NEW YORK -- A record number of U.S. consumers are taking out loans to buy cars, especially those purchasing used vehicles, according to data released Wednesday.
In the second quarter, 85 percent of new car purchases and 53.8 percent of used car purchases were financed, according to data from Experian, an information provider.
That was up 0.5 percentage points and 0.9 percentage points, respectively from the same period in 2013.
Additionally, the size of auto loan amounts and monthly payments continued to rise, especially for used cars. Since the second quarter of 2013, the average used vehicle loan rose 1.9 percent to $18,258 and the average monthly payment on such vehicles rose 1.1 percent to $355, both all-time highs.
"More and more consumers, especially those that are credit challenged, are turning to the used vehicle market as a viable option to purchase their next car," said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive finance for Experian, in a statement.
Banks were the largest lenders to consumers buying used cars, financing 35.6 percent of all such purchases, or 0.8 percentage points less than the second quarter of last year.
In recent years banks have begun to focus more on the used car market as automakers' in-house financing arms came to dominate the new car market. Such "captive" finance companies made more than one out of every two new car loans in the second quarter, according to Experian.
Regulators have become more concerned with banks' willingness to lengthen terms on car loans, lend to borrowers with lower credit scores and give out loans that are larger than vehicles are worth.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice has started investigating subprime auto loans that companies such as General Motors' (GM) auto financing arm and Santander Consumer Holdings USA have made and securitized since 2007.
But at least in the second quarter, the share of both new car and used car loans that went to borrowers with subprime credit scores declined, according to Experian.
"Lenders are still showing cautionary signs when lending to the subprime market and keeping their risk at manageable levels," Zabritski said.
Wells Fargo (WFC) remained the largest U.S. auto lender in the second quarter with a market share of 5.75 percent, down from 5.89 percent a year prior.
Capital One Financial (COF) surged past JPMorgan Chase (JPM) to become the third largest U.S. auto lender after Ally Financial (ALLY). The McLean, Virginia-based bank's share of the used car market rose from 3.77 percent to 4.20 percent.
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When you get into that back office and start signing all the paperwork, the topic of extended warranties will come up pretty quickly. Ellie Kay, an author of 15 finance-related books, notes that such warranties are negotiable.
"Before you sign on the dotted line, check out other sources of extended warranty pricing," she says, such as those provided by your bank or insurance company. "Then either use this lower price in the financial and insurance office for negotiation to get them to match the price, or buy it from the other source."
A scenario from Kay during her last car purchase: "The dealer quoted me $4,200 for a three-year extended warranty for my 280SLK Roadster Mercedes that included a $250 deductible. USAA -- my insurance company -- gave me a three-year warranty for $3,200 with zero deductible. I've used the new warranty once already. The bill was $1,100 and I paid nothing because of the zero deductible."
Bottom line: The default extended warranty is almost always the worst deal.
You may have a monthly payment figure in your head when shopping for a new car, but your interests are better served when you focus on the out-the-door price instead.
"A sales rep can often trick you by offering a lower monthly payment, but [one that] will stretch out the terms of the loan," says David Bakke, a car buying expert at MoneyCrashers.com.
You can reduce the overall cost of the car via negotiation and by skipping accessories and add-ons. "Things like navigation systems, rims, floor mats or car audio/entertainment systems can be purchased from a third party vendor, usually for less."
All our experts agree: Don't even mention your preferred or maximum monthly payment price.
If you decide to trade in your current vehicle for another, Kay says to negotiate this apart from the price of the new car and only after you've negotiated everything else. You can learn the full value of your car by going to Edmunds.com or kbb.com. Once you know what the car is worth, don't settle for anything less. Kay also advises you to seriously consider selling your old car yourself, and applying what you get toward the principle of your loan.
It may be tempting to just head to one local dealership, take a test drive or two, and walk out the door with a new car, but you'll save yourself a lot more money by doing a little pre-shopping research.
"Once you have your choices narrowed down to a few makes or models, contact the Internet sales manager of a few dealerships," suggests Bakke. "These folks can often offer better pricing than what you'd find dealing with an on-site sales person. Plus, you save time."
In addition to, or in lieu of, e-shopping, Joshua Duvall of Capital Financial Services says to "find a few vehicles from different manufacturers and pit them against one another." He explains that the car buying market is based on quantity and the fact that dealers want to move cars. "Force them to compete for your business."
"Dealerships often employ hard-sell tactics that can be overwhelming for a first-time buyer, so it is a good idea to go with someone who has been through the process before," explains John Ganotis, founder of CreditCardInsider.com.
Granotis also says that if you're buying a used vehicle, it's wise bring along a friend who knows his or her stuff when it comes to car health. For example, a mechanic who can peek under the hood, or recognize if something subtle is wrong during the test drive, would be especially handy.
You've likely heard it before, but we have to repeat this fact: Buying a used car is almost always a better value compared to buying new. If you like a particular model, buy the same car, but a year or several years older. Unless there have been major body changes, you'll hardly be able to tell the difference.
OK, so sometimes ol' Sally breaks down, and you need to get a new set of wheels, stat. If you don't fall into that category, though, our experts recommend choosing your purchase date strategically, such as during a major sale. Better yet, wait for theend of a promotion.
Dealership salespeople often receive a bonus if they meet their targets during a promotion. Even if they lose money on a vehicle at the end of a promotion, they typically make up for the loss with their promotion target bonus.
Erin Konrad of CouponPal suggests buying near the end of the month. This is when salespeople are trying to meet monthly quotas and are more likely to negotiate.
Be familiar with common strategies employed by dealerships and sellers. For example, MSN Money warns against the "four-square" trick. (I've had this one used on me.) In this trick, the salesperson draws four boxes with a number in each: your old car's trade-in value, the new car's price, the down payment, and your monthly payment. "From there, the salesperson begins crunching numbers -- most likely making it too hard for you to follow," writes MSN. He or she will shift your focus to the monthly payment, which can result in a longer loan and a higher interest rate.
Another common trick is to heighten your sense of urgency, says Business Insider via Gregg Fidan, founder of RealCarTips.com and the author of "Honest Guide to Buying a Car." For example, the dealer may tell you "that color is not available; there's only three left statewide; the price is good only for today; someone else is interested in the car, better decide quickly, etc." In this case, be patient and courteous, but remain level-headed and never rush to buy. Study up on Fidan's list of 112 car-buying scams.
To sum up the list: Don't let yourself get too caught up in the excitement of shiny metal, and remember that in six months that "new car excitement" will have faded, and you'll be due for an oil change.