May 25, 2020

Working From Home During COVID-19? It Might Be A Good Time To Buy A New Car

Cars are parked in an auto dealer lot . U.S. retail sales recorded a record drop in March, with auto sales down 25.6%, as the coronavirus outbreak closed down thousands of stores and shoppers stayed home. - AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Cars are parked in an auto dealer lot . U.S. retail sales recorded a record drop in March, with auto sales down 25.6%, as the coronavirus outbreak closed down thousands of stores and shoppers stayed home.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

COVID-19 has many of us working from home, but we still need cars. Thankfully, in the age of Zoom, e-mail, and smartphones, we can complete most of the process from home. And given incentives, there are some great deals.

“It’s a bit of a scary time to buy a car, or anything significant, but some can’t put it off,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of Insights at Edmunds. “Most auto companies have payment deferral in case you lose your job or are furloughed. It’s a good time to buy a car because of incentives if you feel good about your own economic state.”

While you may be doing it in pajamas, the essentials of buying a car from home really aren’t much different from buying at a dealer. As Chevrolet states online: Select Vehicle, Create Deal, Schedule Delivery. Simple. That’s how we do it in the age of COVID-19.

Select Vehicle

My grandmother once bought a new Mercedes and took delivery without driving it. It worked for her, but you should do your research -- and take the test drive. You’re still welcome to visit dealerships, but many will come to you.

“Determine your must-haves versus what you can compromise,” Caldwell said. “We have more time to research. Go online to the automaker website, which will connect to a local dealer, or you can go straight to the dealer site. Lots of dealerships are more accommodating of requests, including delivery at home or the office.”

Edmunds.com has a search option that provides vehicle details, including fair market price for the new vehicle and your trade-in. Cars.com and other auto sites offer similar information. Consumer Reports is another trusted source. Of course, read reviews from your local auto writers. We drive hundreds of vehicles. Despite the current environment, some things never change.

“It still a people business – has to be a connection,” said Jim Smith, General Manager of Terry Lee Hyundai in Noblesville. “We have to adapt to how the customer wants to buy a car. Some come to the dealership, but we have done it at their house. Especially with pre-owned, we really insist on a test drive. They can keep it for 10 minutes to an hour or two. We listen to what they want to accomplish.”

Compare vehicles, decide what you want, and give the dealer a call or e-mail when you are ready.

Create Deal

Automakers are also providing peace of mind with zero percent financing and payment deferrals. For example, Chevrolet is offering zero percent on select models for up to 84 months and deferred payments for 120 days. Hyundai offers zero percent and 120 days. Ford protects with six-month payment relief – three months deferred, three months on Ford. They’re trying to take stress out the current environment.

“For new vehicles, there are a lot available, Caldwell said. “Dealers are willing to trade. Much of the paperwork can be done online – can sign via notary and send/scan back. Or, salespeople can come to your home to sign while keeping social distance.”

Buying a new car is pretty straight-forward since they should come perfect with a full factory warranty, but pre-owned cars have additional challenges. They’ve been driven and will likely have blemishes, which should be consistent with overall mileage. Review photos carefully and get a fair market price from Edmunds, Cars.com, or a kbb.com. There’s a key difference, however.

“Process is the same, but warranty is a little different,” Smith said. “They can get the remainder of the factory warranty if available, can buy as-is, or can purchase an extended warranty.”

Beyond price, is there anything buyers should consider in contract language?

“Not really,” Smith said. “We have the ability to do it digitally. Some banks require a paper contract, but salespeople can take them to customers. Before the deal is consummated, we send e-mails and get on the phone to go through the details.”

Schedule Delivery

Dealers are adjusting to the new reality and offering multiple ways of delivering your new vehicle – at the dealer or home. Used car dealer Carvana is the most prominent in trucking cars to your house, but hometown dealers are also adjusting.

“We do either,” Smith said. “We can sign paperwork in an open area to keep six feet of distancing. We’ll wipe the car down, especially if evaluating pre-owned. If they want to come in, great. If they prefer to do it remotely, that’s fine too.”

Before taking delivery, check the dealer return policy. It’s typical for dealers to allow returns within, for example, 72 hours and 500 miles. When buying new, there’s little risk. Take more time with pre-owned vehicles to make sure you got what you expected. Going “certified pre-owned” may ease concerns.

“With certified pre-owned, the automaker is involved, have to have a warranty for certain period of time, include defined vehicle checks, and are on the hook for the vehicle’s performance,” Caldwell said. “It’s good for people who are cautious, gives some kind of guarantee. They may also qualify for a lower interest rate, backed by the automaker.”

A New Normal

There are signs we’re preparing to exit our cocoons to join the auto-driving herd again.

“We’re starting to see more traffic on our site,” Caldwell said. “There was a dead period, but now people are starting to research and look at the deal portion. Search queries are quite popular.”

Are they any pitfalls in buying a car from home?

“It’s just an unfamiliar process – people envision it as face-to-face,” Caldwell said. “It’s an old way of thinking about it.”

Buying a car away from the dealer is an idea whose time should already have come. Following the lead of all kinds of home delivery services, established dealers are embracing the new normal.

“Some industries have been doing curbside delivery; Amazon delivers in 24 hours,” Smith said. "COVID-19 pushed us to advance our way of doing business to something more modern sooner than anticipated. Everybody is different. We do what makes people comfortable. Being transparent is key.”

Storm Forward!

Send comments to Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com

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