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Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets


  • Meghan R. Busse
  • Christopher R. Knittel
  • Florian Zettelmeyer


The dramatic increase in gasoline prices from close to $1 in 1999 to $4 at their peak in 2008 made it much more expensive for consumers to operate an automobile. In this paper we investigate whether consumers have adjusted to gasoline price changes by altering what automobiles they purchase and what prices they pay. We investigate these effects in both new and used car markets. We find that a $1 increase in gasoline price changes the market shares of the most and least fuel-efficient quartiles of new cars by +20% and -24%, respectively. In contrast, the same gasoline price increase changes the market shares of the most and least fuel-efficient quartiles of used cars by only +3% and -7%, respectively. We find that changes in gasoline prices also change the relative prices of cars in the most fuel-efficient quartile and cars in the least fuel-efficient quartile: for new cars the relative price increase for fuel-efficient cars is $363 for a $1 increase in gas prices; for used cars it is $2839. Hence the adjustment of equilibrium market shares and prices in response to changes in usage cost varies dramatically between new and used markets. In the new car market, the adjustment is primarily in market shares, while in the used car market, the adjustment is primarily in prices. We argue that the difference in how gasoline costs affect new and used automobile markets can be explained by differences in the supply characteristics of new and used cars.

Suggested Citation

  • Meghan R. Busse & Christopher R. Knittel & Florian Zettelmeyer, 2009. "Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets," NBER Working Papers 15590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15590
    Note: EEE IO

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dora Gicheva & Justine Hastings & Sofia Villas-Boas, 2007. "Revisiting the Income Effect: Gasoline Prices and Grocery Purchases," NBER Working Papers 13614, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jerry A. Hausman, 1979. "Individual Discount Rates and the Purchase and Utilization of Energy-Using Durables," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 33-54, Spring.
    3. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-890, July.
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    1. Don't start by assuming stupidity
      by Eric Crampton in Offsetting Behaviour on 2013-02-01 00:00:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Barbieri, Nicolò, 2016. "Fuel prices and the invention crowding out effect: Releasing the automotive industry from its dependence on fossil fuel," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 222-234.
    2. Ali Hortaçsu & Gregor Matvos & Chad Syverson & Sriram Venkataraman, 2010. "Are Consumers Affected by Durable Goods Makers' Financial Distress? The Case of Auto Manufacturers," NBER Working Papers 16197, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Christopher R. Knittel & Ryan Sandle, 2011. "Cleaning the Bathwater with the Baby: The Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Pricing in Transportation," Working Papers 1115, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
    4. Shanjun Li & Joshua Linn & Erich Muehlegger, 2014. "Gasoline Taxes and Consumer Behavior," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(4), pages 302-342, November.
    5. Huse, Cristian, 2014. "Fast and Furious (and Dirty): How Asymmetric Regulation May Hinder Environmental Policy," MPRA Paper 48909, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Heutel, Garth, 2010. "Optimal Policy Instruments for Externality-Producing Durable Goods under Time Inconsistency," UNCG Economics Working Papers 10-5, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Economics.
    7. James M. Sallee, 2011. "The Taxation of Fuel Economy," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(1), pages 1-38.
    8. Sallee, James M. & Slemrod, Joel, 2012. "Car notches: Strategic automaker responses to fuel economy policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(11), pages 981-999.
    9. Christopher R. Knittel & Ryan Sandler, 2011. "Carbon Prices and Automobile Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Extensive and Intensive Margins," NBER Chapters,in: The Design and Implementation of U.S. Climate Policy, pages 287-299 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Bento, Antonio M. & Hughes, Jonathan E. & Kaffine, Daniel, 2013. "Carpooling and driver responses to fuel price changes: Evidence from traffic flows in Los Angeles," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 41-56.
    11. Klier, Thomas & Linn, Joshua, 2011. "Fuel Prices and New Vehicle Fuel Economy in Europe," Discussion Papers dp-11-37, Resources For the Future.
    12. Bruno De Borger & Jan Rouwendal, 2014. "Car User Taxes, Quality Characteristics, and Fuel Efficiency Household Behaviour and Market Adjustment," Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, University of Bath, vol. 48(3), pages 345-366, September.
    13. Christopher R. Knittel, 2012. "Reducing Petroleum Consumption from Transportation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 93-118, Winter.
    14. Small, Kenneth A., 2012. "Energy policies for passenger motor vehicles," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 46(6), pages 874-889.
    15. Anderson, Soren T. & Kellogg, Ryan & Sallee, James M., 2013. "What do consumers believe about future gasoline prices?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 383-403.
    16. Justine Hastings & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2012. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice: Evidence from Commodity Price Shocks," NBER Working Papers 18248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Starr McMullen, B. & Zhang, Lei & Nakahara, Kyle, 2010. "Distributional impacts of changing from a gasoline tax to a vehicle-mile tax for light vehicles: A case study of Oregon," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(6), pages 359-366, November.
    18. Espey, Molly, 2013. "Automobile Fuel Economy: Under-valued, Over-valued, or Both?," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 150691, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
    • L50 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - General
    • L62 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Automobiles; Other Transportation Equipment; Related Parts and Equipment

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