One would think that buying a car would be a fairly routine, if somewhat annoying, occurrence since it is an activity that happens every day in America. If you think that, then you have not tried to buy a car in the time since COVID hit in 2020.
I found myself in the unfortunate position of needing to purchase two vehicles, one with my wife and one with my youngest daughter. What we quickly discovered is that the supply chain issues that still remain unresolved from the massive shutdowns across the world in 2020 and beyond are still hamstringing new car production today. That means that new cars are more scarce than they would normally be, a fact that drives up the prices of both new and used cars.
My wife travels quite a bit and her vehicle needed an update. We have had great service from the Toyotas we have had and decided to go that route. We visited a dealership and discovered that they have almost no new cars and absolutely none of the one in which she was interested. Demand for new cars was so strong that, other than some new Camrys, the dealership had almost nothing else available and there is a waiting list of buyers for the few models that are in the pipeline.
My wife test-drove a Highlander, but, unfortunately, they loved it more than she did and the price was far too high, so we settled on a newer model used vehicle that was smaller SUV and more fuel-efficient. It was three model years old, but the price was still just crazy. We ended up buying the thing and my wife loves it, but man, there was simply no negotiating. This is most definitely a sellers' market.
It used to be that the dealership expected to negotiate with you and you could usually wrangle the price down, at least a little bit, though, to be honest, one is never sure that even after negotiating that the deal ever favors the buyer. But there is no negotiating these days. Even the used car dealers told us straight up that the price is the price. The buyer has very little leverage except to walk away. We, unfortunately, didn't even have that tiny bit of leverage because of my wife's travel schedule.
While the experience of buying a car for my wife was mildly unpleasant, the attempt to purchase a car for my daughter was a nightmare. She had a tight budget and could not afford anything over $4,000. This was her first car purchase and my wife and I have always made our kids pay cash for their first car. We hope that by doing this we are teaching them to avoid one of life's nastier pitfalls, that is loan debt, whenever it can be avoided, especially while they are young.
Only a couple of years ago, she would have been able to buy a fairly decent used car. No so these days. We quickly discovered that, for the money she had available, we could expect a rolling pile of junk, only hoping it would actually be able to roll.
We visited used car lot after used car lot. First, there are almost no cars on those lots that fit her limited budget. The cars that did fall within her budget were horrible. We looked at numerous cars and were left hopeless. We actually saw a decent Toyota Camry, a 2003 model. I thought for sure it would fit her budget. I thought that right up until we saw the price on the window. The dealer wanted nearly $10,000 for the car. It had low mileage, to be sure, but it was 20 years old.
Avoiding the various ugly and somewhat profane words that floated through my mind upon seeing that price, there is no way on this lovely earth I would pay $10,000 for a 20 year old car, just no way. Finally, my wife suggested I post on Facebook to see if anyone within a reasonable drive of Tuscaloosa had a car that would fit my daughter's budget.
We were blessed beyond measure to find one and my daughter and I met a super nice family in Prattville and bought a beautiful, and hopefully very reliable, car from them for a price that still amazes me. It was a sweetheart deal, which, considering it is for my sweet daughter, made us very happy. In fact, I am still amazed they would sell us the car and do so for less than my daughter had on hand to spend. To say they were a blessing would be a massive understatement. I would list their names here but I don't have permission to do that and they would likely be embarrassed if I did.
One day, the economy will be fully recovered from the mess that was 2020. For the sake of those who must buy big-ticket items, let us all hope that day will be sooner rather than later.
Gary Cosby Jr. is the photo editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Buying a car? Consumers face tough road in COVID era | GARY COSBY JR.