Working-poor drivers struggle to find affordable old used cars

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Hollis Heyward shows off the 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix that he bought for $1,300 cash two months ago in Freeport, Ill.

By NICK CAREY for AutoNews

FREEPORT, Ill. — For America’s working poor, an often essential ingredient for getting and keeping a job – having a car – has rarely been more costly, and millions of people are finding it impossible to keep up with payments despite prolonged economic growth and low unemployment. 

More than seven million Americans are already 90 or more days behind on their car loans, according to the New York Federal Reserve, and serious delinquency rates among borrowers with the lowest credit scores have by far seen the fastest acceleration.

The seeds of the problem are buried deep in the financial crisis when in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, automakers slashed production. A decade later, that has made a relative rarity of used 10-year-old vehicles that are typically more affordable for low-wage earners.

According to data provided to Reuters by industry consultant and car shopping website Edmunds, the average price of that vintage of vehicle is $8,657, still nearly 75 percent higher than in 2010 despite some softening in prices over the last year. The average new car, in contrast, has seen a price rise of 25 percent in that same time period.

“This is pinching people at the worst point possible,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of industry analysis. “If you need basic A to B transportation, you have to get an older car that needs more repairs and has more wear-and-tear issues.”

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