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Low-mileage used cars are harder to find than ever (Get... Low-mileage used cars are harder to find than ever (Getty Images).
David Perry's 1998 Honda Civic CX had given all it could.

He had racked up 172,000 miles since buying the car from a friend in 2002.

"It had, I think, like 90,000 miles on it when I bought it, and then I took it up to 262,000," said Perry, who lives in Nashville and relies on his wheels to get to and from work at The Village Chapel, where he is audio-visual coordinator. "Yeah, I pretty much squeezed the life out of it."

The little Civic was in need of major work and just wasn't worth fixing. So Perry set out to find a similar replacement: something small, reliable, fuel efficient and with a manual transmission, which he prefers.

It wasn't easy.

"If you want to find an old used car that's been pretty well wrung out, then you'll have no problem," said Jeff Bartlett, deputy editor, Autos at Consumer Reports. "But it's a little harder to find that three- or four-year-old, great-condition car."

Because of the recession that hit in late 2008, people have been holding onto their rides for longer than usual, waiting for better days before trading in their old wheels for new ones. The fact that vehicles in general are more reliable than ever has only exacerbated the lack of low-mileage used cars, as owners rack up tens of thousands of trouble-free miles before finally trading them in.

TOP 5Most Researched Vehicles On AOL Autos
Making matters worse for the used-car shopper, automakers have been leasing fewer vehicles in recent years due to credit issues in the financial markets, Bartlett says. So all of the pre-owned vehicles that used to flow back into dealerships once leases were up simply vanished.

"When the recession hit and new car sales dropped to that 10.3 million level, it took a lot of used cars out of the marketplace," says Ricky Beggs, senior vice president and editorial director of Black Book, a Gainsville, Ga.-based firm that tracks automotive residual values. "And then, when they started coming back into the marketplace, we weren't seeing two- and three- and four-year-old good quality used cars coming back into the marketplace, as much as we were seeing some eight- to 10- and 11-year-old used cars being traded in."

It's no wonder the average age of "light vehicles" on the road today reached an all-time high of 11.4 years in 2013, according to Polk, a research firm that tracks the auto industry. (Light vehicles are defined as passengers cars, minivans, SUVs and light-duty pickups.) A decade ago, the average age of a vehicle on the road was 9.8 years.

What does all of this mean for car buyers?

Well, for one thing, it might be worth looking at a few new vehicles when shopping for used ones. Automakers are also feeling the pinch of the economy and have been offering pretty sweet deals on brand-new models, some of which bring prices close to that of late-model used equivalents.

For example, when you look at monthly payments -- as opposed to the total price of the vehicle -- and factor in the lower financing rates offered on new vehicles compared to used ones, a brand new GMC Acadia and Toyota Camry Hybrid end up costing less than a one-year-old equivalent, according to Edmunds.com, a website that tracks car pricing. This is assuming a 60-month loan with no downpayment and typical financing rates for new and one-year-old used vehicles, the latter of which are priced using Edmunds' True Market Value transaction pricing. (See the full list of new versus used vehicles, here.)

The same case can be made for certified pre-owned vehicles, which tend to cost more than non-certified used models because they go through rigorous inspections and have a factory-backed warranty. If you're in the market for a certified pre-owned Hyundai Elantra Coupe, Nissan Titan SV Crew Cab, or Toyota Prius, then you might as well get the new version, according to Edmunds.com's calculations.

A new Hyundai Elantra Coupe will cost about $341 per month, versus $352 for a certified pre-owned equivalent, Edmunds.com calculates. And you'll save $12 a month and $25 a month, respectively, going with a brand-spanking new Nissan Titan SV Crew Cab and Toyota Prius over a certified pre-owned one.

But don't get the wrong idea. Remember, this is contingent on the rate of finance. So if you have bad credit, the new-versus-used argument might be less compelling.

Used cars will almost always cost less than new ones when looking at the total price. What's more, used car prices are finally settling back down again, after jumping in previous years for reasons discussed above. The average rate of depreciation, which is a vehicle's biggest single cost, for used cars went up 0.4 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to Black Book data. "Not a big difference, but just a trend that says the depreciation is going to be a little bit greater going forward," Beggs said.

