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Car Buying During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Chris Kaiser

The coronavirus has complicated car buying, raising questions about logistics, pricing, and even basic safety. We’re here to sort out how car buyers, dealers, and the industry at large, are meeting the challenge.  

Changing Landscape 

As of today, only five US states (AK, IA, ND, NE, and SD) do not have blanket or county specific stay-at-home orders. But many Americans still need to buy cars, regardless of the pandemic. sharp drop in ridesharing and the use of public transportation have left people in need of alternative transportation. Additionally, according to J.D. Power, 1.8 million vehicle leases will be expiring over the next few months, leaving many Americans in need of a new vehicleBuying a car while social distancing can pose significant challenges. 

Current Map of States With Stay at Home Orders - nytimes.com
Current Map of States With Stay at Home Orders - nytimes.com

Dealers have been lobbying state governments to consider car dealers essential businesses in order to keep their showrooms open alongside their service bays. States have differed on how to interpret current federal guidelines, with some states, like Tennesse and Ohio, allowing sales, while others, like Delaware and Kentucky, are notThe NADA, along with other trade organizations, sent a letter to the White House requesting federal clarification in late March. 

In this environment, dealers are having to get creative in how they interact with customers and still meet their needs. J.D. Power predicts manufacturers and dealers will be offering major incentives to keep the wheels of business churning, even as factories are idled or shift to the production of medical supplies. Some of those incentive programs are already being rolled out. 

New Incentives, Better Deals

Manufacturers have been quick to respond to the changing sales market. Companies currently offering new 0% financing include: FCA, GM, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Kia. Deferred payment programs are even more popular, with periods of 90 and up to 120 days. Companies now offering deferred payment plans include: Ford, FCA, GM, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Porsche, Mitsubishi, Honda/Acura, and Kia.

Nissan Advertised Incentive - nissanusa.com
Nissan Advertised Incentive - nissanusa.com

Some of these deferment programs are limited to specific vehicles or to new vehicle sales, while others apply more broadly and include recently purchased cars. For example, Hyundai/Genesis is offering Job Loss Relief on vehicles purchased between March 14th and April 30th. Manufacturers are asking current customers to reach out to their financing arms with requests for payment deferrals and addressing customers’ needs on a case-by-case basis. 

2020 Tesla Model 3 Being Delivered - GoldenOldie on Youtube
2020 Tesla Model 3 Being Delivered - GoldenOldie on Youtube

Most manufacturers are also offering athome delivery services, allowing the carbuying process to exist almost entirely online. Some manufacturers, like Audi, GM, and Tesla, already have at-home delivery services they’re now leveraging. Other companies, like Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, are having to initiate new processes, with dealers taking the lead on implementation.  

Car Buying Online: A Step-By-Step Process

Social distancing rules out the traditional showroom experience, but the good news is the car buying process can be completed almost, oin some caseentirely, online.  

Step One: Researching and Pricing a Vehicle 

Highly detailed vehicle pages on Carsforsale.com make it easy to find the perfect car
Highly detailed vehicle pages on Carsforsale.com make it easy to find the perfect car

It’s important to know what you need in a car. Researching and identifying what kind of vehicle you want and making a list of must-have features and relevant specs makes the buying process easier when it comes time to talk with a salesperson. All of this can be done online by reading reviews, comparing listings, and visiting dealer and manufacturer websites.  

Once you know what kind of vehicle you want, it’s a matter of finding the right one at the right price. Dealer websites and third-party listing sites like Carsforsale.com are invaluable resources in normal times and indispensable under current circumstances. There you can compare prices and, with the help of vehicle history reports and photo galleries, assess the condition of vehicles. 

Step Two: Virtual Showroom 

Facetime with dealers to get a virtual showing of a car you're interested in

Once you’ve identified a short-list of possible candidates for your new vehicle, it’s time to contact dealerships for virtual walkaround. Using the video conferencing software of your choice (Skype or Facetime for example), a dealer can show you around the vehicle, highlighting features and (if it’s a used vehicle) even giving you a detailed look at the engine compartment and undercarriage. Most dealers will be happy to accommodate you, and you’ll probably end up with a more thorough look at the vehicle than you might have gotten in person.  

Step ThreeCompleting Paperwork & Taking Delivery 

Apply for financing and estimate your payments on Carsforsale.com
Apply for financing and estimate your payments on Carsforsale.com

As with the rest of the process, applying for financing, through the dealer or your local lender, can be completed digitally. Many dealers and banks have online forms you can fill out to apply for a loan. Let dealers know if you’ve been preapproved for a loan, as they may be able to offer a better rate.  

Disinfecting a car ready to be delivered to it's new owner

To ensure the safety of their customers and employees, many manufacturers and dealers are offering at-home delivery services that follow social distancing best practices and align with CDC recommendations. These include limiting or eliminating face-to-face interactions between customers and sales staff and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting vehicles prior to, and as part of, the drop off process. 

Dealers using Carsforsale.com, among other platforms, allow you to complete final transaction paperwork digitally, without having to meet in person. Make sure to inquire about digital paperwork and no-contact delivery options with your dealer early in the process.

Adapting to Challenging Times 

Challenges spur innovation. Manufacturers and dealers continue to find new ways to service their customers and spur growth in the industry. Internal discussions at Ford indicate the company will be asking the federal government to provide additional stimulus to the sector, possibly in the form a trade-in program akin to Cash-for-Clunkers. Its also likely that current manufacturer incentive programs could be extended or expanded to help encourage additional new vehicle sales.

The automotive industry is full of resourceful people, dealers, and manufacturers willing to go the extra mile to ensure customers can still get what they need when they need it. Car buying may be more complicated in an era of social distancing, but, its not only possible, virtual car shopping is becoming mainstream 

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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  1. Avatar
    joshdaniel April 13, 2020

    Great article. I was under the impression that automotive dealers would be out of commission for the meantime. I thought that aftermarket sites are the only ones available for those who are in need of parts for the cars during the pandemic. It’s good to know that the market is this kind of flexible and willing to go the extra mile just to make sales.

    1. Carsforsale.com Team
      Carsforsale.com Team April 14, 2020

      The auto industry has stepped up to meet the challenge, that’s for sure! 🚘 With a new focus on online car buying, special incentives, manufacturer rebates and even basic safety, the industry has made some adjustments. Thanks for checking out the blog!

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