Technician Courtney Heck works on the upper intake of a 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee at Expressway Jeep Chrysler Ram in Mount Vernon, Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 13, 2021. Staff photo by McCabe Brown
Technician Courtney Heck works on the upper intake of a 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee at Expressway Jeep Chrysler Ram in Mount Vernon, Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 13, 2021. Staff photo by McCabe Brown
Between soaring Kelley Blue Book values and sparsely populated dealership lots, you may have heard it's a more difficult time to find and buy a used car. While that's true, some car dealers are adapting to the changing environment and still finding a way to make sales.

A recent study by car search engine found used car prices in Evansville had risen 37.6% -- $9,361 -- since August 2020, while the national average has increased 26.2%. 

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The price hike is connected to a global shortage in microchips that is slowing production of new vehicles. And it's causing headaches for dealers and buyers alike. 

Sammy Goebel, a salesman for Expressway Jeep Chrysler Dodge in Mount Vernon, said his dealership has a fraction of the new car inventory it usually carries.

"It's just making it really hard to get anything in," Goebel said. "If people aren't buying new cars, we're not getting any used trade-ins."

The shortage isn't limited to one specific make or model of vehicle, either. Goebel, a graduate of Mater Dei High School in Evansville, said the shortage is "across the board" on every brand the dealership sells. This, in turn, has raised the valuation of these vehicles.

And it's the same for every dealership in every town, according to an article in Consumer Reports earier this month.

Goebel has seen a $5,000-$6,000 increase in some used truck valuations in just the past few months, but he calls its simply a case of "supply and demand." And while the price increase has hurt dealers and buyers, those looking to trade in their vehicles are making hay.

The increase in price and lack of availability has hurt Goebel's sales in some ways and helped in others.

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"Well, (sales) definitely slowed down a little bit, but it's not horrible because there's an urgency (to buy) just because there's such a limited availability," Goebel said. "While prices are still high, people are also realizing that they can't really find what we have somewhere else, so it's a first-come, first-serve kind of thing; it's just really hard to find cars." 

Goans attributes this rise in sales to a combination of factors.

One, the pandemic ruptured the traditional way in which his dealership conducts business; instead of potential customers having to come check out cars at the dealership, the dealership brings the cars to them. While many customers still want to come out to the lot and see the vehicles in-person, Goans said a growing contingent prefers to order cars online. The dealership has learned to adapt, he said.

Second, Goans believes his dealership has done its best to keep prices fair, especially in comparison to other sellers.

"We've gone up (in price) a little bit, but I think most people have gone up a lot," Goans said. "I think a lot of dealerships are getting somewhat greedy; they're not selling as many cars so they're trying to make money on each individual car."

While Goans believes a 37.6% increase in used car prices in the Evansville area is "way off," he does admit that used car booking evaluations are higher, which has led to trade-in values growing, and in turn required the dealership to raise its prices accordingly. 

It's not just car dealers who are navigating the new landscape, but buyers too.

Justin Altmeyer, a student at the University of Southern Indiana studying business administration, experienced the struggle when he was searching for a used sports coupe a few months ago. Each dealer lot he went to had barely any inventory, and when he finally did fine one he liked -- a 2006 Infiniti G35 Coupe from Magna Motors -- he wasn't happy with the price.

"That price tag was egregious and I overpaid, in my opinion."

The market was on Altmeyer's side on one front, though: When he decided to sell his old car, a 2007 BMW coupe, which he unloaded via Facebook Marketplace.

He said he had been thinking about listing online it before the pandemic hit, for nearly $1,000 lower than what he ended up selling it for. 

"The used market on Facebook is booming, so many cars on there," Altmeyer said. "All higher priced than usual."

With no expected date of the shortage's end out there, Goebel has one piece of advice for people looking for a used car.

"If it's something you can afford, and it's something you want," Goebel said. "That's all you can really go for at this point."

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