The used car market grew by 5.1% last year to 7,242,692 transactions, according to figures published today by the SMMT.
Four straight quarters of growth saw an extra 351,915 motorists get behind the wheel of a second hand car versus 2022 as the previous year’s supply constraints receded, delivering more choice to buyers.
Superminis were the most popular used car body type again, comprising one in three (32.1%) sales during the year.
They were followed closely by cars in the lower medium segment, which took 26.6% of the market, and dual-purpose vehicles (15.2%).
The smallest volume segment, meanwhile, was luxury saloons, accounting for just 0.5% of transactions.
Bucking the grey trend in the new market, black cars were the most popular used purchases, with 1,549,954 buyers (21.4%) choosing the colour.
Grey, however, increased its ranking, displacing blue to take second place with 1,231,314 units.
At the niche end of the spectrum, 4,870 buyers opted for pink, while 4,686 cream cars found new owners, and maroon represented 4,585 transactions.
Across the year, sales of used battery electric cars (BEV) almost doubled, rising by 90.9% to a record 118,973 units and a 1.6% share of the overall market – up from 0.9% in 2022.
The SMMT said the uplift was in line with growth in the new car sector and showed there was keen demand for zero emission motoring in this more affordable price bracket.
Sales of hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars were also strong – up by 40.0% and 25.1% respectively – while collectively, electrified vehicles represented 5.6% of the market: up from 4.0% in 2022.
Diesel and petrol, however, remained the most dominant fuel types, with a total of 6,827,466 units changing hands – 94.3% of the overall market: 2,747,911 diesel units and 4,079,555 petrol.
Meanwhile, the last quarter of 2023 saw 1,679,116 second-hand cars sold – up 6.9% on 2022 Q4’s figure of 1,571,295
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘A healthy new car market is key to driving choice in the used sector and it’s great to see record numbers of second and third owners benefiting from the growing availability of electric vehicles.
‘The demand is there, but to sustain it we must enable every motorist to make the switch.
‘The upcoming Budget is a prime opportunity for the government to do just that. Halving VAT on new EVs while making public charging as easy and affordable as plugging in at home would ensure a faster and fairer transition for all, giving the UK a green economic boost.’
The top 10 used car models of 2023 were:
- Ford Fiesta (308,017)
- Vauxhall Corsa (237,705)
- Volkswagen Golf (227,427)
- Ford Focus (223,417)
- Vauxhall Astra (160,736)
- Mini (158,298)
- BMW 3 Series (155,100)
- Volkswagen Polo (141,135)
- Nissan Qashqai (120,286)
- Audi A3 (118,805)
Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, said: ‘Against an uncertain economic and political backdrop last year, the used car market again showed its resilience, with overall demand remaining exceptionally robust, reflected in the 110m additional visits to Auto Trader.
‘There’s no doubt the months ahead will have their challenges, not least the ongoing squeeze in supply, but the used car market has started the new year with some real momentum behind it.
‘With car buyer sentiment and confidence remaining positive, I fully expect 2024 to be another robust year for demand and transactions.’
He added: ‘The maturing used electric market may still be in its infancy, but last year saw a definite growth spurt.
‘Significantly softened prices, greater availability and more choice has proved a compelling combination for car buyers.
‘Demand on our marketplace surged 50% on 2022, the share of inquiries almost doubled, and used EVs sold five days faster than any other fuel type.
‘With many second-hand models now at price parity with their traditionally fuelled counterparts, along with lower running costs, the switch to electric has never been a more attractive prospect.
‘The used EV market will play a vital role in driving mass adoption of electric cars, but the government must do more to encourage car buyers to switch.
‘Building battery confidence, providing fairer charging costs and introducing more financial incentives, including removing VAT on new and used EVs, will be essential.’
This year’s Car Dealer Live will see Auto Trader delve into used car price fluctuations, how the online used car buying journey is evolving and what’s really happening with EV buyers.
It takes place at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon on March 7 – book your tickets here.
Other industry comments
A stellar year overall
Used car sales enjoyed a stellar year overall with sales continuing to soar in the last quarter of 2023.
With new car production growing, more car owners sold their cars to get their hands on new or nearly-new vehicles, and this led to a steady supply of high-quality used cars for savvy motorists keen to get a great deal.
Used EV sales enjoyed a bumper year too with more drivers than ever buying second-hand electric models.
This was further compounded by the Ulez expansion across London and the south-east, with high numbers of drivers trading in their non-compliant models and turning to the used car market as a more affordable route to go electric.
If the government can provide improved charging infrastructure and more attractive financial incentives for electric buyers, EV sales could really skyrocket in 2024.
Alex Buttle, co-founder, Motorway
Value for money
Used car sales are being spurred on by a powerful combination of better stock levels, settling prices and strong demand.
With household budgets still under pressure from the rising cost of living and high interest rates, many drivers who need to replace their car are looking to the value of the used market.
Many will be pleasantly surprised by the value for money that cooling prices are bringing to the second-hand market.
The latest AA Cars Used Car Index showed that the average price of the UK’s most popular used cars fell by 3.3% in the final three months of 2023 compared with the previous year.
Greater availability of second-hand EVs and hybrids continues to improve choice for drivers and push down prices.
However, while the cost of some used EVs remains high compared with their petrol and diesel counterparts, more incentives may be needed in the future to persuade cash-strapped consumers to go electric.
James Hosking, managing director, AA Cars