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Used cars getting scarcer, more expensive

Drivers in the market for a used car might need to keep saving for a while longer. New data from the National Automobile Dealers Association shows the average price for a secondhand ride will go up by just under 2 percent this year, for an average of $11,850 for cars or $19,050 for light trucks. These higher prices come on top of a 3 percent increase in 2011. 

The biggest reason is that there are simply fewer used cars out there. The recession prompted automakers to slow production, which led to a sharp falloff in the number of used cars on the market in 2010. Economic uncertainty and a weak jobs market have motivated Americans to hang onto their vehicles for much longer; according to NADA stats, the average car on the road today is 11 years old

Climbing prices at the pump are responsible for an even bigger jump in the prices of used, compact, fuel-efficient cars. NADA predicts a 2.7 percent price jump in this category for this year. Conversely, drivers might still be able to get a bargain on a gas-guzzler; prices of large SUVs are predicted to increase by a more modest 1.4 percent in 2012.

The good news is that NADA also is predicting an increase in new car sales for the year, so the inventory crunch isn't going to last forever.

As Americans finally trade in those older vehicles they hung onto during and after the recession, NADA predict sales of 13.9 million new cars and trucks for 2012, an increase over the 12.8 million sold last year. A lack of access to financing also put a brake on used-car sales; this year, NADA predicts that lenders will make credit more available. Dealers are eager to keep up the momentum built last year, when 12.8 million vehicles were sold, so NADA predicts plenty of incentives to turn tire-kickers into buyers.