Susan Tompor: Ready to sell your used car? You may be surprised by its value

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

I'd never, ever call my 2004 Pacifica a clunker. But it has played one in print more than once when I've written about how old cars are bringing home some serious cash.

Back in 2010, used cars were in hot demand and short supply after a Great Recession strategy took many older cars off the road as a way to push new metal off the lot.

Cash-for-clunkers, which ran in July and August 2009, took nearly 700,000 used cars out of circulation. The federal program offered up to $4,500 for a clunker. Yet program rules required that clunkers be crushed or shredded.

So in late July 2010, I took my 2004 white Chrysler Pacifica out for a test. The car had 77,000 miles on it. It had plenty of bells and whistles, including heated leather seats and backseat DVD player, which I can't imagine why anyone would need that today. It was the car I loved to drive to chaueffer my son through most of grade school and, later, even the start of high school.

Two dealers looked it over. One saw a dent in the back bumper, as well as a smaller ding on a front fender. One dealer said about 90,000 would be average for a 6-year-old car, so the lower mileage on my car was attractive.

One dealer offered $4,500 and another $6,800 in the summer of 2010.


And now 11 years later, what's that Pacifica worth as we're hearing about a surge in 2021 on prices for older cars? I suppose the real shocker is that I still own what is now a 17-year-old car. But we'll get to more on that later.

What's driving a surge in used car prices?

The hot summer car used to be a convertible but now, who knew, it's the clunker.

Now, high-mileage, older cars and trucks — which can be the most affordable to buy — are increasingly tough to find on dealer lots, according to Cox Automotive.


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