It’s less ‘preloved’ than ‘reloved’, finds Charlie Flindt, with long waiting lists for new cars making second-hand vehicles look a whole lot more attractive in buyers’ eyes
My New Year’s resolution was to set about my late mother’s aged and mouldy yellow Lupo with a sponge, get it MOT’d and fit for resale. Despite its huge sentimental value, it was due to head for the scrapyard; but now it might have a reprieve.
Of all the strange and bewildering things to have happened in the past two years, the turnaround in the value of used cars is one of the most remarkable. There was a time when you could lose four figures off your car’s value as you drove from the showroom, and the rule of thumb was that three years’ ownership lost you two-thirds of its initial cost.
But now? Also in the yard is our family runabout, a plain-as-you-like white Hyundai i20. It’s nearly five years old, done about 23,000 miles, and we paid £7,950 for it. I ran it through a couple of ‘we’ll buy your car, honest, guv’ websites recently, and was thrilled to see that (in theory) I’d get my money back.
Take a Field favourite: the Suzuki Jimny. If you’d taken our advice and splashed out £17,999 on one of the new versions in 2019, and looked after it, you could be listing it on the internet for the thick end of 30 grand. Mind you, it helps that Suzuki whipped it back off the market after only a couple of months, boosting its cult status immeasurably. Curiously, the original Jimny has also been caught up in the frenzy, with silly money being asked for what were only recently cheap-as-chips 4×4 runabouts. The motoring public is desperate for sensible and practical used cars of all shapes and sizes: SUVs, MPVs and simple five-door hatchbacks.
What’s going on? It’s simple: new cars are hard to get hold of. Waiting lists are extraordinary, running into many months. The primary reason for this is the worldwide shortage of electronic ‘chips’ and no new car is complete without chip dependent gadgets and gizmos. COVID-19 and factory fires have hobbled production, and the chips that are available get diverted to more lucrative indoor ‘lockdown’ use – games and phones. Some manufacturers have resorted to de-speccing models – losing the gadgets simply to try and shift some metal.
Buyers are turning en masse to the used car market, where a low-mileage three- or four-year-old car can be just as reliable as a brand new one, and – in another sign of the times – local, independent garages are equipping themselves with the right diagnostic kit to sort out issues that do arise.
With fewer trade-ins arriving on the dealer forecourts to satisfy those buyers, prices have taken off. Long-term car ownership is becoming fashionable, breaking away from the world of ‘balloon payments’ and the compulsory three-year car swap. Buyers seem unwilling to commit to ‘green’ tech, too. A full tank of fossil fuel is still more reassuring than a battery with uncertain range and a scarcity of charging points.
I might have my work cut out on the Lupo. Some of the tyres aren’t as round as they were, and the hydraulic tappets are somewhat ‘ticky’. But it’s no longer a labour of love; it’s an investment.