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Used-Vehicle Prices Hit Record Highs

That three-year-old car sitting in the driveway may not seem so exciting anymore, but to some car dealers it could be gold.

Informed shoppers with well-maintained cars to trade in have an unusual opportunity to take advantage of what industry analysts say is a record peak in used-car prices. Resale and trade-in values for late-model vehicles in good condition have been rising all year as demand has outstripped supply, particularly for fuel-efficient models.

Among the forces driving up used-car values is a shortage of many popular Japanese models due to production slowdowns following the March earthquake. And the sales collapse during the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis means fewer two- and three-year-old cars are available.

The National Automobile Dealers Association last week raised values again on many small- and medium-size cars in its latest Used Car Guide, which is widely used by dealers when deciding what to offer for cars taken as trade-ins.

A one-year-old Honda Civic that NADA's Used Car Guide valued at $14,275 in May is now estimated to be worth $15,950. "The same car," says Jonathan Banks, NADA's executive auto analyst., the Web home of the Kelley Blue Book used-vehicle-pricing franchise, says a three-year-old Toyota Prius is worth, on average, $17,750 as a trade-in, up $6,050 from the value of a three-year-old Prius a year ago.

The market isn't booming for all types of vehicles. Large sport utility vehicles, such as a Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe are down less than 1% from a year ago, according to NADA's guide. Still, they are up nearly 5% from the start of the year.

Late-model, mid-size luxury cars—a segment that includes the Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5-Series—are worth about 6% more on average than a year ago, according to NADA.

"We have seen extremely strong pricing," says Jeremy Meyer, national manager for Audi's U.S. certified pre-owned sales operation. And "consumers are willing to pay those higher prices," he says.

Manheim Consulting, an arm of the big Manheim auto-auction business, has for years published an index of used-vehicle values. In May, that index, using a scale with a baseline set at 100 for January 1995, was 127.8—a record high.

For consumers, this is now a game of arbitrage and information gathering. Prices for many new vehicles are up, but not as much as values for in-demand, late-model used cars.

Reference: Yahoo Auto News