December is a good time to shop for a new car, but late winter into early spring is a good time to kick tires if you're looking for a dependable used vehicle.
Prices of used cars typically go down at this time of year, and 2018 is no exception. J.D. Power reports wholesale prices of used cars and light trucks dipped 0.6 percent in January.
More vehicles arrived on used car lots – perhaps trade-ins from December new car purchases – giving buyers more leverage. Since dealers are getting slightly better deals, consumers should feel a little more confidence as they try to negotiate the best deal on a used car or truck.
"The slight dip in used vehicle prices can be attributed to the premium segment,” said David Paris, executive analyst at J.D. Power Valuation Services. “In particular, luxury mid-size car prices fell by an average of 3.1 percent."
That means it might not cost as much as you think to buy a nicer vehicle, with upgrades like leather seats and a premium sound system.
Increasingly, the selection of used vehicles is improving, as far as reliability is concerned. As we recently reported, a large percentage of consumers who purchased a new vehicle three years ago are still happy with it. In a J.D. Power survey, overall dependability rose by nine percent. As these vehicles are traded in, they should add to the quality of the used vehicle inventory.
At the end of the year, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) listed the 10 best used car models under $8,000. Topping the list were the 2007 Toyota Avalon, 2007 Honda Accord, and the 2009 Honda Civic.
Buying from a reputable dealer should help consumers avoid some of the worst things associated with used cars, such as vehicles that have been damaged in floods. However, buyers should always remain alert to the fact that even a shiny late model car could have an open recall.
Carfax offers this free online tool that allows you to check a vehicles VIN to determine whether it has been recalled but not repaired.