Oct 7, 2021 - Business
Why buying a car is nuts right now
An aerial view of a mostly empty car lot
Many Minnesota dealers have empty lots, like this one in California. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Minnesotans trying to buy a vehicle before winter are finding bare dealer lots and long delays.

  • I learned that first-hand, and fast, while shopping for a car to accommodate my third child on the way.

Why it matters: There's a national vehicle shortage tied to a shortage of semiconductor chips, so people are having to wait for their preferred vehicle and pay more when they get it.

  • "Everybody's paying sticker price or above sticker to get something they want," said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association. "In my 30 years doing this, I've never seen anything like this."

I was interested in buying a used vehicle, but the prices were so high that it didn't make a lot of sense.

  • Used car prices are up 34% compared to last year. Why spend a few thousand dollars less on a four-year-old vehicle with 50,000 miles and no warranty?

What they're saying: Reader Deb Halvorson wanted to buy a used Subaru Crosstrek, but her dealership didn't have any. She ended up buying a new one.

  • Reader Brian Powers also opted for new over used for the same reason when buying a Volkswagen Altas. The good news: The dealership gave him $1,000 more for his Subaru Forester than what he would've gotten when he considered trading it in last year.

State of play: Auto makers are focusing on building trucks and SUVs, which are more profitable, Lambert said.

  • Before the chip shortage, 86% of new vehicle sales in Minnesota were trucks and SUVs, but now that number is 90%, he said.

What's ahead: It could be a while before the market balances out, Lambert said. Many of the vehicles rolling into dealerships this fall have already been spoken for and the chip shortage is now expected to last through 2022.

  • "The Upper Midwest market gets slower in January and February," Lambert said. "That's usually when we catch up on inventory and get ready for spring sales. I don't know that we're going to be given the luxury of getting caught up this year."

I ended up buying a Honda Pilot after finding the right trim on Honda.com. I then called Inver Grove Heights Honda and put down a deposit. Now, I'm the midst of waiting six weeks for the vehicle to be built and shipped from Alabama.

  • I paid sticker price.
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