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Used car sales are following the new car market downwards – but at a much slower rate.

Figures for the third quarter of 2017 issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) show that the used market dropped by 2.1%.

Year-to-date however, the market is holding steady, just 0.1% up, whereas new car registrations in the same period have slumped by 4.6%.

Used sales declined for a second successive quarter – in total 2,102,078 cars were sold, but SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes claims that overall the market is currently positive, with more than six million secondhand cars changing hands so far in 2017.

“The used car sector remains in good health as motorists take advantage of some great deals on cars – including some of the latest low emission diesel and alternatively-fuelled vehicles,” Hawes says.

However, he adds a warning that the slumping demand in the new car market is normally followed by a similar decline in used car sales, unless there are significant tax changes affecting the new car market.

He again calls upon Government to help the sector. “Fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality, however, so we need economic and political certainty to boost buyer confidence and keep both markets moving,” Hawes says.

Diesel sales still strong

Negative emissions publicity that has heavily hit sales of new diesel cars does not seem to have reached the used market. While petrol sales fell 6.5%, demand for diesels remained healthy, rising 4.2% and year-to-date, more than 2.5 million used diesel cars have changed hands. This suggests that potential new diesel car buyers are instead turning to the used car market, possibly attracted by a number of attractive ex-demonstrator or pre-registered cars hitting forecourts in ever-increasing numbers.

“A lack of consumer confidence has rippled out across the market but it’s reassuring to see that the confusion surrounding new diesel vehicles hasn’t hurt the sales of used diesel cars,” says Simon Benson, director of motoring services at used car website AA Cars.

“This suggests that drivers who rely heavily on diesel – those driving frequent, long distances, for example – are instead turning towards the second-hand market. Dealers should consider this an opportunity to advise customers and help them identify the fuel type that’s right for their specific needs”.

Sales of both electric and hybrid used vehicles have grown strongly, closely reflecting the healthy demand that’s been seen in the new car market and also helped by more vehicles entering the used sector. Registrations rose 17% to 25,196 units and pure electric vehicles, in particular, proved increasingly popular, with sales up 66.4%.

Renault ZOE The Car Expert
More vehicles coming onto the market are fuelling a rise in sales of used electric cars such as the Renault ZOE.

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.