Where Do Cars Go When They’re Not Sold?

by Lori Straus

Searching for the perfect used car can sometimes feel like searching for the metaphorical needle in a haystack. You find the vehicle, and by the time you get to the lot, it’s gone to someone who was faster than you. But there are some vehicles that just don’t sell. These vehicles may be in fine condition, all things considered, but like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, no one wants them. Ever wonder what happens to them? Read on to learn where cars go when they don’t sell.

Why Don’t Some Cars Sell?

Some cars don’t sell for a host of reasons. For example, an exotic car may be on a lot in a neighborhood where most buyers prefer something more practical. Or the reverse may be true: an older, cheaper, practical car more suitable for a student may be on the lot of a dealership in a more affluent suburban area. In situations like these, the dealer may have a hard time selling the vehicle.

Sometimes, a sales representative will accept a trade-in to seal the deal on a new vehicle sale, knowing they won’t sell the used car directly to a consumer. Or perhaps they might take a risk on a trade-in and realize in error that they can’t sell the vehicle. So, those situations can also happen.

In general, a dealership doesn’t like to have a used car on the lot for more than 90 days. (Hint: if you find a vehicle that’s been on the lot for close to that time or even longer, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.)

So what happens to vehicles that don’t sell? Dealers have a few options.

Wholesale and Auction

Where a vehicle is perhaps too old or not worth repairing to sell, the dealer may opt to sell it to a wholesaler, who will take it to auction, or the dealer may take it to auction themselves. At the auction, other dealers will then bid for the vehicle to get the best price and take it back to their lots.

Trading With Other Dealers

Dealers are well connected with one another. So, they may accept a car from a customer as a trade-in, knowing that they will try to sell the car to or trade it with another dealership. For example, a Chrysler dealer may accept a Kia car to sell to or trade with a local Kia dealer down the road.

Moving to Other Lots

Not all dealerships are standalone businesses. Many franchise might belong to a parent company, what’s known as a dealer group. Or someone might own several independent dealerships on different lots. In these cases, the parent company may simply move stock to different lots, where the surrounding neighbourhood may be better suited to sell the vehicle.

One Car, Many Stories

To paraphrase a Gordon Lightfoot song, if we could read a car’s black box, what a tale its recordings could tell. Certainly, the black box records data but not those moments that make a car meaningful in a person’s life. At some point in time, a used car is sadly destined for the scrap heap, but not usually as soon as you think it might be. A car often still has life left in it, and dealers do their best to find each car that lands on their lot its next purpose.