Used Cars in High Demand; Prices up 30 Percent Since 2008

VIDEO: As American families watch their pennies, the used car market sees boost.
WATCH Price of Used Cars Hits 16-Year High

Got a halfway decent car in your driveway? You just might be sitting on a golden opportunity.

Used-car prices are up almost 30 percent from December 2008, fueled in part by people looking for more fuel-efficient cars. In April alone, prices for these vehicles rose 20 percent over what they had been in January.

Source: Kelley Blue Book

"If you own a small or midsize car, your car is probably worth a lot more than you think," said Jonathan Banks, an executive auto analyst at NADA Used Car Guide. "Trade-in values are at an all-time high."

The Toyota Prius is at the top of the list. A 3-year-old Prius is worth $4,100 more today than on Jan. 1. Mini Coopers and Camrys are not far behind.

Used-Car Revival: Ford Explorer for $14K

And it's not just fuel-efficient vehicles. According to the Kelley Blue Book, a 3-year-old Ford Explorer sold in 2007 would have gone for about $7,000. Today an Explorer with similar mileage on it could be sold for more than $14,000.

Supply is a big reason for the used-car revival. Americans bought 40 percent fewer new cars during the recession and held on to those cars longer.

Larry Diaco recently traded in his 2008 Dodge pickup for $20,000 -- $1,500 more than he paid for it.

"We were pretty shocked and didn't fully understand that, you know, that it was worth more than we paid for it," said Diaco, a captain in the Pembroke Pines Police. "But at that point it didn't matter."

Indeed, so short is the market of used cars, and so high is their price, that customers at dealerships like Brickel Motors in Miami are suspicious of initial offers, co-owner Alex Andreus said.

Shortage of New Cars and Parts

"Sometimes they don't believe it," Andreus said. "Sometimes [they] think we're trying to pull something."

This year the average car has been on the road for 11 years. In 1995, it was just 8.5 years.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan triggered a huge shortage of new cars and parts as well -- even affecting U.S. plants -- as did the 2008 financial crisis, when credit tightened and car companies cut back on leasing.

Jeremy Barnes of Greensboro, N.C., told The Associated Press he didn't know what to expect when he checked Kelley Blue Book for the going price for his white 2007 Accord.

He's now asking for $15,200 for the Accord. "I was pleasantly surprised," Barnes said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.