That's partly why Edmunds.com's list of vehicles that cost less new versus used has been dwindling. "It was very lengthy in the crazy 2009 days," says Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and industry analysis at Edmunds.com.

A new vehicle still might be worth considering over a used one even if it costs more, because in some cases, the surcharge is almost inconsequential -- at least when looking at monthly payments. According to Edmunds.com data, a new Honda CR-V LX with all-wheel drive will only run you an additional $540 over the course of a 60-month loan term compared to a used model. Meanwhile, a new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport has a $1,080 premium over a one-year-old used model.

"If the price was that close, I'd imagine most people would opt for the new vehicle," Caldwell says.

But those holding out for a low-mileage, used-car bargain shouldn't lose hope. As Perry's experience proves, there are still good deals to be found. Just be prepared to do the legwork.

When looking to replace his rundown Honda Civic hatchback, Perry considered both new and used models. He test drove a 2014 Nissan Versa, which is among the lowest-priced new vehicles on the market. But he passed on it because it felt too stripped down and feature-less compared to the used Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Accent he checked out.

"I looked at a couple of Hondas," Perry said. "A couple of them were gone by the time I was able to get there. Those seem to be hard to keep around in the used lot." The same happened with a Ford Fiesta he wanted to scope out.

Ultimately, Perry was able to find a great deal on a used car. After searching for days across a handful of dealerships, he managed to score a 2012 Hyundai Accent with a manual six-speed transmission with only 4,500 miles on the odometer. Quite a haul, considering the five-year/60,000-mile factory warranty is still in effect.

"It's very quiet, it's very responsive and I'm really enjoying it so far," Perry said.



