Rising Car Prices Are Sending Even Strong-Credit Buyers to the Used Lot

Ten years ago, Edmunds said, the average sticker price of a new vehicle was $6,500 above the base price; now, it’s more than $10,000. The difference is mostly due to advanced safety and entertainment systems and consumers’ appetite for pricey add-ons in new cars. By buying used, shoppers can get the fancy features at a far lower cost.

“Used-car shoppers are getting the most bang for their buck,” Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of industry analysis, said in prepared remarks about its used-car report.

Used-car companies are also trying to change the shopping experience to make buying less of a chore. Carvana, for instance, lets online buyers choose from two options: They can have their vehicles delivered to them or can pick them up at multistory glass towers that the company calls “vending machines.”

Here are some questions and answers about buying a used car:

What terms are available on car loans these days?

The average interest rate for a new-car loan was just over 6 percent in the second quarter, compared with more than 10 percent for a used car, Experian said. (Borrowers with very good credit typically pay lower rates.)

Experian said the average monthly used-car payment was $392 in the second quarter — an increase of $25 over a year earlier.

What is the best way to keep car purchases affordable?

The overall cheapest way to buy a car — used or new — is to pay with cash, Mr. Quincy said. (About 14 percent of new cars and 44 percent of used cars were purchased with cash in the second quarter, Experian said.)

If, like many buyers, you must finance the purchase, make as large a down payment as you can afford, Mr. Quincy advised. And keep the term of the loan as short as possible.

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