Some of the dip in used-vehicle prices appears due to a pullback in gasoline prices and the resumption of more normal production by Japanese automakers after the March 11 earthquake.
The average industry used-vehicle price declined $100 in May, said Kelley Blue Book's June "Blue Book Market Report." In the first week of June, prices fell an average of $25 for used subcompact cars and $50 for used compact and hybrid cars.
Black Book, which tracks price trends in vehicle auctions, reported on June 20 that in the preceding week, the car segment had experienced its first overall decline in prices in the past four months.
Entry-car sale prices fell an average of $44 from one week earlier. Prices for full-sized SUVs fell $122, and full-sized crossover prices fell $147, Ricky Beggs, Black Book managing editor, said in his weekly market commentary.
The rise in prices this year has given some auto dealers pause.
In an online unscientific survey of 135 dealers by Automotive News last week, one-fifth said they have slowed their acquisition of used vehicles from frenzied levels after the Japan earthquake. But nearly a third said they are seeking used vehicles more aggressively.
"Wholesale prices are as high as my retail transaction prices," complained a Chevrolet dealer, who declined to be named.
An anonymous Jaguar dealer said: "We have been very cautious not to get caught buying on the bubble and losing big when it bursts."
In late May, Beggs said that roughly half of the vehicles offered in the auction lanes were being bought. Typically, about 60 percent of vehicles offered are purchased, but that had jumped to roughly 80 percent this spring in the wake of new-vehicle shortages resulting from the earthquake in Japan.
Dealers fear a bubble in auction prices. Of those dealers who say they have pulled back from acquiring vehicles, 78 percent say that's because "I find fewer vehicles at reasonable prices."
But they also don't see retail prices falling soon.
Asked what they think will happen to retail prices of used vehicles in general over the next four weeks, 46 percent of respondents predicted prices will stay the same, and 34 percent said prices will rise. Only 20 percent predicted prices will drop.
Asked the same question about used small-car retail prices, 38 percent said prices will stay at current levels, 35 percent said they will rise and 27 percent said they will drop in the next four weeks.