This week we found a Carmax listing for a five-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer with 30,000 miles on it. Not a particularly interesting fact on its own—except that it’s priced at $29,998. That’s more than the original MSRP, more than the car sold new for, and probably one of the most extreme examples of just how broken the used car market is right now. About a day after this post was originally published, the price was reduced, so maybe somebody at Carmax reads The Drive and realized how far off reality they were.
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2022, 11:30 a.m. ET: Whatever the case, it looks like more rational heads prevailed at Carmax, the this Lancer had quietly been repriced from $29,998 to a somewhat more sensible $23,998. Still, that's more than what the original owner paid for the car when it was new, back in 2018.
The Mitsubishi Lancer was never exactly known for being the bastion of small car goodness (sorry, Stef), but I’ve always recommended it to folks in search of a new-ish small car that was usually cheaper than the tried-and-true options from Honda and Toyota. Sure, the Lancer might not have won many awards near its death in 2018, but the worst I can say about the car is that it’s old, not necessarily bad. Still, the biggest enticement to the Lancer has always been, its low, low price, especially on the used car market.
But not so here. The price on this thing is so outrageous, even among Carmax’s other listings for similar cars, that I had to call and ask if the listing was a misprint. The woman on the phone kindly reassured me that this Lancer was, in fact, $29,998. Lord.
This 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer ES, is a lower-trimmed model, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a few goodies. In the last couple of model years, Mitsubishi tried to craft a budget Subaru Impreza fighter out of the base Lancer, and made all trims (except the base ES, where it was optional), AWD. The S-AWC system is mated to a CVT automatic, fed by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that had hadn’t seen many changes since its introduction in 2006. This whole powertrain is fine enough, but hella old, and most importantly, not worth $30,000.
For reference, a brand new Eclipse Cross could be had for the price of this Lancer. Two-thirds of Honda’s car lineup, including the Civic Si, could be had for the price of this Lancer. Lots of very good, and brand new cars, could be had for the price of this used Lancer.
Currently, the car is in Chattanooga, Tennessee—home of the recently departed VW Passat, which could, you guessed it, be had for cheaper than this used Lancer. Coincidentally, this Lancer was initially sold in Ohio, so I did some reconnaissance. An Ohio title search showed that the car was solid in 2018, for just shy of $24,000. A little pricey for a car that was technically a left-over model from the year before, but when tax and registration are considered, this Lancer’s initial owner appeared to at least pay around its $21,810 window sticker price.
I have no words. Within five years, for a hot second there, this base model Lancer had appreciated in price. It was a basic, old, and uncompetitive even way back in 2017. Five years later, this used car is now competing against a crop of generally very good new cars. If it wasn’t all that great then, five years and 30,000 miles ain’t gonna magically make the car better.
This is merely an example of how folks in search of reasonably priced, gently used cars have found that market increasingly unattainable. Some say that things are stabilizing, and soon used car prices will right themselves. I can’t help but feel that maybe this is just the way things are now, unfortunately. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d take a time machine to 2018 and buy all of the Lancers on clearance, and sell them now, Bring a Trailer style. I could retire early, on my own private island.