The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have spread throughout the world, creating epic disruptions in the economy, sending the globe’s stock markets on a roller coaster ride, shaking consumer confidence, and putting tens of millions of Americans out of work. The jobless rate in the spring was the highest the U.S. has experienced since the Great Depression. It took years for the Great Depression to reach its lowest point. The coronavirus pandemic devastated the world’s economy in a matter of weeks.
With the economic turmoil still underway – and most states in various phases of reopening – can you buy a car, and should you? If you need a car, what’s the safest way to buy one? A question on many minds is should I wait until more of the economy fully recovers, or jump in the car-buying market today?
In this story, we’ll look at how the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it spawns are affecting the automotive market, and what you should do if you’re in the market for a car. There’s quite a lot we don’t currently know, and information about the virus continues to evolve.
On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared a state of emergency, unleashing federal resources to help deal with the crisis. State governors and local officials ordered schools closed and implemented stringent restrictions to limit crowds, promote social distancing, and keep people in their homes.
Carmakers rolled out programs to entice sales and support buyers who may have trouble making their car payments. With restrictions in place for social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, dealers faced constraints that determine when and if they could open their doors. Many dealers moved quickly to extend online sales processes and home delivery options. Events unfolded at a rapid pace, with automakers reopening shuttered plants while protecting their employees and responding to plunging demand.
According to J.D. Power, new car sales in April were off by 45% compared to 2019. Their research shows that 445,600 fewer new cars were sold in April compared to their sales forecast. Sales recovered some of the lost ground in May, and even more in June. By the second week in July retail sales were only off 4% compared to their pre-virus forecast.
Fleet sales suffered greatly, as business and rental car company demand cratered.
If you’re a car owner with a loan you’re unsure you can pay back, jump over to our story about auto loan relief during the coronavirus crisis. There, you’ll learn what you should do now and see special programs automakers are making available to help their customers. The pandemic will also affect your auto insurance. Read our guide to the coronavirus and car insurance to learn more.
U.S. News & World Report has put together a guide to what you need to know about the disease. The chance of contracting the disease is relatively small, but the number of those currently affected continues to rise. Taking measures to prevent the spread can protect you, vulnerable family members, and others in the community.
Is Now a Good Time to Buy a Car?
If you need to buy a car, can afford one, are secure in your job, and can find a model that meets your needs, the only thing that should stop you from buying is concern over your personal safety during the buying process. If you choose to buy a car, you don’t want to risk your health, your family, or others in the community. To avoid spreading the disease, it’s critical you follow the advice of medical authorities about person-to-person interactions, hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing, and other methods of preventing the spread of the virus.
Of course, as with a car purchase in normal times, you want to be smart about how you buy a car and how you get your financing. Car sales plummeted in March, prompting automakers and their dealers to work hard attracting buyers. Many have rolled out generous incentive offers and deferred financing, which we’ll explore in depth in a moment. If you can afford it, the next several months may become an excellent time to get a great deal from a dealer eager to make sales. If you’re looking for a popular model, though, you’ll want to move quickly, as dealer inventory of some models is slim due to extended auto plant closures.
General Motors, Hyundai, Honda, and others have expanded their first responder lease and purchase discount programs to include health care workers. Ford just introduced a $500 bonus cash incentive for first responders and medical professionals.
Automobile sales are now allowed across the country, as stay-at-home orders have been adjusted. However, some showrooms continue to have limited staff or restricted hours. Transactions in many states are still best performed online or over the phone.
U.S. News & World Report has assembled a guide to state-by-state responses to the virus.
Why Would Now Be a Good Time to Wait?
If you work in an industry that is susceptible to a coronavirus-induced downturn that could lead to layoffs or reduced hours, you should carefully consider whether it’s a good idea to lock yourself into a car loan or lease. The industries affected by the pandemic aren’t limited to the travel and hospitality sectors. It has influenced supply and demand in nearly every corner of the economy. Waiting a few months to see if things settle down might save you from getting into a loan or lease, then missing payments or defaulting due to a job loss.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, tens of millions of Americans have applied for unemployment since the pandemic took hold in mid-March. Millions more have had their hours reduced, their pay cut, or their benefits limited.
