What has your experience been buying a new car during covid?
February 5, 2021 1:07 PM   Subscribe

My housemate's car is on the verge of death and he wants to try to buy a new one this weekend and has asked for help. If you have recent experience with new car shopping during the pandemic, I'd be interested in what your experiences were like.

Assumptions - large metropolitan area in the US with a good number of dealers/stock, looking at a hatchback from Honda, Subaru, or Mazda, needs to finance.

1. What's the test drive experience like at dealerships? I definitely don't want to have anyone outside our household bubble in the car with us, regardless of masks.
2. What about the usual hard sell/pressure techniques? We're not willing to sit around playing psychological games in the midst of a pandemic.
3. What's price negotiation on new cars like? I've seen some news articles saying that reduced production has driven up the off-the-lot price for popular new cars like the Fit. I'm aware of Costco and other service's negotiated pricing and have already started using those to generate prices but when I bought my car ~2.5 years ago, without even trying I was able to knock $2K off of the best Costco offer. Unfortunately, the sales person I worked with is no longer there or I'd tell him to just go buy from her.

Not interested in:
New vs used
Other models

Other tips specific to buying during covid are welcome.
posted by Candleman to Shopping (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, I have to recommend Nicole Cliffe's Guide to Buying a Car Without Interacting With a Human.

One of my closest friends just bought a car. Her experience varied by dealership. Some were taking a ton of precautions and were happy to let her test drive cars alone, others refused to budge on standard procedures.
posted by shesbookish at 1:12 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]

I bought a car last month. Went to the dealership and told them that I wouldn't come inside, and that I would test drive by myself. I picked out two cars and drove them both, had the salesperson write up deals and bring them out to me. I negotiated and bought. Used my own pen to sign deal. No contact, and I felt comfortable the whole time.
posted by tizzie at 1:14 PM on February 5

I bought a new car in November.

1. So the real question is -- do you actually need to test drive? I bought a Honda Insight, and also considered the hybrid Corolla. I looked at reviews of both online and picked the Insight, because the pros/cons aligned better with what I wanted. Like, it's a Honda -- what was a test drive going to tell me, really? If you already know the class of car you want, I mean, they are sort of all the same. (And a lot of the ways they aren't -- acceleration, cargo space, entertainment systems -- you can find on a spec list.) From my perusals of r/askcarsales, it seems like there's some shenanigans re: test driving during COVID.

2. Because I knew what I wanted, I called/emailed some dealerships near me that appeared to have the specific Insight I wanted on the lot. Some of them were weird about giving me an OTD price over phone/email/text, so I did not do business with them. Most were cool about it. I picked a dealership that was near-ish my house and that seemed chill, and pretty much bought the car via text. He offered me a price, I countered with the lower price I'd seen on another dealership's website, he accepted it + TTL, and then I called him with my credit card number for a deposit. The next day, I went to the dealership. They had all the paperwork ready to go and brought it outside to sign so I never had to enter the building, I was done in 15 minutes. A+++ would recommend. (If you happen to be in Chicagoland I'll tell you who.)

3. I paid $3k below MSRP on the Insight (before TTL). My understanding is that you basically can't negotiate on an SUV or truck right now, but if your housemate's buying a regular normal car, it seems like you can get a good deal. Other sedans were also marked down. I did look at Truecar, which seemed like a way to get a good price. Certainly the dealerships I talked to seemed ready to deal.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:44 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]

I recently bought a car from the dealership from where I had been leasing it and one thing I wished I'd done was ask to just sign all the paperwork in advance.
I had an appointment so I thought it would be quick but I had to go into a guy's tiny little office while he slowly printed out papers and then slowly told me what the papers said, and he waited and chatted while I signed them as fast as I could without even reading them properly because I wanted to get out of there. The office had no windows. His mask was down below his nose most of the time. At the end of the process he told me he'd "just had" Covid and it wasn't that bad so I shouldn't worry.
There was a lot of pre-paper signing other-paper signing. For much of the waiting that all entailed, I insisted on standing outside, where it was sleeting and very cold.
TLDR: most of this coulda been an email.
posted by nantucket at 1:47 PM on February 5

Oh right, that's important too -- when I was texting with the dealership I bought from, I made it very clear that I would not set foot in the building for any length of time for any reason, and they assured me that such a thing was possible (and even common, they had a table set up outside for this reason). Had they not been able to assure me of this, I would've worked with someone else. No shortage of Honda dealers.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:54 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

I bought a car from CarMax on Labor Day or thereabouts, and I did test drives by myself, which pandemic or no I thought was wonderful. I WAS in the building for like 8 hours that day though, and the guy I was working with did the same nose out mask wearing mentioned above. I signed all my paperwork in person and while they did try to herd customers around so that not a ton of people were all sitting together, being inside didn't feel great even when I was masked. So I would prep for a long process and wear the best mask possible. Not new car sales but a data point.
posted by clarinet at 2:03 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

You couldn't pay me to visit a car dealership before covid, so I have thoughts on this.

If you're not planning to buy used, I think it totally makes sense to lease your next car. The resale value of modern ICE cars is going to crater once manufacturers stop selling them and people stop wanting them. Buying one new in 2021 seems like throwing money away. But the current EV options don't address all needs, so a 3 year lease is a smart move.

If you decide to lease there are are a couple of consequences:
  • The stakes are a little lower because you'll be returning the car in 3 years. Maybe you can skip the test drive? Cars is cars is cars.
  • You can use a service like Cartelligent to find the car you want, negotiate the terms, and have it delivered.
Neither of these are specific to a pandemic, but they do become extra appealing in that context.

