New-car dealers expand used-car sales

By , Automotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor

When in the market for a used car, more motorists today are turning to the new-car dealerships than ever before, according to a survey by the Hertz Corporation.

Almost half of all used-car sales are by new-car dealers - 47 percent in 1982 , compared to 42 percent three years ago. Used-car-only dealers saw their market decline - from 18 percent in 1979 to 11 percent this year. Some 19 percent bought directly from someone they knew this year, compared to 11 percent in 1979 .

Fewer people are buying their pre-owned cars from strangers, such as out of the classified columns of newspapers and magazines. The figures are 23 percent in 1982, compared to 29 percent three years ago.

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Too, the average used car today is older and the price significantly higher than only two years ago. In 1980, for example, the second-hand car was sold after 3.23 years on the road, had been driven 32,780 miles when purchased, and cost $3,792, according to Hertz, which itself each year retails about 80,000 used cars and trucks from its leased and rental fleets.

The average price for a used car bought this year was $4,773 for a 41/4 -year-old sedan that had already been driven 43,711 miles, compared to the 1981 average of $4,218 for a 3.67-year-old car driven 37,388 miles.

Despite the continuing rise in age and price, however, a good used car is still a goodm buy.

The data are based on two nationwide used-car-buyer sample polls done in 1982 and 1979, plus internal company experience and published industry data, according to Hertz.

''Used cars outsell new ones 2 to 1, and used-car buyers, too, are keeping their autos longer and driving them less to curb soaring expenses,'' says Hertz.

Over the last three years, it adds, the average new-car purchase price has risen 49 percent. Model for model, the price rise was 62 percent.

It becomes increasingly clear why more and more US motorists take the used-car route.

''Our sample polls show that people buy used cars almost solely because they can't afford, or don't want to spend, the money to purchase a new model,'' a company spokesman reports. ''Our cost data continues to show used-car purchase prices, and ownership, and operating costs average 40 to 50 percent less than new models under similar driving conditions.''

Some 74 percent of all respondents listed cost as the deciding factor in buying a used car. In 1979, the figure was 65 percent.

The survey also showed that used-car-buying families have less total income than new-car-buying families - $30,087 for used-car buyers, compared to $39,860 for new-car families.

The majority of the respondents had also bought a new car at some point in the past, although 31 percent of them said they had never bought a new car.

One thing is sure, a used-car buyer is less likely to incur a huge debt when buying another car. Only 45 percent of used-car buyers buy their cars on time, a far cry from the 70 percent of all new-car buyers.

Underscoring Detroit's claim that new US-built cars are getting better, some 87 percent of all buyers of new domestic cars say they would buy the same make again, up from 84 percent five years ago. In the used-car department, however, only 8 percent of all used-car buyers admit they are unhappy with their cars, down from 12 percent in 1979. At the same time, 13 percent say they are neutral about their purchase.

Do US cars contain too many options?

Many used-car buyers think so. More than 90 percent of respondents would drop power windows, while 89 percent gave the heave-ho to vinyl roofs. Almost half of them ask, Who needs an air conditioner, anyway? An automatic transmission is unnecessary, according to 40 percent, while 56 percent tell the carmakers to keep the appearance trim.

Tinted glass was an excess this year to 49 percent of the poll respondents; and a rear-window defroster was excess baggage to 46 percent. Some 30 percent see no need for power brakes, while power steering is unnecessary to 23 percent.

Only 8 percent would dump the stereo-radio-cassette player, however, compared to 1 percent three years ago.

''Used-car buyers made clear they had down-sized their buying and driving and would continue to reduce expenses in the future,'' according to Hertz.

''This year they expect to keep their cars 3.78 years, while in 1979 they expected to keep them just three years. In 1979 they expected to drive 12,900 miles a year, but in 1982 expected to drive only 12,300 miles annually.''

Actually, they were somewhat off the mark. Used-car buyers not only are keeping their vehicles longer than planned, but they are driving them less each year as well. In the 1979 poll, motorists said they had driven their prior used car 11,396 miles a year, and in 1982 they said they had driven their previous used vehicle just 10,471 miles a year.

How about a warranty on their purchase?

While all new cars carry a written warranty of some sort, only 36 percent of the poll's respondents got a written warranty with their used-car purchase. Of those who had a warranty, 17 percent paid extra for it.

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