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Used Car Prices In Trouble Because Of Leasing

In recent years, the used car market has experienced significant disruptions, and one of the key contributing factors is the dynamics of auto leasing. While it might seem unrelated at first, the connection between auto leasing and the availability of used cars becomes clear when examining the intricate workings of the automotive industry.

The Challenge of Used Car Sourcing

Unlike new cars that can be directly ordered from manufacturers, used cars don’t have a dedicated production line. For dealers, obtaining used car inventory is a constant challenge. Trade-ins from customers purchasing new cars provide one source of used cars, but this alone is often insufficient to meet the demand.

Consider this: if a dealer sells 100 new cars, they may only receive around 100 used cars through trade-ins. Some customers opt to buy a new car without trading in their old one, further reducing the available used inventory. Additionally, not all trade-ins are suitable for resale. High-mileage vehicles or cars that don’t align with the dealer’s inventory preferences are set aside.

The Role of Auto Auctions

To bridge the gap, dealers turn to auto auctions, with Manheim being one of the largest players in this field. Auctions offer a variety of used cars from different sources, but two main contributors stand out: rental cars and off-lease vehicles.

Rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise frequently send their retired rental cars to auctions after a couple of years or a set mileage. The other major source is off-lease cars. Historically, a significant portion of new car purchases involved leasing. When these leases expire, the returned vehicles become available in the used car market.

Changing Landscape of Auto Leasing

However, a shift is occurring in the landscape of auto leasing. Leasing, once a popular choice for consumers, is on the decline. People are increasingly opting for financing or purchasing vehicles outright. This shift is impacting the quantity and quality of used cars entering the market.

Off-lease vehicles, in particular, used to be prized inventory for dealers. These cars were typically well-maintained, often coming with free service for the initial years of ownership. Moreover, they were better equipped than rental cars, making them more appealing to prospective buyers.

The Quality Dilemma: Rental Cars vs. Off-Lease Cars

When comparing off-lease and rental cars, the difference in quality becomes apparent. Off-lease vehicles, having had a single owner who likely took good care of the car, are generally in better condition. In contrast, rental cars, subjected to the varying driving habits of numerous renters, may show signs of wear and tear.

The customization aspect also plays a role. Off-lease cars are often more personalized, equipped with additional features that make them attractive to buyers seeking a specific set of amenities. Rental cars, serving a broader market, tend to be more basic and lack these personalized touches.

Market Implications and Challenges for Buyers

As a result of these shifts, the used car market is facing challenges. The reduced volume of quality used cars, coupled with the decline in auto leasing, is leading to increased prices. The once-affordable off-rental cars are now commanding higher prices, and off-lease vehicles have become rarer and more valuable.

Furthermore, the practice of lease buyouts, where lessees could purchase their leased vehicle at the end of the term, has declined. In the past, the buyout amount was often higher than the market value of the car, but as used car prices surged, more lessees chose to keep their vehicles, further limiting the availability of used cars in the market.

The Ripple Effect on New Car Buyers

The impact extends beyond the used car market, affecting new car buyers as well. With fewer high-quality used cars available, some consumers who might have opted for a used vehicle are now turning to new cars. This shift has created a seller’s market for new cars, allowing manufacturers and dealers to be less aggressive with lease deals and incentives.

The evolving dynamics of auto leasing are reshaping the automotive landscape, influencing both used and new car markets. The challenges faced by dealers in sourcing quality used cars highlight the intricate connections within the industry. As consumers navigate these changes, understanding the underlying factors can provide valuable insights into the shifting dynamics of the automotive marketplace.

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