If even a three year commitment is too much, and you have the budget, I would personally rent month-to-month directly from Volvo just to get to the period (later this year?) where you feel like you can more easily shop around.
posted by caek at 2:39 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

I bought a car in April from one of our big dealerships. Granted, I have had a long relationship with this dealer, and even had my service writer and a saleswoman I had developed a rapport with over the years give me a (in jest!) hard time whenever I brought my old truck in for service regarding my need to upgrade. So when I was ready, which was at the beginning of this thing when the dealerships were a little wobbly, I found what I wanted online, texted my saleswoman, and she directed me to a salesperson that was working that day. I went up there, found the truck, told the guy I was going to buy it but that we were going to work on my payment because I was only going to pay $x per month and I wasn’t going to pay this price at all.

They had me test drive it while they were drawing up paperwork, but I’d already driven a few Tundras so it wasn’t anything new to me. Everything was wrapped in paper and plastic. They detailed the truck while I filled out paperwork inside. Everyone had on masks (even before they were mandatory), staffing was on an A/B schedule like the school kids, they gave you a fresh pen out of a box. Someone was constantly wiping things down. All in all, it took about 3 hours from the time I pulled into the dealership until I left with my new truck.

Now, I’ve never had a hard sell at a dealership because I come in with what I want and what I’m going to pay and they’re going to meet my desires or I’ll tell them to do something I won’t say in polite company. But it was probably one of the easiest purchases I’ve ever made.

This is absolutely one of The Best times to buy a new car.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 5:16 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

Literally bought a car yesterday!

I knew what I wanted, exactly, down to color and trim.
I used my credit union for financing and had my down payment handy.
I only went to a dealer that had the exact one I wanted (used TrueCar for a guaranteed base price).
They let me test drive alone.
I did go into the dealership for about 20 minutes total, but once they went off to do paperwork, stood outside. Everyone was masked and it was a weekday evening, hardly anyone was there.
It was also an enormous high-ceilinged building.

While process was maybe 90 minutes.

I am not a haggler and always a bit resigned that you never fully avoid a little gouging on cars, but I am good at cutting off upselling. If I liked to haggle or didn't know what I wanted it would have taken longer.
posted by emjaybee at 7:54 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

We got a car from Carmax (great experience). Last month. Spouse handled all of it. They told him all the COVID protections and required masks. He looked at / sat in a couple cars we had seen online before. Went back and test drove one. He drove by himself but had to sign paperwork (liability and such) beforehand.

He liked it and we had researched it so he got it. Carmax is no haggle. It took about 3 hours on the day to test drive, sign paperwork, had to come pick up the checkbook which they were able to drive him which was an extra favor so he could avoid a ride share. We didn’t finance. All in all it was simple and easy and he said they were very safe. Some of the time is waiting for paperwork or signing things and if you are concerned you could ask to sit outside or sit distanced. He said he felt safe and everyone wore a mask.

There are also places that are doing touch free delivery and online sales for cars. I believe Carmax also offers options like that.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:06 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

If you're not planning to buy used, I think it totally makes sense to lease your next car. The resale value of modern ICE cars is going to crater once manufacturers stop selling them and people stop wanting them.

Unless a baby wrote this, the time period in which this happens (if it ever happens), is going to be long after you are dead.

Besides the fact that “no one has new ICE cars for sale” is decades alway, prices grow up and not down when supply is limited.
posted by sideshow at 9:36 AM on February 6

I think anybody telling you to buy a car without test driving the model you are considering (or at least sitting in it) is doing you a disservice. I know COVID makes things more difficult, but you should still feel comfortable in your car. You should have good lines of sight. The steering wheel (and other input controls) should be placed in a way that they can be set up properly for you. How the car responds to your touch (via steering input or input via the pedals) should work for you.

Buying a new car is a major financial commitment and the last thing you want to be stuck with is a car that's too twitchy in the steering, too sluggish in the acceleration, gives you a sore back when you sit in it and has the steering wheel placed too high and far back that it puts your hands and arms at an awkward angle that compromises your ability to control the wheel. Sure, you can put up with these things in a short-term rental when you're on vacation, but there is no reason to suffer them when it's a car you're spending tens of thousands of dollars on an intend to keep for years.

Phone around to a number of dealerships. Ask them about their COVID procedures and precautions and be prepared to walk away if they aren't following their own safety rules, but do try to get your seat into the seat of the car you're considering.
posted by sardonyx at 11:05 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]

Thanks all. The saga comes to an end today.

For the curious, we went to 5 dealers. 3 assumed that we would test drive alone and didn't even ask if we wanted them to come; the other two offered but weren't pushy. As far as the test driving experience, the only issue we had was when one sales rep sat down inside the car we wanted to drive to explain the features (we were still outside), took off his mask, and proceeded to spend 3 minutes talking. While we didn't comment on this to the dealer, they did call three days later and said he's no longer with the company.

As far as the haggling, it was less pleasant, though with fewer manipulative tricks than they pull in normal times. The big pain point was that my housemate really wants blind spot alerting and few of the non-top tier trims comes with it - it's nominally available on lower tiers in some of the cases but you just can't find many of them. As such, the dealers weren't willing to negotiate all that much on them. If he'd been fine without that feature, we'd have been in a better position to play dealers against each other.
posted by Candleman at 11:47 AM on February 24

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