When Will Used Car Inventory Return To Normal?

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As Jalopnik’s resident car-buying expert and a professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve picked a few of your questions and will try to help out. This week we are discussing when used-car inventory will return to normal and the best strategy for trading a Subaru on a Toyota 4Runner.

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First up, will the used-car market get back to “normal” inventory levels anytime soon?

“As someone who’s considering buying a new car for the first time, I’m blown away by the current inventory situation. At least in my geographic area (Philadelphia), looking for an SUV with third-row seating from Kia, Hyundai or to a lesser extent, Honda and VW, I’m seeing many dealers with 5 or less of the make I’m looking for. Even worse, I’m seeing a lot of “Call for price” which is usually a bad sign. When can I expect to see inventory return to normal?”

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This is an excellent question. Used-car inventory, as a whole, is starting to stabilize a bit. The used-car market is tied to the new car market, and if there are inventory shortages for new cars those buyers will shift to pre-owned and drive up demand, and thus drive up prices. The coronavirus had a big impact on factories and the automakers’ supply chains, so they are still catching up on getting new models into the showrooms. But it seems that things are improving. As we move into the holiday season, the new-car market should look a bit better, and that ought to create a better situation for pre-owned cars.

That being said, another wave of COVID-19 infections and/or a major economic impact could derail any market improvements for both new and pre-owned vehicles. While things are likely to get better within the next few months, it’s hard to say for sure. What I would recommend for you is to cast a wider net outside your region; the Baltimore/DC metro area isn’t far from Philly. That zone tends to have a lot of inventory and generally competitive pricing, so it could be worth the drive.

Next, we have two Subarus but I want a 4Runner. How should we do this?

“I have a 2018 Crosstrek I still owe two years of payments out of five on. My wife has a 2017 Forester that we just paid off.

I REALLY want to get a 4Runner, ideally with a rear locking diff. We live in western NY at the edge of the Finger Lakes. The Crosstrek is great but I’d like to take it up a level with off-road and snow ability. Finger Lakes, Ithaca hiking, Adirondacks — I want to do a lot of 1-3 day trips with our dog, hiking, etc.

So I’ve been looking at 2014-16 or so 4Runners based on price. Wife doesn’t want to trade-in her Forester even though its paid off and has more miles and is a year older. I don’t want a third car. And I don’t want to get myself into another $400+/month car payment. But I could do something less than that I think.

Interested in your thoughts. I realize there’s no magic way out of this without finding a big bag of cash. But I would like to hear your opinions.”

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If your wife doesn’t want to trade her Forester you would need to trade your Crosstrek. You need to figure out what you would get on a trade for your Subie, then compare that to your loan balance to see what kind of equity you are working with.

If your target payment is $400/month, assuming a 60-month loan at 5 percent APR, that means you can finance $21,200 all-inclusive with tax and fees. Now add whatever equity you have to that amount to determine your total spending limit. You would then need to back out some of that to buffer for taxes and such. For example, if you have $4,000 in equity, your total spending limit is $25,196, but you are probably looking at a vehicle cost between $22-23k. Then the question becomes, “Can I find a nice 4Runner within that price zone?”

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It is very likely with that $400 per month price target, a 4Runner that works for your budget is going to be significantly older and have many more miles than your Crosstrek.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

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DISCUSSION

The two Subaru guy capitalized the wrong word. It should have read “I really WANT...”

You do not NEED a 4Runner to live the life you want to live. In the meantime, be patient until your financial situation is more amenable to your wants.