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The annual U.S. auto sales rate fell to its slowest level since April, on pace in September to sell 15.28 million vehicles. In August, the annual sales rate hit a post-recession high of 16.09 million, and while September’s annual sales rate is an improvement from last year, monthly sales volume declined considerably.

According to Autodata Corp., total light vehicle sales (passenger cars and light trucks) came to 1.14 million last month, down 4.2% from the 1.19 million sold in the same period last year. That’s the first year-over-year decline in monthly auto sales in the past two years.

It’s also worth noting that part of Labor Day weekend sales fell in August, and there were two fewer sales days in September 2013 than September 2012.

General Motors and Ford maintained the 1-2 spots they held last September atop the U.S. market, though GM’s sales declined 11% from last year and Ford’s increased 5.7%. Three of Ford’s models made the Edmunds.com best used cars of 2013 list.

Post-Recession Auto Sales

The auto market has produced a stronger post-recession recovery than other sectors, such as housing, and a record number of American car buyers took out auto loans in the second quarter this year: 84.5% of buyers financed their new or used vehicle. Americans’ access to auto financing has increased as interest rates have remained low.

How that momentum continues through the end of the year will be interesting, especially with the government shutdown that started this month. October 2012 had the slowest annual sales rate of the past 12 months, at 14.4 million, so unless sales drop dramatically this month, the annual sales rate will likely still show a year-over-year improvement for October.

Despite the slow month, consumers are still buying more cars in 2013 than they did last year. In the past quarter, consumers with lower credit scores saw more access to car financing. It’s important for a car buyers to know where they stand creditwise before browsing dealership lots (and getting a loan preapproval can be a tremendous help). A quick look at your credit profile with the free Credit.com Credit Report Card can help consumers prepare for price conversations with lenders.

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