UK used car market holds steady in 2019

Some 7.9 million used cars changed hands during the year, almost exactly the same as the previous year

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The UK’s used car market remained steady during 2019 with a total of 7,935,105 cars changing hands during the year.

It was essentially an identical result to the previous year, with a strong second half of the year making up for a slow first half, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Overall used car sales for 2019 were a little over short of 2018’s figure, which is statistically negligible on nearly 8 million cars. In same cases, however, the word ‘sales’ is not really relevant, as this number includes every vehicle that changed keeper on the DVLA database. So it includes parents handing cars over to their kids, transferring registration to a spouse, and so on.

Sales of petrol cars fell by 0.3% to just under 4.5 million transactions, while those of diesel vehicles dropped by 0.6% to a little less than 3.3 million, representing a market share of just under 42%. With new diesel sales plummeting in the last few years, this will start to be reflected in used car sales over the next few years.

With the strong growth in new hybrids and electric cars over the last couple of years, it was inevitable that this would start to filter through to the used car market as well. There was a significant rise in the number of used alternatively fuelled vehicles – which comprises hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles – increasing by 23% with 135,516 sales taking place. However, this still only represents less than 2% of the overall market, so this can be expected to keep growing rapidly each year.

Hatchbacks still on top but SUVs growing

Superminis remained the most popular segment of used car, taking up a 33% market share. Lower medium and upper medium segments were the next most popular with a 27% and 12% respective market share, while the ‘dual purpose’ (SUV) segment was the only one to post growth in the full year, up 11% to take a 12% market share.

The most popular used car of 2019 was the Ford Fiesta, which is hardly a revelation since it’s been the best-selling new car in the UK for a generation. Likewise, the rest of the ten most popular used cars reflect the greatest hits of the new car market for the last decade.

The top ten models were exactly the same as the previous year, with only a mild shift in the order. Interestingly, only two of the ten models increased their sales figures on 2018 as the market diversifies away from hatchbacks towards SUVs.

Source: Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

As usual, the South East of England leads the way in used car sales with just under 15% of the total market share – which is more than all of Scotland and Wales combined. The top ten regions were exactly the same as in 2018, in exactly the same order. Three of the regions saw increased sales (North West, Yorkshire/Humberside and London) while seven saw decreases.

Borrowing increasing despite flat sales

The Finance and Leasing Association also published its 2019 figures this week, showing that despite a flat year for used car sales, the number of used cars financed through dealerships increased by 2%, while the amount borrowed increased by 4%.

Used car bought on finance by consumers at point of sale

Dec 2019% change3 months to Dec 2019% change12 months to Dec 2019% change
Value of advances (£ billion)1.177114.148418.3744
Number of cars90,9567330,05821,489,9292

Source: Finance and Leasing Assocation (FLA)

More than £18 billion was borrowed on just under 1.5 million used cars in 2019, both of which are record numbers. The average amount borrowed per used car also hit a new full-year record, averaging just over £12,300. All of these numbers have been increasing steadily every year for the last decade, regardless of the country’s political or economic situation.

These numbers only cover money loaned by members of the Finance and Leasing Association, which basically refers to money borrowed through car dealers at point of sale. Money lent by banks, parents, loan sharks and any other financiers is not included.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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