Used car sales boom explained

Here's why sales have increased since lockdown. But should you buy now or wait? And what are the five most popular used buys at the moment?

used care - compilation image

In times of financial crises or national depressions, you can always be sure of the used car market. The same was true of the 2008-9 financial crash and 2020 is proving to be another golden year for used car sales – and prices, too.

While sales of brand new vehicles have faltered thanks to shut showrooms and factories temporarily standing still, used cars have been the big winner. Buyers have flocked to personal transport, with some feeling fearful of using public transport, and others wanting to splash some lockdown cash. The reasons for buying have been varied but they have all combined to fuel a used car boom that hasn’t been seen for years.

Here’s what’s been happening, along with the lowdown on the used cars that are most in demand.

Why have used car sales been rising?

As soon as the country locked down in late March, used car sales started to rise, as did prices – it was the perfect example of supply and demand. Both large franchises selling approved used cars and smaller dealers all reported unprecedented demand for second-hand cars and, with that, prices of most types of vehicle rose accordingly. 

The lockdown was responsible for used prices rising, with massive demand for cheap cars and a surprising splurge on high-end motors Credit: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street

Used car valuation experts recognised that there were a number of consumer trends that caused this, ranging from people too scared to use public transport who bought cars in the sub-£10,000 bracket, to those who saved a lot of money during ‘Lockdown One’ and to cheer themselves up bought sports and luxury cars in the £50,000-plus sector. 

Used car demand has remained uncharacteristically high during the autumn and with England locked in a second wave of restrictions, experts believe sales – and prices – are going to remain high. 

Has it been difficult to buy a used car?

As customers headed to dealers with intentions to buy a used car, dealers turned to auction and remarketing firms to source stock. But as these companies were running at a reduced operating level because of lockdown and Covid-secure working practices, transporting stock around the country became difficult.

A bottleneck ensued, which saw dealers outbidding each other for the best stock to fill gaps on their forecourts, again whipping up used car prices.

A finite amount of stock flowing through auction houses led to used car dealers getting involved in bidding wars to obtain the best cars

Demand among buyers has been national, too. The AA recently reported that used car sales in 48 UK towns and cities in September were up by 15% compared to the same month in 2019. With such demand, finding the best used cars has become a problem for both customers and dealers. 

Have all used cars been popular?

Just like in pre-coronavirus times (if you can remember those), in 2020 there are some used cars that are more popular than others – there’s no blanket rule for all used cars being sought after. Cars costing less than £10,000 have been popular since March and continue to be and, in particular, superminis and city cars costing less than £5,000. These have been snapped up by people concerned about using public transport who want cheap and reliable wheels

At the other end of the scale, sales of cars in the £50,000-plus category have risen, especially performance cars. Reasons for an increase in these types of cars were varied, with some people, as The Daily Telegraph reported, ‘Revenge Buying’ and splashing cash they’d saved during lockdown that would have ordinarily been spent on lavish summer holidays. 

Popular: the Mazda CX-5 has been flying off forecourts of late

Some of the most unusual trends, however, have been a rise in sales and values of MPVs or people carriers, as people wanted to travel safely distanced, along with sales of hybrids and plug-in hybrids falling, as buyers sought solace in more familiar cars like diesel-powered SUVs. In September and October, for instance, the quickest selling cars off dealers’ forecourts were diesel Mazda CX-5 SUVs.   

Is now a great time to buy a used car?

As prices are high, those who fancy satisfying a whim may be better off waiting until prices fall, but most people buy a used car because they need to. Our advice would be to set your budget, the model you want, do as much research as you can and try to find the best possible example you can within your price range.

A low mileage is not a guarantee of reliability

Don’t be tempted to only consider cars with a low mileage, as sometimes these haven’t had regular use and could therefore have problems further down the line. Higher-mileage examples may have been more well used, but could also have been better maintained and looked after. 

What are the most popular used cars?

Data collated for Telegraph Cars reveals the most popular used cars sold on Auto Trader in October. We’ve chosen to look at cars aged between one to three years old to give a snapshot of the typical used car market, and seven of the top 10 cars that saw the largest year-on-year demand were SUVs.

None of them were cars that came exclusively with electric power, showing that SUVs powered by traditional forms of power remain popular.

Here are the current top five most popular used cars.

Volvo XC40

It’s been on sale since 2018 and appears in the top 10 best-selling new cars charts from time to time. Demand for used examples of the small Swedish SUV in October was up by a whopping 279.5% compared with the same month last year.

Volkswagen T-Roc

Another small SUV that comes exclusively with petrol and diesel power, the T-Roc has been a modest hit for the German firm in the new car sales sector. However, used car buyers are snapping them up – demand in October was up by 271.2% year-on-year.

Hyundai Kona

The Kona comes in a variety of versions – petrol, diesel, hybrid and pure electric. Its i20 supermini mechanicals and small dimensions means it’s easy to park and cheap to run, and a wide model selection means there’s a Kona for every type of buyer. It was the third most popular used car in October, too, with demand up by 211% on October 2019.

Skoda Karoq

The Skoda Yeti was a very popular new and used car for a long time, and the Karoq, which partly replaced the Yeti when it launched in 2018, is continuing the theme. Demand for the small Czech SUV rose by 210.3% in October 2020 compared to the same month last year.

Seat Arona

The fifth most-popular used car in October in the one- to- three-year age bracket was another small SUV, making it a clean sweep. Just like in the new market, used car buyers can’t get enough of crossovers and small SUVs. Demand for the Arona was up by 199% in October 2020 compared to October 2019.

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