The price of the average Chrysler product rose 6.1% year-over-year in February, according to TrueCar.

New car prices have been rising rapidly in recent years, various studies showing that Average Transaction  Prices – what buyers actually pay after factoring in incentives and options – have hit record levels.  And that means that more and more American motorists are being priced out of the market.

The average median-income household can no longer afford to purchase the “average-priced” new car or truck in 24 of the country’s 25 largest metro areas, according to a new study by the financial website Interest.com.  The exception is Washington, D.C., according to the study, which also found that in 16 cities, median family incomes fell at least $10,000 short of what it would take to buy the typical new vehicle.

“Too many families are spending way too much on new cars and trucks,” said Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com. “Just because you can manage the monthly payment doesn’t mean you should let a $30,000 or $40,000 ride gobble up such a huge share of your paycheck.”

The average new vehicle now goes for $32,086, according to Interest.com – which works out to a typical monthly payment of $633.  While the number quoted by other tracking services vary slightly, there’s general agreement that prices are rising a good bit faster than the rate of inflation.  TrueCar.com puts the so-called ATP at $32,074 last month, an increase of $1,110, or 3.6%, from February 2013.

“Average transaction prices continue to rise and are at the highest levels for February in the past five years,” noted TrueCar.

That’s led to an increasing gap between what the average American can afford and what they have to pay to get a new set of wheels.

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Only in Washington, D.C. could the typical median-income household afford to buy the average new vehicle based on what is known as the 20/4/10 rule, which factors in a 20% down-payment, a four-year loan and insurance – all of which should not exceed 10% of a household’s gross income.

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Using that formula, a typical Washington resident could afford to buy a vehicle priced at $32,531, with a monthly payment of $641.

Second-ranked San Francisco fell more than $4,000 short, with a maximum affordable purchase price of just $28,009, and a $563 monthly car payment.  In Boston, the third-ranked city, the average household could handle no more than a $26,669 purchase and a $520 monthly payment.

In bottom-ranked Tampa, the typical household doesn’t even come close, at a recommended maximum purchase price of just $14,209, and a maximum monthly payment of only $280.

Most analysts blame fast-rising car prices as one of the key reasons why the auto industry is not expected to reach its previous sales peak of more than 17 million vehicles during this economic cycle.

It’s also a factor that has led to a surge in sales of “certified pre-owned” vehicles, typically two- to four-year-old off-lease cars and trucks that have gone through intensive inspections and repairs and which are usually back with like-new warranties.

But motorists who still want the smell and feel of a new car continue to find ways, often by extending loans to five or six years, sometimes even longer. On the positive side, analysts note that automotive finance rates are currently at or near historic lows.

Few expect the upward trend in pricing to mitigate any time soon, however.  For one thing, manufacturers have been cutting back on the lush incentives they used to draw buyers into showrooms during the Great Recession. They’re also passing on the increased cost of new mileage, emissions and safety regulations. And despite it all, consumers continue loading up their vehicles with ever more options that have helped push prices to record levels.

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