PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. car market is making a comeback, but that hasn't dented the post-recession value of used vehicles.
New car sales jumped 13.4% last year as Americans tiptoed back onto lots. Americans still scared off by overly conspicuous spending, however, have discovered that the best vehicle money can buy gets them from Point A to Point B, costs little to own or maintain and can sit in the driveway until such time as its owner needs to replace it or can afford better. An inexpensive car more than a decade old used to get derisive names such as "jalopy" and "beater." Today, it's just "the car."
Automotive data service Polk revealed last year that the average age of cars and light trucks on U.S. roads is roughly 10.8 years. That's up from 8.9 years a decade ago and 9.8 as recently as 2007. New car sales slumped during the 2008 and 2009 recession years as America's drivers squeezed as much mileage out of their old cars as possible.
According to Manheim Consulting's Used Vehicle Value Index, used car prices actually fell 0.8% last year, but jolted up 1.2% in December as Superstorm Sandy reduced an already small supply. Dwindling new car inventory and used car lots already depleted of 2- and 3-year-old vehicles are keeping prices high as sales increased 5% in 2012 and more than 10% from 2010.That's making a lot of formerly undesirable older vehicles a lot more popular. Manheim found that owners looking to sell their old Toyota (TM) Camry, Honda (HMC) Accord or Ford (F) Fusion, Manheim says they'll make an average of 2% more on the deal than they would have last December. Even used pickups and vans have benefited as demand accelerated 2.6% and 0.2% respectively within the past year. While Polk says American car buyers are regaining their confidence, they're also learning the value of an older, cheaper, equally reliable vehicle. Considering the advanced age of the average American car, we asked the folks at Kelley Blue Book to see what decade-old models should factor into car buyers' decision-making this year. They came back with an extremely flush selection of 30 vehicles. The list focuses on model year 2003 used vehicles with a Kelley Blue Book Private Party Value of less than $10,000. The vehicles listed are assumed to be in good condition with approximately 118,000 miles, as per Kelley Blue Book's mileage depreciation schedules. The list was further reduced by focusing only on those vehicles KBB expects to require minimal maintenance based on their proven reputation for reliability. To eliminate certain redundancies, we've pared that list to 10 decade-old cars worth considering before buying new. They may have some wear on the tires, but consensus is that each of the cars on the list should be able to hit or break 200,000 miles with a minimal amount of maintenance:
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