If Inflation Is Hot, Used Car Prices Are Scorching

Number of the Day: The most relevant or interesting figure in personal finance

$5,992

That’s how much the cost of a typical used vehicle has risen over the past year, illustrating that some prices have jumped far more than even the startling 6.2% suggested by October’s headline inflation rate.

Yes, the 6.2% jump in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the worst in more than three decades, but prices for used cars and trucks have risen four times as fast—26.4%—over the last year and just in the month of October experienced some of the hottest inflation rates tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly CPI readings, new data out Wednesday showed.

The alarming increase suggests the price of the typical used vehicle—$22,698 in October 2020, according to data from the CarGurus automotive research and shopping website—would have swelled to $28,690 over the year.

The used car market is a textbook case of how the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, and why inflation is running so hot. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 reduced the manufacture of computer chips, which in turn forced car factories to slow down production. The resulting lack of inventory has driven customers—who are flush with cash thanks to a recovering labor market and government stimulus—to search for used options instead, driving prices up.

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