expenses that are paid for by the manufacturer. To be crystal clear, these are programs like the $500 you get off for being a recent college graduate, or the limited time $1,000 rebate offer on the Chevrolet 1500. These incentives are diminishing rapidly, and in a world where there is less supply, it makes sense for automakers to cut back on their budget for incentives and programs.
Be prepared to pay more, with more cash down, and get GAP insurance
Another lasting impact we see has to do with transaction prices (both for new and used vehicles). With less supply we anticipate that all vehicle prices will stay elevated.
Dealerships with limited supply are able to tack on accessories and “additional dealer markup” simply as a result of having ample demand and not enough supply. Traditionally gross profit on a new vehicle was near zero. Car dealers made their money on the “back-end” of the deal (selling loans and insurance products). Nowadays, dealers are making thousands on the sale of the vehicle, and even more on the back-end. This is a result of the limited supply and healthy demand.
We anticipate that this will be a lasting trend. Dealerships will not discount below MSRP on new vehicles, and they won’t negotiate on their used inventory. Instead, you’ll have to fight tooth and nail over the $900 “GPS tracking system” they installed (that really only costs $200), and the $5,000 additional dealer markup they added “just because.”
With prices inflated, and with limited leverage, consumers will need to be prepared to put more cash down than ever before in order to get approved for their loan. Unlike anytime before, GAP insurance will be a smart decision for most purchasers.
Get ready to “order” your next car
With limited inventory on dealership lots, we expect the trend to “factory order” vehicles to become the new normal. Ford and General Motors have both said that they like having less inventory on their dealerships lots, and that they’d prefer to move towards an order system.
This will in part change how consumers negotiate car deals, and it will also drastically change the way car dealerships look and feel. Do you really need a humongous lot when you have no vehicles on it? We expect to see the physical representation of dealerships change over the coming years as a result of more factory orders, and less inventory on dealership lots.
We’re here to help
The automotive industry is experiencing a transformation right before our eyes. Buying a car is even more difficult today than it was a few years ago, and in part that’s because of how rapidly the industry is evolving.
Here at YAA we’re committed to helping you navigate this process. You should feel confident when you buy a car, and between our Auto Advocate live chat support, vibrant community forum, and consistent educational content, we promise to do the best we can to assist you through this process.
The idea of selling your leased car for a profit was once a foreign concept. Today —amidst an ongoing chip shortage and subsequent new vehicle shortage — selling your leased car for a profit is more common than you think. How can you sell your leased car and make the most money? Which types of vehicles are worth the most compared to their residual value? What automakers are making it more difficult for you to make money selling your lease? We’ll answer these questions and more!
The steps to sell your leased vehicle are not too terribly complex. Here they are from Ray Shefska:
1. You need to first buy the vehicle from the lease company.
2. Call the lease company and get your current payoff. Get a 10 day payoff to allow enough time for the funds to arrive at the bank.
3. Make arrangements to buy the vehicle out directly from the lease company if they allow you to do so. Not all leasing companies allow this, so you will need to ask your particular lender.
4. If you cannot pay cash for the vehicle, make arrangements to finance the balance. Some lease companies can assist you with this. If not check with your credit union or local bank.
5. If buying the vehicle out with the assistance of the dealer, be aware that the dealer may charge you their doc fee, collect all taxes due, if any, and collect the title and registration fees. They can also assist you with financing if needed. A word of advice: they very well may attempt to mark up the interest rate on the loan and also attempt to sell you their normal F&I protection products.
6. Once you have purchased the vehicle and had the title and registration issued in your name you can then sell it.
7. To sell your previously leased vehicle for the most money, contact third party used car dealerships such as CarMax, Carvana, Vroom, Shift and others to see what their offers are and then decide whether or not you would want to sell to one of them.
8. If you decide to sell to a third party as mentioned above, you will need to provide them with your loan account number so they can contact the lender to get the current payoff. They will make the payoff and you will receive whatever balance is remaining. You will need to provide them with the title if you have it or you will have to sign a motor vehicle power of attorney instructing the bank to release the title to the buyer when the vehicle is paid off.
9. If you are selling to a private party, advertise the vehicle and always be sure to meet any potential buyer in a very public place and bring along someone to accompany you.
10. Never allow the potential buyer to test drive the vehicle by themself. Always accompany the potential buyer on the test drive and have your friend tag along as well.
11. Establish the test drive route prior to leaving and set the ground rules for how the vehicle is allowed to be driven. The driver must obey all traffic safety rules and stay within the posted speed limit at all times.
12. Once you have agreed to sell the vehicle, complete the transaction at your bank, credit union, motor vehicle agency or local police station to protect all parties from any issues. Be certain to make sure that buyer’s funds are indeed good prior to releasing any paperwork or keys to the vehicle.
13. Do not allow the buyer to drive off using your tags and registration.
14. Rinse and repeat… I’m just seeing if you are paying attention 🙂
Which vehicles are selling for the most over their residual value
Our friends over at iseecars.com did you an incredible job analyzing millions of vehicles for sale to determine which cars, trucks, and SUVs are selling for the most profit over their residual values. As you’ll recall, residual values are set when you sign your lease. These values are the leasing company’s best guess as to what the vehicle will be worth at the end of the lease.
Because the current new car shortage was not foreseen in 2018, residual values are well below the actual value of nearly every leased car. This means that lessees are in positive equity positions; they can purchase their lease at the preset residual value, and it is worth more on the open market. Incredible!
