Each day we get asked, “When will car prices drop?” Fortunately, today we have good news to share; used car prices are starting to fall as you’re reading this.
At wholesale auctions, used car prices have dropped for seven weeks in a row. This week’s wholesale declines were so steep that the analysts at Black Book said it was reminiscent of declines seen at the start of the pandemic. If wholesale used car prices are dropping so much, why haven’t we seen an equally steep decline in retail prices? Well, we are just starting to.
In today’s turbulent world, there’s only so much we can confidently assume when drawing connections between the automotive market of the past and present. But the data is still useful. By taking a look at similar trends from years past, we can start to understand when retail car prices are likely to drop, which vehicles are likely to drop the most, by how much, and how you can approach negotiations.
Let’s dive in.
Retail Price Trends Lag Behind Changes at Wholesale Auctions
Historically, retail used car prices lag 4 to 6 weeks behind wholesale prices. We started to see significant wholesale price declines in the last week of June, and more so by mid-July. Take a look at the last 8 weeks of wholesale car prices:
+0.10% the week of June 20
-0.02% the week of June 27
-0.15% the week of July 4
-0.35% the week of July 11
-0.45% the week of July 18
-0.47% the week of July 25
-0.86% the week of August 1
-0.89% the week of August 8
Since early July, wholesale used car prices have dropped -3.19%, and some vehicle segments are down more than 5%. You may be asking why retail prices haven’t started dropping if wholesale prices started their downward trend seven weeks ago. Until the week of July 18, the wholesale declines were slight. Basically, they were within the ‘margin of error’, and the change wasn’t yet large enough to draw any big conclusions. When we started to see declines of -0.45% to -0.89% in a single week, that was the surefire indication that the price drop is real, and the bubble may even be bursting.
If used car prices are on track to follow a trajectory similar to what was seen when prices dropped in 2008 and 2020, we’d expect to see real declines 4 to 6 weeks after the start of significant declines. So when did the clock start? Conservatively, the first week of August was the first week of major declines. Wholesale used car prices dropped -0.86% last week alone. Looking ahead, we can expect retail used car prices to drop meaningfully starting in early- to mid-September. This coincides with a likely increase in repo cars that will also drive used car prices lower too.
While advertised retail prices may not be lower (why would a dealer drop their advertised price if they can find a customer willing to pay an inflated price?), we have heard more and more stories from our community of successful negotiations taking thousands of dollars off of used car deals. Negotiating on a used car is possible, and you should be encouraged to do it.
Luxury Models and Large SUVs Likely to Drop the Most
The past month of wholesale data shows that luxury vehicle and larger SUV segments are on track to see the steepest price declines. Why? Their prices have been the most inflated over the past 18 months, and consumer demand for high price vehicles is decreasing rapidly. The week of August 8, every luxury segment dropped by at least -1.24% week over week. Sub-compact and full-size luxury crossovers dropped nearly 2% in just one week. Since July 11, luxury segments have seen wholesale prices drop by -5.32%, while the overall used vehicle market dropped -3.19%.
YAA’s Auto Experts Are Already Seeing More Deals
Our very own market researcher Mario notes that some vehicle segments are softening, but mass-market sedans and trucks are holding firm. “I’m starting to see increased negotiability with late model mid-size SUVs like the Mazda CX-9 and the luxury segment (Lexus RX, Audi Q5, Acura RDX). These segments have been softening and represent some good deals. Trucks continue holding value. I haven’t seen much change on the lower end and small sedans.”
YAA Auto Expert Justise also emphasized more consumer negotiating power as the first sign of a softening auto market. “ Luxury and non-hybrid vehicles are already a lot more negotiable than they were last month. I am also seeing a lot more deals across the board without as many shenanigans like nitrogen tires, and fewer markups over MSRP. Even many Toyota & Hondas that are 2020-2021 model years are coming back down to Earth.”
Are Retail Car Prices Guaranteed to Drop?
Think about what we’ve all collectively been through over the last few years. We know better than to assume anything in this market is guaranteed! Today’s car market is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. New car inventory remains very low, and prices are sky-high while interest rates complicate matters even more. And we haven’t even discussed inflation. So no, nothing is guaranteed, but it’s undeniable that overall market pressure is building that will most likely push dealer sales managers to adjust pricing downwards.
Another factor to take into account is that dealer sales managers are going to try their hardest to cover their losses. Those who bought severely overvalued used vehicles at auction two to six months ago are going to either stand defiantly and demand high prices, or they’ll ‘be smart about it’ and cut their losses by negotiating with prepared, knowledgeable car buyers.
YAA’s own Ray Shefska said it best. “The smart dealers will take their losses, and sell what they can now. Wholesale price trends are indicating that they bought overpriced used vehicles for the past several months, and they’re losing money every day they don’t sell their inventory. This could drive prices downward sooner rather than later. Smart sales managers look at pricing weekly. If cars aren’t selling quickly like they have been, that’s a sign that the market is changing.”