With showrooms forced to close in many areas by either government order or slackening demand, the opportunity for customers to comparison shop between multiple dealerships became more difficult. Though demand was low, options may have been limited to just a few dealers who were able to keep the doors open or have fully online purchasing procedures and at-home delivery options.
If you are immunocompromised or in a high-risk category, the risks involved from entering public spaces should outweigh your desire to visit a dealer and get a car.
Is Now a Good Time to Lease a Car?
There’s no simple answer whether now is a good time to lease a car. Yes, there may be some great lease deals announced in the coming months, as automakers and their dealers do whatever they can to bolster sales and retain current lease customers. Some manufacturers, including Honda and Chevrolet, have rolled out zero-down lease deals on select models.
A lease is a contract between you and the leasing company that is difficult to sever if you lose your job and can’t make your payments. Unless your job is on rock-solid footing, you should not lease a car until the economy is back on track. With a car purchase, you can sell the vehicle if you need to satisfy the loan. The same is not true of a car lease. Defaulting on a lease can destroy your credit for years, making it impossible to lease another car and more expensive to buy one.
Many automakers offered current lease extensions to many customers to get them through the worst of the pandemic. When those extensions end, automakers will likely roll out aggressive deals to retain their lease customers and attract those from other brands who have expiring leases. Those deals may be short-lived, however.
We discuss more about the coronavirus and car leasing later in this story.
Is Now a Good Time to Buy a Used Car?
Now is an okay time to buy a used car, but not as good as it was early in the pandemic crisis. Used car prices rebounded strongly from their extreme lows and are now at or above pre-virus levels, according to J.D. Power. With many households bringing in less money than before, and consumers skipping mass transit for the virus-protected safety of private automobiles, the demand for used cars is going up.
Fortunately, the flow of used cars into dealers has largely returned to normal and pent-up demand is slackening. If things continue on their current trends, prices should be near the same level as last year, according to J.D. Power’s market condition report. They do, however, expect continued volatility as outbreaks, federal stimulus payments, and other forces can quickly upend the market.
Since many lessees could not return their cars in March and early April as planned, those cars are entering the used car market later than planned. That may put additional downward pressure on used car prices.
There are many good reasons to buy a used car rather than a new car right now. Topping the list is price. Used cars are much cheaper than new cars, and their lower prices lead to smaller, more affordable loans and less chance you’ll be underwater on your financing.
Many automakers are offering attractive low-interest financing deals available on the purchase of certified pre-owned (CPO) cars. A certified used car is typically a gently used model that’s relatively young, with few miles on the odometer. There are even zero-percent financing deals available, which are very rare in the used car market.
Later in the summer, as the economy begins to pick up, greater-than-normal demand is expected for cheap used cars with prices under $10,000. Surveys are showing that many commuters will be skipping mass transit and will require cars for their daily commutes. Young consumers who may have relied on ride-hailing companies, such as Lyft and Uber, may be bypassing shared vehicles and looking for what they consider to be a safer transport option.
We’ll talk more about how to buy a used car a bit later in this story.
How the Coronavirus Is Impacting Car Deals
Auto sales in March and April fell dramatically. Though sales saw a significant recovery in each of the ensuing months, they’re still below pre-virus forecasts. Shelter-in-place and stay-at-home declarations made it more challenging to sell new cars in most areas of the country.
You can take advantage of several generous financing deals, and there will likely be many more in the coming months. Taking advantage of a car deal can save you thousands of dollars off the cost of the vehicle, or dramatically reduce the amount of interest you have to pay on your car loan.
Many carmakers offered to defer payments for as many as 180 days, and a few still are offering deferred payment programs. A loan payment deferral program allows buyers to put off making the first payments on their loans, with no late fees and no negative impact on their credit. Not all buyers will qualify for a deferral, as the lender will consider their credit score and other information in their loan applications. Unless the interest rate on the loan is zero percent, you shouldn’t take the deferral unless you really need to, as interest will accrue on the loan and you’ll pay more in the long run. Even if the interest rate is zero percent, your car will continue to depreciate during the deferral, and you could find yourself upside-down on your car loan.
If you need a first-payment deferral to afford a new car, now is probably not the right time for you to buy or lease. Unless you’re 100% sure you’ll be able to make your payments when the deferral period ends, you can set yourself up for serious financial pain and long-term damage to your credit score.
