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In the good old days, car sales soared in spring. This was the season when you had your pick of cars and trucks, You had competitive prices, inventory as far the eye could see, low-interest rates, and summer was right around the corner so you could show off your new ride.

Not anymore. There are many bumps on the road now that could bring a big spring car sales season to a screeching halt.

Although price increases for cars and trucks are slowing down and in some cases falling, overall inflation is still making the purchase of an affordable vehicle difficult. The average price of a new car is $47,300 as of March 2024, according to Edmunds.com. The average price of a full-size pickup is $62,825. And the average monthly car payment is $726. That’s not a bump on the road, that’s a big pothole.

DOES MORE INVENTORY MEAN BETTER DEALS?

Although new vehicle inventory is still below the roughly 4 million level before the pandemic, car dealers say the rising availability of inventory will make negotiations easier. Fortune reports that when the lots are empty, there’s not much of a bargaining position from a consumer standpoint. But now that there’s more inventory, it’s more competitive. So, the answer is yes – dealers are making deals.

With more cars available, the pressures that sent prices surging have eased. At the end of January, American dealers had 2.61 million new cars, trucks, and SUVs on their lots, according to Cox Automotive. By contrast, the supply a year ago was just 1.74 million.

SPRING FOR IT

Charlie Chesbrough, Senior Economist at Cox Automotive, says: “January and February are slow months for vehicle sales, but the new vehicle sales pace this past January saw a surprising decline from December. Bad weather was a likely contributor and kept shoppers away from dealership lots. However, the weather this February was particularly mild across much of the country, so a bit of a rebound is expected in March. We are also seeing solid inventory levels and growing incentives and discounts, which should help sales volume.”

But even with prices edging down, Ivan Drury, Director at Edmunds, doesn’t foresee sales of new vehicles rising dramatically this year. Still-high loan rates mean that monthly payments remain burdensome for many at a time when buyers are seeking affordable options. Edmunds predicts U.S. sales rising a modest 0.5%, to about 15.7 million, this year, still short of pre-pandemic highs around 17 million.

What does all this mean? If you need a new car, truck, or SUV, do a little homework, and make the move. The days of March Madness are over so be prepared to pay more and hang in there with a higher monthly payment. The good old days are never coming back but this year is a hell of a lot better than last year, so go for it.