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Intermediaries and Product Quality in Used Car Markets

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Abstract: We examine used car dealers roles as intermediaries. We present empirical evidence supporting that cars sold by dealers have higher quality: (1) dealer transaction prices are higher than private market prices and this dealer premium increases in the age of the car as a ratio and is hump-shaped in dollar value, and (2) used cars purchased from dealers are less likely to be resold immediately. We formalize a model to show that these empirical facts can be rationalized either when dealers serve to alleviate information asymmetry between sellers and buyers or when dealers facilitate assortative matching between heterogenous-quality cars and heterogeneous consumers. Lastly, based on predictions of the model, we use the data to distinguish these two theories and find evidence for both, but the preponderance of the evidence supports the asymmetric information theory.

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