Pay Up: Average Price of a Used Car in America Shockingly Close to $30,000

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

It will surprise exactly zero of our readers that prices of second-hand vehicles are through the roof. A constricted new car supply which leads to a dearth of trade-ins has contributed to customers facing the prospect of paying exorbitant sums for previously loved vehicles. Now, a new stat from puts a precise number on the issue.

According to a Detroit News story, eggheads at have reported the average price of a used vehicle in November 2021 was a staggering $29,011. This figure is very nearly 40 percent more than it was just one year prior, putting an exclamation point on the notion that deals on second-hand cars are few and far between these days. The era of waltzing onto a dealer’s lot and finding a good vehicle for the price shown in this post’s hero image is squarely on the back burner.

Parsing these numbers reveals some alarming details. That average price represents a payment of $533 per month when calculated with $0 down and 5 percent state taxes on a 72-month note signed at 7.95 percent. That latter number is not as exorbitant as one might think if someone has good-but-not-great credit. Now, the gubbmint census department claims the median household income in 2020 was $67,521 and many talking heads in the investment arena suggest that one’s car shouldn’t consume more than 20 percent of their take-home pay. Considering the noted monthly payment, plus items like insurance and fuel, it starts to become clear why some media outlets may now breathlessly report that the average American can no longer afford a used car.

Oh, by the way – the same experts suggest the average price of a new car is rapidly approaching $46,000. Alert readers will quickly calculate this represents an uncomfortable truth that the average used car is priced at 63 percent of a new one. That’s borderline terrifying but it wasn’t always so. Back in 2019, this number was roughly half.

It doesn’t take a major in Economics to predict these sums are going to cause problems down the road if prices return to pre-pandemic levels. Even if values simply return to some semblance of sanity, there will be umpteen zillion customers who will be upside-down on their vehicle notes. This will create one of two scenarios: Sensible shoppers who find themselves too far in the ditch will simply hang onto their car (exacerbating the supply problem and perhaps driving values up again) or the country will end up in some kind of sub-prime crisis like we were a decade ago.

Neither is much fun. Shopping wisely has never been more important.

[Image: Shutterstock]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

More by Matthew Guy

Join the conversation
2 of 26 comments
  • Teddyc73 Teddyc73 on Jan 04, 2022


  • TDIGuy TDIGuy on Jan 05, 2022

    Best situation right now seems to be selling used and buying new. At least if you buy from a "one price" dealer that can't jack up the new price beyond list. Brother in law's Kia Forte caught the compression failure bug that plagues that engine. Since his warranty is almost up and they haven't figured out how to fix it yet, he decided to trade it in on the last 2021 Forte they had on the lot. They offered him $1500 more than he owed on the trade, plus 0% financing he's got a newer car with a higher trim level and lower monthly payment than he had before.

  • Calrson Fan I'll say it again, terrible business model doomed to fail. If your gonna build an EV PU the only market that makes sense to go after is fleets. How many other BEV companies are making money pushing only truck type vehicles?
  • Kcflyer Well it's a better waste of my money than the 1.5 billion sleepy joe's handlers gave away this week to pay for gender studies tuition.
  • Dukeisduke SK Siltron - they make blank wafers, so this isn't really a semiconductor factory (wafer fab). Siltron just polishes wafers sliced from silicon carbide ingots. Sometimes these plants are located close to fabs, sometimes they're halfway around the world from the fabs.Wafer fabs take those wafers and run processes on them (photolithography, etch, deposition, etc.) to produce finished wafers. Those finished wafers go to an assembly/test (A/T) site, where they go through probe and other testing, they're cut up into individual chips and inserted into packages with lead frames. After testing on the finished chips, then they're ready to sell.
  • Argistat If China invades Taiwan (becoming even more likely thanks to DT's isolationist rants) , then the US is completely screwed. If someone tried to list all the manufactured items and manufacturing equipment that contain semiconductor chips, the list would be so long you'd never complete it. Finally a real effort to help bring this into the US.
  • SCE to AUX What a boondoggle.I'd rather have 40 sandwich shops opened to hire those 200 workers, and it wouldn't cost $300 million. They could include chips with every meal."The company is targeting 4.2 GWh worth of lithium-ion battery packs annually by 2026."For reference, Tesla's Gigafactory One has been at over 37 GWh annually for years, not counting its energy modules (another 14 GWh).