Craig Trudell
Bloomberg News

Lenders are charging car buyers the lowest interest rates in at least four years as fewer borrowers fall behind on their payments, supporting demand for new vehicles, according to researcher Experian Automotive of Costa Mesa, Calif.

The average interest rate for a new vehicle loan fell to 4.52 percent in the fourth quarter, Experian said Thursday in an emailed statement. The rate dropped from 4.84 percent a year earlier and is the lowest since Experian began tracking the figure in 2008.

Financial companies are boosting lending in the automotive industry after light-vehicle sales climbed to 12.8 million last year, the second consecutive annual increase of at least 10 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The Federal Reserve in January committed to holding short-term interest rates near 0 percent through at least 2014.

“The improved automotive lending market is good news for consumers in market to buy a vehicle,” Melinda Zabritski, Experian’s director of automotive lending, said in the statement. “With delinquencies and total dollar volume at risk down, lenders have been able to adopt more aggressive strategies.”

The balance of loans to borrowers who fell behind on auto payments by 30 days declined to $15.1 billion in the fourth quarter, down 8 percent from a year earlier and about 28 percent lower than at the end of 2009, according to Experian. The balance of 60-day delinquent loans decreased to $3.48 billion, a drop of 14 percent from a year earlier and 39 percent from 2009.

Buyers whose credit is judged “nonprime” or worse accounted for 23 percent of the new vehicle financing market in the fourth quarter, up from less than 20 percent a year earlier, according to Experian.