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Buying a new car in the U.S. has never been more expensive

Drivers flip cars for profit as auto prices rise
Drivers flip used cars for profit as auto prices rise 02:22

The cost of new wheels in the U.S. is getting more expensive seemingly by the month. The average price Americans paid for a new vehicle in August hit a record high of $48,301, according to automotive research company Kelley Blue Book. 

August marks the fifth-straight month that car prices have climbed to record highs, Kelley Blue Book said. And prices are likely to continue rising because demand for new vehicles is unusually high while inventories are low compared to previous years, experts told CBS MoneyWatch.

"I see nothing but increases for quite some time," said Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds. "And it's horrible because, unless you can wait it out, you're going to end up paying a premium."

Kelley Blue Book data shows that the nationwide new vehicle inventory sat at 1.2 million in August, barely an uptick from last month's 1.1 million. Even though inventory is higher overall, the popular styles that customers want like subcompacts, hybrids and electric vehicles are still very low, said Rebecca Rydzewski, a research manager for Cox Automotive. Snags in the global supply chain and difficulty getting semiconductors have prevented automakers from pumping out as many new vehicles as they would have hoped. 

Prepare to pay through the nose

For car shoppers, the upshot is they're likely to pay well above above sticker price, with some dealerships marking up hot vehicles by $10,000 or more. 

For those who can't afford a new car, Kelley Blue Book Executive Editor Brian Moody suggests shopping for a less popular used vehicle. 

"I would be looking for a sedan or hatchback," he said. "That's where the best prices are going to be. You're going to be able to find things in the $20,000 to $30,000 range — so that's the place you're going to look for a bargain."

Automakers sold roughly 17 million vehicles every year between 2015 and 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic halted that trend once Americans were forced indoors. More than 3 million U.S. customers were unable to buy a vehicle in 2020 even though they wanted to, Drury said. 

Another reason prices are climbing: Customers are willing to pay for upgraded models of certain vehicles. Customers are particularly fond of fully loaded SUVs and pickup trucks with leather seats, touch-screen consoles, new safety features, and other bells and whistles, Drury said. 

Electric vehicle prices are also skyrocketing. Earlier this week, Ford upped the starting price of its F-150 Lightning by at least $6,000. Rivian, GM and Tesla have all raised their EV prices as metal costs have soared, along with the cost of materials like lithium, which is to make batteries. 

EV buyers may be able to get tax breaks on a new or used EV under the Inflation Reduction Act, part of the Biden administration's effort to boost electric vehicles sales so they account for half of all cars in the U.S. in less than a decade.

Sec. Pete Buttigieg on the future of electric cars in the U.S. 00:57

Used doesn't mean cheap

Used cars have also seen "vicious price climbs" this year, Drury said. Prices grew nearly 11% or $3,364 year over year in July, according to a analysis. Used electric cars — including the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Chevrolet Bolt EV — saw the highest price jumps, iSeeCars said. 

The price of gas-powered vehicles may drop toward the end of the year and into 2023 as demand softens, Moody said, noting that customers typically don't like visiting dealerships and testing cars as winter weather sets in.

But electric vehicles will likely stay at their current prices or even get even pricers because of the expense of sourcing materials needed to make batteries, he added. 

The spending doesn't end once you finally purchase a car. No matter what type of ride you own, the yearly expense for owning a vehicle is rising, according to AAA. Research released by the motor club found that owning a vehicle typically costs a driver $10,728 a year, or $894 a month. That's up from $9,666, or $805.50 a month, in 2021. 

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