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Do your research before starting to shop for a new car as market remains tight

OTTAWA — Buying a new car can be an exciting but stressful exercise in the best of times, but right now supply shortages and soaring prices for used vehicles have made buying a new set of wheels harder than ever.
New Dodge Ram pickup trucks for sale are seen at an auto mall in Ottawa, on Monday, April 26, 2021. Car buyers during the pandemic have had to contend with empty dealership lots and soaring prices for used cars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Buying a new car can be an exciting but stressful exercise in the best of times, but right now supply shortages and soaring prices for used vehicles have made buying a new set of wheels harder than ever. 

Empty lots at new car dealerships and a brisk market for used cars means you need to do your research and be flexible and prepared before heading out in search of your new ride this fall, experts say.  

Shari Prymak, senior consultant at Car Help Canada,which helps people buy new cars, said the majority of new vehicles are not readily available and must be factory ordered with a waiting period anywhere from a few weeks to two years long depending on the model. 

He recommends buyers looking for a new car should shop around and contact several dealers in advance by email to obtain fully itemized price quotes. 

"This will help them to find the most reasonably priced option in their area," he said. 

"Only when they are happy with the price and convinced it is the best deal in the area should they go visit the dealer in person."

Prymak said potential buyers should be as patient and flexible as possible. 

"If your first choice has too long of a waiting period, consider a similar alternative with a shorter wait time. Be flexible on the options, package, and colour choice," he said.

"Most dealers will not be able to fulfil a specific request. You can consider leasing your second or third choice for two to three years as a short-term purchase until the market returns to normal and then you can purchase what you really want."

A recent report by online automotive marketplace AutoTrader found used vehicle prices may have reached their peak this summer as they softened on a month-over-month basis for the first time in more than a year in July.

However, Baris Akyurek, director of marketing intelligence at AutoTrader, said prices for new and used cars are still up significantly from where they were a year ago and they are selling quickly, so it is important for buyers to do as much research as they can to be ready to make a decision once they find the vehicle they are looking for.

"The average time in the market for a vehicle has come down by quite a bit," he says. "For used cars it came down by 57 per cent. So it used to be 114 days last year, now it's around 55 days."

For new cars, although production at the big automakers has improved, Akyurek expects the increase in supply to be offset by the pent up demand from drivers who have had their heart set on buying a new car instead of a used vehicle.

If you are looking at the used market, it is important to do your research and know the vehicle that you are considering, said Shawn Vording, vice-president of product and sales at Carfax Canada.

"Make sure you know the car that you're buying and so know the history hasn't had an accident, has it been maintained, know the current condition, is it going to need tires and brakes in the next three months or has this car been reconditioned to a like-new status," he said. 

"If the price doesn't make sense, there's probably a reason why and so have an independent third party inspect vehicle." 

Dan Park, chief executive of Clutch, which sells cars online, said Canada hasn't seen the same volatility in used car pricing that happened in the U.S., but the shortages of new cars still are keeping used car prices somewhat inflated.

"If you need a car and you can't wait for it there's not much you can do," he said. "New car supply will gradually come back online over the course 12 to 18 months, but there is still a shortage in supply."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2022.

Craig Wong, The Canadian Press

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