While used car sales during the month of December exceeded dealer expectations, January started slower than anticipated.
The findings are produced as part of the CAP Used Car Performance Index, a monthly survey of retail used car sales based on a sample of nationwide dealers.
It also studies sales by region and found that the best start to the year was noted by dealers in the south-west area of the UK.
It said: ‘This region has been surging ahead in recent months, compared with other areas of the UK.
‘However, in comparison with their performance in December, dealers overall managed only a slightly better sales result in the early weeks of 2005.’
Wales ran a close second and dealers there started the year with significantly improved sales compared to the winter months of 2004. Despite this, Welsh dealers are the least confident of maintaining or achieving an increase in their retail sales performance during the coming weeks, CAP added.
One Cardiff dealer said: ‘The market is completely unreliable now so when you have a good week it rarely carries on and you never feel comfortable that business is back on track. Customers are harder to pin down than ever so that even if there are plenty of enquiries it doesn’t mean they will buy – it’s as likely they will just go elsewhere to play you off against another dealer.’
In England, the worst performance came form the West Midlands, where dealers had enjoyed consistent growth over the year but experienced a disappointing January.
Other areas covered include Scotland, where dealers were found to be among the least optimistic in their forward views and Northern Ireland, where dealers were found to be confident about the future.