The economy.  Natural disasters.  The causes are many, but the outcome is the same:  Used car prices are the highest they've been in over 30 years.  In fact, they're 30-percent higher than last year.

A variety of factors, including the nation's weak economic recovery, high gasoline prices and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, have converged in recent weeks to send demand for used vehicles skyrocketing and supply plummeting, said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, which tracks new and used car prices.

"And that really shot up prices," Anwyl said.

Michael Todd, a sales manager at Fredericktowne Motors in Frederick, Md., said that when dealers go to mass auctions to buy used vehicles, prices are already "in excess of Kelley Blue Book excellent" — the highest "book price" recommended for vehicles in tiptop, almost new condition.

By the time those autos are marked up for retail sale on the lot, they can cost far more than what buyers are expecting because "basically, we've thrown the books away," Falcone said.

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