Hyundai and its luxury arm Genesis went a step further than many automakers. They brought back their job-loss protection program, which will pay for as many as six payments for buyers who lose their job due to the coronavirus pandemic. Volkswagen has announced a similar program for new car buyers. Ford has rolled out a buy-back program if you lose your job within a year of purchasing your vehicle. The Ford program is not available in all states.
With possible plant closures in the event of further spikes in coronavirus cases, deals will likely be hit-and-miss going forward. There might be excellent deals on some models and shortages of others. It won’t just depend on where the car is produced – it will also depend on the sources of all of its parts.
As the COVID-19 pandemic kept customers out of showrooms, automakers and dealers changed their showroom-based business models to entice buyers and lessees, while adhering to strict public health mandates.
The fundamentals of smart car buying remain the same. You want to cast a wide net by seeking prices from multiple dealerships, negotiate the car’s price, avoid budget-busting extras, and take advantage of purchase and lease incentives offered by automakers. You can find the best low-interest financing and cash-back deals on our new car deals page. Our lease deals page shows offers from carmakers with low monthly payments and small amounts due at signing. If you’re in the market for a certified pre-owned car, our used car deals page can show you the financing offers available.
The U.S. News Best Price Program connects buyers and lease customers with local dealers offering prenegotiated pricing and can help you find dealers that offer online buying or home delivery. Car buyers save an average of more than $3,000 when they use the program.
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The Coronavirus and Car Loan Interest Rates
The U.S. Federal Reserve made unprecedented moves in March to reduce a key benchmark interest rate to near zero and support the economy. The strategies are intended to encourage lending, boost consumer spending, and help the economy stabilize. The measures should lower the interest rate you pay on a car loan, though consumer interest rates are not tied directly to the rate the Fed reduced.
“The actions from the Fed ahead of its scheduled meeting on Wednesday reflect the view that a recession is a virtual inevitability,” says Curt Long, the chief economist at the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions. “As the Fed has stated previously, it believes it is better to meet such a scenario early and with force, rather than by gradually opening the faucets.”
Our Money team assembled a guide to what the Federal Reserve’s interest rate cut means to consumers.
The best way to get a low interest rate is by comparison shopping at several lenders, and getting preapproved for a car loan before you start talking to dealerships. With rapid changes in the lending landscape, it’s critical that you look at rates from many lenders. Different loan providers will lower their interest rates at different times, so you’ll likely see substantial variations in what lenders are offering. Some lenders, who don’t want to take on additional risk right now, will price their loans high to drive away business. Others will lower their rates to book as many loans as they can.
It’s even more important to compare offers from multiple lenders if your credit isn’t perfect. Those zero-percent deals and other low interest offers you see advertised are only available to shoppers with excellent credit. For others, the best financing deals you’ll find in the marketplace will likely be at banks and credit unions outside of dealerships, where they’re not subject to dealer markups. It's never a good idea to start shopping at dealers without a preapproved loan in hand. They won't have any incentive to give you a good deal on financing if they don't have an offer to beat.
Find the Best Rate for You
Will the Coronavirus Cause a Shortage of Cars to Buy or Lease?
Yes, supply chain disruptions and plant closures have led to shortages of some vehicles sold in America. In some cases, those shortages have been offset by reductions in demand, as consumers stay out of showrooms.
Sales of high-end full-size pickup trucks have remained strong through the pandemic, according to J.D. Power. At the same time, the factories that build them have remained idled. Popular models are in short supply – at least in some parts of the country – as factories across North America struggle to refill the supply chain. Some automakers have already started to back off earlier incentive programs, indicating that the days of getting a great deal on a truck may be behind us.
At the same time, some automakers bringing cars into the U.S. have such a glut of new models arriving that they’re storing them on ships offshore, as well as any piece of flat pavement they can find near the ports where they’re unloaded.
In the early days of the outbreak, factories and suppliers in Asia suffered disruptions. As the pandemic spread worldwide, automakers across Europe, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz were forced to close manufacturing, parts, and shipping facilities. Plants in Japan and Korea saw significant disruptions in components arriving from China, and were forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus. Most of Asia’s factories have reopened, and production in nearly all European manufacturing facilities has ramped back up.
Auto Plant Closures Across America
The U.S. auto industry was at a near standstill for close to two months. As of mid-July, production across North America is humming again, with most plants assembling and shipping new cars and SUVs. Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) restarted many of their plants on May 18, though some continue to run at reduced production levels.
