Dealers scour Craigslist, roadsides to feed used-car hunger

LAS VEGAS -- On Friday morning, an employee at Vince Whibbs Automotive Group in Pensacola, Fla., headed out to pick up the retailer’s latest used-car acquisition -- in Atlanta, a six-hour drive away.

How did the dealership group find the car? Craigslist. The online classified service has been a growing source of used cars for the last six months, dealer principal Mark Whibbs told me.

“There’s not a dealer out here who’s not looking for better ways to acquire used cars, I promise you,” said Whibbs, who was looking forward to an NADA workshop on the subject.

Craigslist is just one tool Whibbs is using. He also is casting the net wider with online auctions, which he used to buy some Pontiac Vibes in Philadelphia last week. And Whibbs said he tries to spot for-sale-by-owner cars parked along the road on the way to work every day.

Three years ago, trade-ins made up 70 percent of his used-car stock. That’s down to 40 percent today.

Of course, those numbers point to what dealers see as the ultimate solution: Increase new-car sales and bring those trade-in numbers back up. That’s something every dealer will sign up for.