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Dealers get creative in building used-car inventories

Christina Rogers covers VW and regulatory/legislative issues for Automotive News.

LAS VEGAS -- Dealers, strapped for used cars, are getting more creative in how they go about finding them.

Jonathan Banks, an industry analyst with the NADA Used Car Guide, said some dealers have gotten so desperate they’ve left checks under the windshield wiper blades of vehicles brought in for service. Dealers were hoping to show owners how much their vehicles were actually worth amid the scarcity of used cars and trucks.

“Dealers were really challenged to find the inventory,” Banks said. “They really got creative to get vehicles back.”

In 2011, used car inventory was down 6 percent vs. the prior year. With credit becoming more readily available, inventory in 2012 is expected to be even tighter. Dealers will really have to hunt for the three- to four-year-old cars and trucks popular with pre-owned vehicle buyers, Banks said.

The good news for owners: their vehicles will be worth more this year. The bad news: the increase won’t be as steep as in 2011 when the industry, at large, was struggling with depleted inventory on many popular models, including small, fuel-efficient cars.

Pre-owned vehicle prices will increase by 1.8 percent by the year’s end, peaking in April and May, NADA Used Car Guide predicts.

Used vehicle prices increased 3 percent in 2011 as inventory on new cars shrunk due to production-halting natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.

People also are waiting longer to replace aging cars and trucks. The average age of a vehicle on the road in 2011 was 10.8 years. And owners who hang on to their cars for long periods of time are more likely to buy used cars as a replacements, Banks said.

So will dealers find enough used cars to keep their lots stocked? That depends on how creative they’re willing to be.

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