Use This Perspective Shift To Make Car Shopping In This Terrible Market Bearable

It's time to make the case for the "hold-me-over" car.

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Dealer inventory is low and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. If you don’t need to make a car purchase right now it’s probably wise to wait a year or more, but according to Kelly Blue Book, only 16% of shoppers plan to delay their purchase. So if you must buy something now, a perspective shift is needed to avoid a lot of frustration.

Buyers that are hyper-specific about what they are looking for are the ones running into the most roadblocks. I’ve had a few recent clients that have sent me a laundry list of requests for a new or used vehicle, only for me to find out that there are less than a handful of cars in the entire country that fit even their first two or three parameters.

The other pattern that I have been noticing when it comes to new cars, is that a large chunk of active listings on third-party websites like Autotrader, Cars.com, and CarGurus are for units that aren’t actually for sale. While it has always been the case that these sites had a few “dead listings” of cars that are gone, for some brands I am seeing upwards of sixty to seventy percent of advertised cars are not available. This is mostly due to the fact that these listings are displaying “in-transit” cars that aren’t on the lot but are on their way, and that dealers have essentially pre-sold these units to customers that have been waiting for months.

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So what should buyers do? I’ve mentioned in a previous post that flexibility in regards to color, trim and options is one of the keys to managing this difficult market, but I am going to take that a step further and suggest the idea of a “hold-me-over“ car.

A hold-me-over car is not going to be your ideal choice, but rather something that is going to be “good enough” to do a job for a period of time, and then you can revisit the market later. The key here is to give an honest assessment of what you need rather than what you want. If you want a hybrid or plug-in crossover, but can’t seem to find any available or what is on the ground is saddled with severe markups, maybe shift to a gas model that has more availability. These cars will still move the family around, but they just meet your desire to move closer towards an electric future.

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If you want a sporty compact with a manual transmission, but find that choosing the third pedal drastically reduces your choices, perhaps it’s best to focus on a decent commuter car. It won’t be as fun, but it will be reliable and keep your running costs down for the next few years.

A few years ago, I was leasing a Mazda3, when the lease was up I was still in graduate school and was doing some home projects so my budget was limited. I would have preferred something with a bit more performance, but the six-speed Mazda3 was a fine commuter car and still fun enough. Since there was nothing else on the market that I liked that I could also afford, I decided to buy out my lease and use the Mazda as a “hold-me-over” car for a few years until I felt comfortable enough to upgrade. My payments were low and I had a reliable ride that did the job just fine.

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Even though spending money on what is a relatively expensive purchase that you don’t really love doesn’t sound all that appealing, depending on what you are after there may not be a better option. I don’t usually suggest taking car buying advice from rock and roll bands, but Mick Jagger did put it pretty well with - “You can’t always get what you want...But if you try sometime, you’ll find….You get what you need.”