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When car shoppers think of grabbing the keys to a cheap used car, they likely believe prices will save them money compared to new alternatives. Unfortunately, the latest data suggests that used cars are getting more expensive, and the sub-$20,000 pre-owned vehicle is disappearing. Moreover, consumers may have to deal with the fact that higher-mileage cars will demand a higher price. So, what’s going on with bloated prices and the death of cheap options?

What happened to cheap used cars?

A silver 2018 Toyota Camry, a used car with a rising price, parks under sunlight.
2018 Toyota Camry | Toyota

Used car prices below the $20,000 mark are a less frequent presence in the market compared to 2019. Furthermore, it’s not just a small difference between pre-and-post-pandemic figures; an iSeeCars study indicated that the number of used cars under $20,000 dropped by 36.9% in four years. 

However, the culprit might not be what you expect. Karl Brauer, an Executive Analyst at iSeeCars, says the affordable used vehicle is “among the pandemic’s many casualties.” Unfortunately, car shoppers with a $15,000 or $20,000 budget have access to far fewer late-model cars than in 2019.

According to the study, the amount of late-model used cars with prices under $20,000 dropped from 49.3% in 2019 to 12.4% in 2023. Unfortunately, that’s a dramatic difference that hits budget-minded buyers where it hurts. Moreover, iSeeCars said that budgets closer to $15,000 lost access to 18.4% of the used market, leaving a woeful 1.6% of late-model pre-owned vehicles within that price range.  

Why are used cars so expensive now?

Mandates and guidelines prompting people to isolate during the pandemic led drivers to escape the tedium of lockdowns in their vehicles. “During the pandemic lockdowns, one of the few things people could still do was take a drive, and clearly many of them did,” Executive Analyst Karl Brauer said about the phenomenon.

Brauer also said that the pandemic’s stranglehold on new vehicle supply and availability worked in concert with the rising odometer readings to create an expensive post-pandemic market with fewer budget-friendly low-mileage options. “The supply of new and used cars was so constricted that the additional mileage didn’t hurt used car prices – they still went up.” 

What are the most expensive used car prices?

A brightly-colored RAM 1500 parks next to a body of water.
RAM 1500 | Stellantis

Unfortunately for used car buyers interested in sensible sedans and torquey trucks alike, many popular models increased in average price by nearly 50%. The RAM 1500 saw the highest average bump, boasting a saddening 56.9% increase from 2019 to 2023.  

Make and model% increase 2019-2023Average price in 2023
RAM 150056.9%$42,881
Toyota Corolla49.8%$21,308
Toyota Camry49.3%$25,537
Honda Civic46.6%$24,301
GMC Sierra 150044.1%$47,364

Unfortunately, rising odometer readings, bloated prices, and pandemic-related new vehicle shortages have created a market where your used vehicle budget gets you less with higher mileage.


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