Currently reading: Used car transactions rocket amid lockdown easing, chip shortage
Well over two million used cars changed hands last quarter, making it the best second quarter for used cars on record

As the ongoing semiconductor shortage and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to stifle new car output, demand for used cars has soared.

New figures from the SMMT reveal that April-June 2021 was the "best ever second quarter" for the used car market, with 2,167,504 models changing hands. That's up 108.6% on the pandemic-stricken Q2 2020 tally, but more relevantly represents a 6.6% increase over Q2 2019, before the pandemic hit.

During the three months, just 1095 fewer used cars were sold than in Q3 2020, which remains the best period for the UK used car market on record.

Year-to-date the market has grown 33.3% compared to the first half of 2020, but remains 4.9% down (roughly 200,000 units) on the same period in 2019. 

The SMMT attributes the significant quarterly uptick primarily to the reopening of businesses, an increased demand for personal mobility and new car stock shortages in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Chiefly, the shortage of semiconductor processing chips - which are fundamental components in the electrical systems of all new cars – has heavily restricted the ability of manufacturers to ramp production back up to pre-pandemic levels. 

In many cases, new car buyers are facing heavily extended lead times compared to normal, and some cars are even now being sold without certain features that depend on the devices, commonly referred to as chips. 

Mike Hawes, the SMMT's chief executive, welcomed the latest figures as a sign of recovery in the used car market, which in turn will benefit the new car sector: "More motorists are turning to used cars as supply shortages continue to affect the new car market, and the increased need for personal mobility with people remaining wary of public transport as they return to work. 

"A buoyant used car market is necessary to maintain strong residual values which, in turn, supports new car transactions. We now need to see a similar rebound in new car sales to accelerate the fleet renewal necessary to deliver immediate and continuous improvements in air quality and carbon emissions.”

The increasing variety of zero-emission-capable cars over the past few years has translated into an increase in demand for second-hand plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). 

However, the SMMT notes that PHEVs accounted for just 1.3% of all used car transactions, compared to 96.4% for petrol and diesel vehicles, showing that "he scale of the challenge to transition the entire used car parc away from traditional fuels remains significant".

Back to top

Notably, just 12.7% of all used vehicles sold in the second quarter were less than three years old, which is the lowest rate on record. The SMMT links this to increased demand for used cars overall, which has shored up values of older models. 

In terms of segment popularity, it was dual-purpose vehicles (those with passenger-carrying and commercial capacities) which saw the biggest spike in demand, with a 147.7% increase in demand landing them a 13.5% market share, but superminis claimed the largest overall share at 31.9%, with 'lower medium' (C-segment) hatchbacks accounting for 27% of transactions.

The Ford Fiesta, consistently one of the UK's best-selling cars, was the most popular used car, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra. Most transactions took place in the South East of England. 


Autocar's used car buying guides

ULEZ Vous: How to buy used cars in the low-emission zone era​

Find your next used car here

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Jeans Beetle 12 August 2021

So they are saying there is increased demand for used cars and prices have risen. Wait to you come to part exchange and you'll find they are still try to offer you way below book price.

LP in Brighton 11 August 2021

I'm not sure that i believe this data. According to the SMMT, there is just one SUV (Nissan Qashkai) in the UK used car top 10 for Q2 2021. Could it be that these figures are skewed by a large number of preregistered Fiestas, Corsas, Focuses etc which now appear as used car sales? Or do used buyers simply not want more expensive less efficient SUVs that new car buyers can't get enough of?

Perhaps in time the surfeit of SUVs will mean these cars depreciate more, thus removing one of the main reasons they are purchased for. 

catnip 10 August 2021

Significantly hyped list prices, added weight and complication of mild hybrid systems, reduced choice of non-SUV related bodystyles, silly touch controls for everything ... All these things put me off buying a brand new car again, whether I could get hold of one or not.