The UK used car market grew by more than four percent in the first quarter of 2023, according to figures released this week. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows the market enjoyed a 4.1-percent uplift in transactions after three consecutive quarters of decline.

Overall, the SMMT figures reveal just under 1.85 million used cars changed hands during the first three months of 2023 – almost 73,000 more than during the same period in 2022. The result comes after three quarters of stagnation for the sector, and coincides with a slight easing of the supply issues that have blighted the new car market.

The result represents the best first quarter of a year since 2020, just before the coronavirus lockdowns effectively stifled sales. However, sales remain 8.6 percent below pre-pandemic levels – a result the SMMT blames on the “ongoing impact of supply challenges and consumer sentiment”.

Used car sale keys handed over

Nevertheless, the used car market posted growth every month during the first quarter of this year, with sales up 3.6 percent in January, 4.4 percent in February and 4.3 percent in March. There was growth, too, in the electric used car market, with transactions up by more than 50 percent compared with the same period last year. Nevertheless, such vehicles still made up just 1.4 percent of the market.

In contrast, petrol- and diesel-powered cars continue to take the lion’s share of transactions, making up 95 percent of all used cars to change hands in the first three months of 2023. However, plug-in hybrids now make up 2.3 percent of the market, reflecting increased demand for low-emission vehicles.

As usual, small hatchbacks or ‘superminis’ accounted for most sales, with almost 600,000 such vehicles changing hands. As a result, the Ford Fiesta remained the most popular used car on the market, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa. The larger Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra hatchbacks completed the top five, while the only SUV to make the top 10 was the eighth-placed Nissan Qashqai.

“Easing supply chain challenges have reenergised new car registrations, unlocking availability in the used market and, importantly, delivering more zero emission capable vehicles to second and third owners,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “Sustaining that growth is vital for our environmental goals, which means bolstering the new car market to drive supply to the used sector. Infrastructure rollout must also improve – and at speed – with affordable and reliable charging essential if more used buyers are to switch to the latest and cleanest available vehicles.”

Used car market stronger than ever as August sales beat previous records