Why used small cars may be your best driving bargain these days


2013 Ford Focus

2013 Ford Focus

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If you want a fuel-efficient car that doesn't cost a lot, right now may be a good time to shop the used-car sections of your local dealers' lots.

That's because some of the best bargains available right now are used small cars.

Large numbers of small cars sold two to five years ago are now coming off lease, right into a market that's going crazy for SUVs.

DON'T MISS: Used Electric Cars: About To Get Big, What You Need To Know (May 2015)

The effect of the current boom in crossover SUV sales was one of the main topics discussed at the recent National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention.

While car sales remain strong, dealers are getting squeezed, among other things, by cars in less-popular segments coming off leases, analysts say.

Compact cars constitute one of those now-not-so-popular segments.

2013 Honda Civic EX-L

2013 Honda Civic EX-L

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Fewer consumers want these cars, so automakers may have to increase incentives to move them, NADA Chief Economist Steven Szakaly told Wards Auto.

The NADA predicts that 3.1 million vehicles will be returned from leases this year—800,000 more than last year.

Because many of those vehicles are cars rather than crossover utility vehicles, analysts believe carmakers and dealers will have a tough time selling them as used cars.

ALSO SEE: Will Cheap Gas, Soaring SUV Sales Sink Fuel-Economy Goals? (Dec 2015)

When those cars were new, higher gas prices led more buyers to prioritize fuel economy.

But gas prices have remained low enough for the past year or more that buyers are turning to SUVs in droves—regardless of whether they're buying new or used.

The lack of demand for used small cars is good news for buyers looking for a fuel-efficiency bargain, though.

2014 Toyota Corolla L

2014 Toyota Corolla L

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Dealers will likely have to lower prices to get these cars off their lots, making bargains easier to find.

Buyers in turn get off-lease cars that are only a few years old for less than they would have otherwise.

MORE: Highest Gas Mileage For The Least Money: We Rate 10 Top Cars

Consumers switching from larger vehicles will start to see a payoff from the better fuel economy much sooner, although the dollar amount saved may be lower due to the low price of gasoline.

They'll also potentially be in a better position than consumers grabbing the keys to new SUVs right now.

If gas prices go up in the next few years, drivers of small cars won't feel the pain as much.

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