Nashville, Tenn. (TN Tribune)–As many Tennesseans will be all too aware, the price of used vehicles has skyrocketed (by 37% from December 2020 to December 2021), marking the largest 12-month increase for cars in the history of the consumer price index. While the market surge has yielded some advantage to the profit margins of many local dealers, potential buyers are finding themselves struggling to find cars within their budget, or even within their state boundaries… One buyer was reported to have travelled 537 miles from Michigan to Hanover, Pennsylvania to fetch their vehicle!

Quantrell Subaru, a Lexington-based dealer, commissioned a survey of 2,690 buyers across the country to find out just how far they’d be prepared to travel to buy a used car. The survey discovered that many Tennesseans are willing to drive the distance for a good deal: the average person here said they would travel up to 457 miles to purchase a used car – around the equivalent of a road trip to Panama City, Florida! And if you were to take an Uber along this stretch, it would cost hundreds of dollars just one way (without traffic)!
When broken down across state lines, those in Alaska were prepared to travel the furthest to pick up their perfect used car – 722 miles! Comparatively and more tentatively, Vermonters were only prepared to travel 286 miles.

The soaring prices of the used-car market is in large part the result of a problem that has affected the economy since the pandemic began – a severe shortage of computer chips (fueled by a ramped-up demand for computers and household products which also use these semiconductors). As automakers cut down on production (due to a lack of chips), prices soared for used cars. And the lack of new cars hitting the market has had a knock-on effect and led to a shortage in used cars also.

“It’s an unprecedented time for the automotive industry. After a global pandemic brought automotive sales and production to a near stop, Americans have rallied and returned to the car market at full force,” says Brentley Jones for Quantrell Subaru. “Consequently, we’re witnessing a demand for cars, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We are currently shipping 40% of our used car inventory to out-of-state buyers.”

The sage advice on negotiating a deal for a car has been to make an offer well below the asking price, and then hope to meet somewhere in the middle. However, while this may have been standard practice in pre-pandemic times, the lack of inventory means common tactics may need amending. Quantrell Subaru has therefore provided some advice for buyers on how to secure a used car for the foreseeable future:

  • Keep on top of local inventory and maintain relationships with the people who work at local dealerships. If you are on friendly terms, and they have your number, they are more likely to call you before other buyers.
  • Be flexible without having to compromise*. Try looking for similar vehicles from multiple makes, rather than just focusing on one brand. Many websites have advanced features whereby you can search by vehicle type across brands. 
  • Get your finances ready. You may well get a better rate at a dealership if you have preapproval for an auto loan. To put it another way, don’t let your dream car slip away while waiting for a loan to come through.
  • Everyone knows you should at least try to negotiate on a car’s price, but many are unaware that you can do so on loans too. Haggling on a loan can save thousands in the long term, and put you in a stronger position than another buyer who has less finance at their disposal.
  • The irony of the current used car market is that, although buyers are in a weaker position because of the lack of inventory, most buyers are also sellers of their existing vehicles. This means that they can sell their car at a higher price than they would otherwise. Speak to someone in the know about cars, and make sure you price your used vehicle accordingly.