COVID-19 has impacted the car industry. Here’s how to protect yourself when purchasing a new vehicle

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted new car sales, prompting the industry to take steps to make it possible to buy a new vehicle virtually with no contact.
At Circle Hyundai, all employees now wear masks in the showroom. The dealership reports that it has had three times as many online sales associates as last year. There is now a strict sanitizing procedure for any vehicle that comes in for service or is taken out for a test drive.
“We’ve deployed, in concert with the CDC and Department of Health and OSHA, guidelines – very strict guidelines – called the New Jersey Car Clean Program,” says New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers president Jim Appleton.
Appleton says that customers can be sure that they will be seeing vehicles that have been properly sanitized.
“They will, in almost every case, they will take that test drive alone. They won’t be sitting with some stranger in the vehicle,” Appleton says.
The pandemic has driven nationwide car sales down more than 25% from last year. Consumer Reports found that many models are settling well below sticker price.
“There is a lot less supply. But you can use that to your advantage because there’s a lot less customers,” says automotive consumer advocate Michael Sacks.
Sacks works for the law firm of Kimmel and Silverman. He says that when it comes to car buying during the pandemic, there is one part of the processes that customers should still do in person – test driving.
“It’s not worth the risk [to forgo a test drive.] Why would you forgo a test drive? You’re still buying this vehicle. And you’re not off the hook if the car does not drive perfectly later. You can’t use COVID as an excuse,” Sacks says.
Other advice for purchasing a new vehicle during the pandemic includes: Negotiate the price in advance. This way if the test drive goes well, all that is left to do is sign the contract. Some dealerships will even deliver the care to the customer and let them test drive it at home.
Customers should also pay attention to the warranty, especially if they buy a pre-owned vehicle or don’t do a full test drive.
Customers should also not settle for an IOU. If there is a problem, have the vehicle fixed before taking it home.
“Because you don’t know if parts are going to be available. You may have limited staff at dealerships, you don’t know when they’ll be available to fix the vehicle. You don’t want to be driving a vehicle with a problem and no dead end as to when they’re going to fix it,” Sacks says.