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The COVID-19 pandemic is shaping the way Americans move and travel. While some states have begun to relax certain restrictions, things are still a long way from going back to normal. One of the changes we can likely expect in the coming months is that more and more people will opt to drive their own vehicle—rather than take public transit or ride-sharing services—to get to work or do other essential activities.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a vehicle, now is a great time to buy. Reduced demand caused by stay-at-home orders across the U.S. means dealerships are eager to make up for lost sales, which dipped quite a bit during the early weeks of the nationwide lockdowns. 

The good news is, you can take advantage of these bargains without compromising your health and safety. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about buying a car during the coronavirus pandemic if you’re in the market for a vehicle during these uncertain times.

couple buys new car
If you’re thinking about purchasing a vehicle, now is a great time to buy.

Are Car Dealerships Open Under Stay-at-Home Orders?

In the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, some states required car dealerships to shut down their sales departments and limit operations to repair and maintenance services. In Pennsylvania, for example, all car dealers were initially ordered to cease all sales—both in-person and online.

This was eventually reversed and dealerships across the country were allowed to sell again—but with some caveats. For more details on what’s open in each state, see the table below.

Vehicle Sales Deemed an Essential Business

The Department of Homeland Security declared vehicle sales an essential service in its latest advisory released on April 17

The agency’s previous statement only allowed these businesses to operate in order to offer vehicle repair and maintenance services. Despite this announcement, car dealerships that are open today may operate at different capacities depending on restrictions enforced at the state level. 

Over the past few weeks, most states only allowed vehicle sales to be done remotely. The process of buying a vehicle had to be done over the phone, email, and other online channels. 

couple buying online
For the most part, car showrooms and dealers remain open for business, but with the majority of their sales conducted online.

In some areas, dealerships were permitted to open their showrooms, but with certain precautions in place. These included restricting the number of people allowed inside at one time and requiring clients to book appointments for showroom visits.

For the most part, car showrooms and dealers remain open for business, but with the majority of their sales conducted online. However, you may still need to contact the specific dealership to check if their sales departments are open for business. 

It’s also worth noting that, as states prepare to re-open certain businesses, it is likely that more and more dealerships will fully re-open for in-person sales.

How to Buy a Car During COVID-19

Buying a car has always been a very physical experience—you go to the dealership, get your old car appraised for a trade-in (if you have one), walk around the lot with the salesperson, and take a few options out for a drive. 

Unsurprisingly, this process has undergone a drastic change due to social distancing guidelines.

Where to Buy a Car

As previously mentioned, contact individual local dealerships to find out how they are conducting vehicle sales at this time. Depending on the state where you live, some dealerships may still be doing all sales online, while others have started to allow face-to-face car sales.

If you’re looking to purchase a used car, you can utilize online car retailers like Carvana and CarMax.

Can the Buying Process Be Completed Online?

In most states, the answer to this question is still no. Online car shopping is a hybrid process that still requires you to exchange paper documents with your car dealer. 

Despite federal legislation that acknowledges the validity of electronic signatures in legal documents as long as the buyer consents to its use, state DMV regulations still require hand signatures for documents that declare odometer readings as a way to avoid mileage tampering.

Texas is the only state that currently allows e-signatures on all types of vehicle sales forms. However, the industry as a whole has been slow in adopting new technology because manual paperwork gives these businesses a sense of security against potential litigation.

woman with short hair driving a car
Dealers are employing new and safer ways to give potential clients the same pre-pandemic car buying experience. 

Can I Still Take the Car for a Test Drive?

At-home test drives is a service that has been offered by luxury car dealerships even before the pandemic. Brands like Lexus, Cadillac, and Genesis will usually send their staff and two cars for you to test drive at your location. 

Toyota and GM have announced plans to offer the same service in select dealerships for their non-luxury brands. If you’re in the market for a used car, Carvana offers at-home test drives as well.

Give your local dealerships a call to find out if they offer at-home test drives. Because of the special circumstances caused by the pandemic, dealers are employing new and safer ways to give potential clients the same pre-pandemic car buying experience. 

Many dealers allow single-person test drives to minimize close contact with buyers. If they still require you to come to their place of business, be sure to ask about the safety measures they have put in place to protect their employees and clients. 

Safer Ways to Receive Your Purchased Vehicle

If you purchased a vehicle remotely, you can expect to receive it through home delivery or no-contact pickup.

Touchless Home Delivery

Many car dealers are taking extra precautions by doing contactless deliveries. After the car is placed on your driveway, the sales agent will leave all the paperwork that needs to be reviewed and signed on the passenger seat. 

High-contact surfaces such as the steering wheel, keys, and door handles are then disinfected. The sales agent returns to the delivery vehicle and stays at a safe distance while giving the client instructions over the phone.

Even if they don’t usually offer this service, your local dealership may agree to deliver the vehicle to your home in order to close the deal. 

If they need to drive more than 50 miles, you may need to pay a delivery fee between $70 to $80. If the lot is near your house, they may even do this for free.

No-Contact Curbside Pickup

Some dealerships offer a no-contact pickup service that means you complete 90% of the shopping and financing process online, which reduces the time you need to spend outside of your home. 

Once you arrive for your scheduled pickup, you will be escorted to an enclosed space at the local dealership or go to a virtually empty lot to sign the necessary forms before driving your vehicle home.

The National Automobile Dealers Association has released information on how dealerships can reduce the risk of transmission in their place of business by enforcing stricter guidelines for cleaning vehicles, frequent disinfection of surfaces, and enforcing social distancing rules. 

If you are a first responder, doctor, nurse, medical technician, or any type of healthcare worker, you may be eligible for a special discount on your new vehicle. Volvo, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Mazda offer special pricing that can save you up to $2,500 on your purchase. 

This is the industry’s way of thanking the brave workers who are at the frontlines fighting the virus.

Which States Allow Car Dealerships to Remain Open?

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