What vehicles are selling for the most over their preset residual values? First, let’s establish that the average off-lease used vehicle is worth 31.5% more than its original residual value. That’s shocking, but compared to the top ten, it’s relatively reserved!
Which automakers are making it harder for you to sell your leased car
A host of captive finance companies (financing company’s owned by automakers) have taken steps to make it more difficult for consumers to sell their leased vehicles for profit. Toyota, GM, Honda, Acura, and Mazda are just a few automakers that are no longer allowing third parties to make the payoff payment on a lease. Ford has not allowed third parties to do this for years.
What does this mean?
This means that you have to go to a franchised dealership to buy your leased vehicle before you can sell it to a third party. In the past you could go to Carvana and they could payoff your lease for you. Now, you’ll need to go to the dealership, buy the vehicle, get the title, then sell it to Carvana (or another third party).
Why are Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, and Mazda doing this? Because it increases the chance that the dealership will be able to get the off-lease vehicle from you. Dealers are short on supply (cars to sell), and by forcing lease customers to come back to the dealership they are increasing their chances of buying the car from you.
As a result of ongoing new vehicle production shortages, used cars, trucks, and SUVs are in high demand. This means that “rougher” and “edgier” used vehicles are making their way to dealership lots for sale to the public. One way to protect yourself from unknowingly purchasing a clunker is to look at a Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle history report.
Let’s start with the basics … How do these two companies work? AutoCheck and Carfax both operate in the same way; they source data from different places and compile that information into reports that are easy for a consumer to understand. With this in mind, it’s clear how the two companies compete. Who can get more (and better) data about a vehicle? That’s the challenge.
Carfax and AutoCheck both boast impressive lists of data partners on their websites. For example, Carfax says they have 112,000 data sources, while AutoCheck was developed by Experian and has access to all of their resources and relationships. Both companies provide compelling credentials as to why they are superior to the other. That being said, they both face the same issue: if data is not reported to them from one of their data partners, it will never show up on a report.
Which is more reliable?
This brings us to the most important question of them all … Which is more reliable? Carfax or AutoCheck? We’ll answer this question by providing a few anecdotes from our experiences, as well as what we’ve heard from YAA Community members who have shared their stories with us in the community forum or via Live Chat with our Auto Advocates.
AutoCheck doesn’t show damage, but Carfax does
Sadly, this happens more frequently than we’d like. Take for example the case of Chris, a gentleman in Alaska who purchased a 2019 Ford Fusion from a local independent dealership.
Chris went to the dealership, took the Fusion for a test drive, reviewed the AutoCheck report that the dealer provided, and purchased his car. A few days later he took it to the local Ford dealership because a light came on in the dash. Within an hour, Chris had a sinking feeling in his stomach when a technician came to him and explained that his vehicle had been in a severe accident. Chris, unbeknownst to him, had bought a clunker.
How could that happen? The AutoCheck had been clean. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is why we always recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection completed on any used vehicle (even certified pre-owned). That being said, what was scary about Chris’ experience is that Carfax had different data than AutoCheck—they did report damage to the vehicle (but not an accident).
Let’s look at the two reports, and some photos of the vehicle before it was repaired.
As you can see on the AutoCheck report, the Fusion comes back “clean” and with an average AutoCheck score. Let’s look at the Carfax report.
As you can see on the Carfax report there are no accidents reported either, however there is a report of damage to the vehicle.
Right there on the Carfax report it says clearly “get the vehicle inspected before you buy.” Carfax knew about the damage, and AutoCheck didn’t. Chris obviously didn’t get the vehicle inspected, and he trusted the dealer who sold him the vehicle because they provided a “clean” AutoCheck.
Does this mean AutoCheck is inferior to Carfax? We’ll let you be the judge …
We heard a similar story from a YAA Community member named Kristen.
Kristen had a nearly identical experience to Chris. She bought a vehicle (and even got the extended warranty), only to find out a few weeks later that it had previously been in not only one, but two accidents!
Does AutoCheck not collect as much information as Carfax? Based on some of our communities experiences, it appears that way.
How to protect yourself
Get a pre purchase inspection
I know we sound like a broken record, but getting a pre-purchase inspection is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself when buying a used vehicle. A pre-purchase inspection isn’t bullet-proof, but it certainly increases the likelihood of you avoiding a fate like Chris or Kristen.
Ask your insurer to check the VIN
Another trick you can use to get more information about a vehicle is to ask your insurance company to check the VIN in their systems. Insurance companies have databases similar to Carfax and AutoCheck that they can access on your behalf. Once you’ve found a vehicle you’re interested in, call your insurance company and ask them what info they have on the VIN. If it comes back clean on their end, then get the pre-purchase inspection.
Understand that when you buy used you are buying “as-is”
In nearly every state, when you purchase a used vehicle you are purchasing it “as-is.” This means that no matter what condition the vehicle is, you are purchasing it as such. This doesn’t mean a dealership can sell you any clunker (vehicles have to pass state safety inspections to be sold), however it does mean that once they’ve sold you something it is entirely yours to deal with. The contract you signed stated it is being sold to you “as-is” and that the dealer cannot be held liable for the condition of the vehicle.
It is important that you understand the “as-is” concept, because your recourse post-purchase if something does go wrong is limited. If you’re like Chris or Kristen you have a few options to remediate the situation, however none are ideal. It is critically important that you understand you are purchasing the vehicle “as-is” and that you should be measured and pragmatic before signing the contract.