Tracking how used-car prices fluctuate over time

1 month ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Trends

Tracking used car prices has always been a bit of a conundrum. Some model years are better — and more coveted — than others. Meanwhile, makes and models are a bit like fashion, with popularity swelling and waning over time.

We set out to reveal some of the truths behind what cars are sold most on the used market and how their prices fluctuate over time. The results are fascinating, in that they reveal large changes over time for particular brands. We uncover some of the top ones below.

Most-sold used car makes

We collect daily data on the cars being sold on CarMax, the largest used-car dealer in the United States. When it comes to the most cars CarMax had in inventory since we've been tracking inventory over two years ago, Ford topped the list followed closely by Nissan. Keep in mind that the Make (Count) number likely counts the same cars multiple times until they're sold, so this number should serve only as an overal inventory comparison metric for our purposes here.

Make

Make (Count)

Price (Average)

Ford

5,479,442

$21,127.56

Nissan

5,345,195

$16,927.33

Toyota

4,910,815

$20,753.54

Chevrolet

4,872,661

$20,073.85

Hyundai

3,314,578

$15,512.12

Honda

3,300,271

$18,279.61

Dodge

2,714,622

$22,248.32

Kia

2,370,864

$16,641.22

Jeep

2,234,807

$22,163.44

Mercedes-Benz

1,530,505

$28,789.91

When taking a snapshot of cars for sale as of publishing, the most common car in inventory is Nissan followed by Ford. Comparing today's most common cars at CarMax with totals over the past couple years, it's clear that there is consistency, with Nissan, Ford, and Toyota topping the list. You'll see that average price - both today and cumulatively averaged over the past two years above - is also consistent.

Make

Make (Count)

Price (Average)

Nissan

5,573

$17,065.33

Ford

4,803

$21,319.46

Toyota

4,615

$21,409.81

Chevrolet

4,486

$19,696.29

Hyundai

3,347

$15,343.76

Honda

3,022

$18,905.64

Jeep

2,974

$21,648.54

Kia

2,777

$16,711.39

Dodge

2,554

$23,331.88

Mercedes-Benz

1,667

$27,335.37

 

Given that consistency, we looked at how the top individual car makes' average prices changed over time.

Nissan average prices dipped to their lowest in December, 2016. They spiked just last month in March, 2018 to their highest average price yet. There appears to be little to no seasonality to Nissan used car sales' prices.

Ford prices followed a similar cycle, maintaining their price premium on Nissans. This points to the notion that used car prices are more a CarMax marketing variable than an effort to move a particular make of car.

Toyota, the third-most numerous brand at CarMax, exhibits similar pricing to that of Ford. 

But when we compare Toyota average car price to Nissan and Ford, the seasonality notion above appears somewhat undermined, with a price spike in early summer 2017.

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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