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  • 22 Comments
      Bill
      • 9 Months Ago
      There are no good used cars because of our government . When they instituted the cash for clunkers they destroyed all the cars so only those who could afford a new car benefited from the program at the expense of the rest of the people. But don't fret over it now for soon you will have much more to worry about once our government has its way with you. Just keep your heads buried in the sand and your a$$e$ up in the air because they are just getting started with you. Soon they will be sending your children to war to protect some country who hates us and they will not care a bit about who dies as long as its not their kids. Oh yea they will pin a medal on some poor slob who dies or loses his limbs protecting our governments interests so you will continue to be blindsided.
        Bob
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Bill
        As far as I understand this, it was only enacted in California, but not in Massachusetts where I live. I see a lot of old "Clunkers" out there, some are nice, others are gas guzzling, oil burning pieces of s**t that have no business on the road!
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Bob
          "Cash for Clunkers" was nationwide. And being a "clunker" had nothing to do with the program. They simply wanted to get relatively new cars off the road to get more people to buy new cars then and to try to force more people to have to buy new cars a few years down the line, when there was inevitably a shortage of decent used cars available. We had a 1989 Ford Ranger that was a pile of junk and would have loved to have traded it in on a new car. Unfortunately, that didn't qualify as a "clunker," though. Why? Because in 1989, when it was new, it was rated for something like 15 mpg. We also had an old 3/4 ton work van that guzzled gas. We would have loved to have gotten rid of that and gotten a small car in its place, but that van didn't qualify as a "clunker" either. Right now, we are trying to find a decent used car in the $5000 range, which is turning into a joke because there aren't many decent used cars available for less than $10,000. So instead of buying something else, we're limping along with one vehicle between three drivers.
          rhans43832
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Bob
          It happened in PA also, BUT a lot of people ARE SMARTER than this administration and didn't fall for that bs.
          posthuf
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Bob
          Bob, in view of the constant effort of this administration to divide the people, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if they actually planned to destroy the cars in some areas, and not destroy in others, just to promote comments and views like yours. If people don't see something happen with their own eyes, they don't want to believe it. The thing is, any intelligent entity will take what they hear from enough others and consider there must be some validity or these stories wouldn't keep popping up. Take 'global warming' for example. Have to change that one to 'climate change' because were in a 17 year cooling trend. Consider that only 2-3 years ago pro-warmists scientists were calling for the revocation of scientific credentials of anti-warmist scientists. And what do we here now? "97% of credentialed scientist support climate change." What easier way to promote one side of an argument than to disenfranchise everybody with equal or better knowledge of the facts and call their position "not based on credentialed scientific facts." Climate change is still nothing more than a theory that had been "deemed" a fact by the same politicians who gave you cash for clunkers, obamacare, Arab Spring, and so many other fantastic "fundamentally changed America" improvements.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Buying a used car can be a huge mistake because you don’t know if the parts are alright. So the best thing is to buy used auto parts and restore your old car. I’ve bought some used parts few days ago from http://buyusedengine.com/index.php and got them at amazing price range. I’d suggest you to think about it.
      RMS
      • 9 Months Ago
      Why would anyone buy a brand new car? Biggest waste of money, especially with the big hit of depreciation in the first two years. I haven't bought new since 1990. My current car is a 2002 Seville that I bought four years ago with 65,000 miles. I paid cash, so no car payments. In four years I have spent about $2,000 in repairs and upkeep such as new tires, still a lot cheaper than having car payments. If I had to sell it tomorrow, I could get about 75% of what I paid for it four years ago. Even if I had the money to throw away on a new car, I honestly don't know what I would buy. Most of them all look the same, no style or distinction, like big jelly beans.
      delav
      • 9 Months Ago
      Why is no mention made of Obama's failed auto trade in program that took thousands of good cars off the road and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars?
      • 8 Months Ago
      Older cars are usually better without all that technology it's easier to fix
      • 8 Months Ago
      Don't forget about the "Cash for Clunkers" program a few years ago. That program was designed to take good used cars off of the market so that you'd have no choice but to buy a new car or deal with your old junker. Any car that was turned in for that program was destroyed. I know a car dealer who was sick over the cars that he had to scrap as a result of the program. Any one of them would have been perfect to put on any used car lot, but dealers were not allowed to do that.
      Ron Johnson
      • 9 Months Ago
      It makes more financial sense to buy a used car. With the recent economic troubles more people have begun to buy them. Not only are people holding onto their cars, but more people are buying used rather than new. The combination is making it much harder to find a good used vehicle. It's still worth it to look though because you never know when someone is going to sell what you are looking for. Ron Johnson | http://www.kcmetroford.com
      posthuf
      • 9 Months Ago
      The major cause of this shortage of usable pre-owned cars is the cash for clunkers program. Tens of thousands of still serviceable autos were bought by government using our tax dollars and destroyed by that same government. They wanted to get wrecks off the road, and like obamacare, everything looked like a nail to them. I had to take part in crushing countless not that old cars, most of which were newer and in better shape than the cars owned by myself and my co-workers. What a waste!
      Bob
      • 9 Months Ago
      I have a 2000 Dodge Caravan "Plain Jane" manual door locks, and crank up windows. It has 174,000 miles, and I plan to put on at least 500,000 more miles, and perhaps as much as 826,000 more miles. It's on its second transaxle, original 4 cylinder 16 valve engine, doesn't burn any oil, gets 26 to 30 MPG! It has a 3-speed non-overdrive transaxle, has a little body rot which will be repaired this year. I paid $350.00 for it from a guy who swore that once a vehicle hit 100,000 it was "Junk." That's when I took it over. It starts, and drives every morning, and I use it as a Livery vehicle.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I only care for cars made before 1979... Now if there was a company that made brand new 68-70 dodge charger bodies, I would definitely buy new!
      • 5 Months Ago
      To avoid getting scammed, it is highly recommended to run a VIN check aside from having a mechanic physically check the car. If you search online, you will see that there are several providers. You can get a single report for as much as $35 or if you are resourceful and lucky for as low as 5 bucks. http://bit.ly/50OFF_VIN_CHECK
      hayward7750
      • 10 Days Ago

      its a triple-whammy for independent dealers and consequently for used buyers like me. 

      the recession hit used car availability, "cash for clunkers" hit the used lots and for the cherry on the cake a certain used car internet chain (shall we call them CarJax?) has been snapping-up what's left of low miles recents, sticking a $4000 premium on them and flogging em to the mugs who are scared of going to independent car dealers.

      you look around the used car dealers lots now and there are next to zero great-deals. everything on the lot is old, high mileage and therefore tough for the dealers to shift, and with miniscule margins.

      the used-car bargain has sadly been consigned to the history books.


      :/


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