“Above everything else, our top priority has always been to do what is right for our employees,” Mike Manley, CEO of FCA, said. “We have worked closely with the unions to establish protocols that will ensure our employees feel safe at work and that every step possible has been taken to protect them.”
Ford’s production restart process is based on practices that originated at their plants in China. It includes multiple layers of employee self-assessment, personal protective equipment, plus facility and workspace redesigns to ensure social distancing.
“We’ve been working intently on how to restart our operations and safely bring back our employees and we’re ready,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer. “Getting back to work isn’t just good news for Ford employees. It’s also good news for our suppliers, car dealers and the ecosystems that provide services around them, like restaurants, shops and stores. This economic multiplier effect is going to help reboot communities around the globe.”
According to Ford, the automotive industry is responsible for 6% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Facilities building the Ford F-Series trucks alone are directly responsible for 19,000 jobs and 2,000 suppliers.
Auto plants across the Southeast got a head start on the reboot, with production rolling again at many plants a week or two before factories in the Midwest restarted.
In California, electric car maker Tesla battled with county officials to restart production. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had threatened to move the car factory, future manufacturing, and the company headquarters out of the state unless it got its way. Musk stated that the automaker restarted production on May 11, in defiance of county orders. The county did not pursue enforcement action against the automaker, instead agreeing to let them move above the minimum business operations as they ramped up to full production.
Further production interruptions are not out of the question, as significant outbreaks may cause plants or suppliers to shut down. A single supplier that serves several plants could cause all of them to shut down if the components they produce are critical.
According to the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research, “Every week the industry is idle is costly. The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) estimates that just a one-week shutdown would result in an estimated annual loss of 94,400 total U.S. jobs, $7.3 billion in overall earnings and $2 billion in lower government tax receipts from personal income taxes, contributions for social insurance programs and current transfer payments.” Much of the industry was shut down for eight weeks.
In the U.S. and around the world, automakers and their suppliers are producing essential medical equipment. Ford announced a partnership with General Electric and 3M to produce ventilators, respirators, and face shields. According to the Detroit News, Ford is building respirators at its Flat Rock, Michigan facility using fans similar to those found in the 2020 Ford F-150’s ventilated seats. The facility, which is normally home to Ford Mustang production, is staffed with paid employees who volunteer to work.
In Europe, Fiat and Ferrari are working with medical equipment manufacturers to design, produce, and deliver medical equipment and supplies. General Motors is partnering with medical manufacturer Ventec to make respirators under the Defense Production Act. The first General Motor-Ventec Critical Care V+Pro ventilators were shipped in April – less than a month after their production by GM was first envisioned. A cleanroom at GM’s Warren, Michigan plant has shifted to making face masks for medical providers on the front lines of the pandemic.
Supply Chain Issues
The process of restarting was far more complex than flipping a switch and watching new pickups roll out of truck plants.
In order for the U.S. auto industry to achieve an orderly restart, they had to depend on their global supply chains to also be prepared to begin production. A car might be assembled in the U.S., but its parts are likely to come from around the world. It only takes a shortage of one critical part to prevent an auto plant from restarting. The industry’s decades-long shift to “just-in-time” manufacturing means factories no longer stockpile components. Instead, many parts head to the assembly line the moment they arrive at the factory’s door. It is possible to shift global supply chains, though it takes significant amounts of time and money to do so.
Has the Coronavirus Caused a Delay or Cancellation of New Models?
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected both production launches and debuts of many new models. The Bowling Green, Kentucky plant that builds the new mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette was sidelined soon after cars began rolling off the assembly line. Ford canceled the media debut of the new Bronco until mid-July, and dozens of media drives of new and redesigned models have been canceled.
Lincoln announced the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for the cancellation of their planned joint venture with electric truck maker Rivian. The two had planned to team up to produce an all-new electric SUV carrying the Lincoln badge. General Motors, meanwhile, has delayed the debut of the new GMC Hummer EV. Published reports state BMW has canceled the next-generation i8 electric sports car, due to budget cuts forced by the coronavirus crisis.
It’s not just production facilities that are affected by the outbreak. Design, engineering, testing, and even marketing interruptions can delay a car’s arrival in the marketplace. Vehicles such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which have debuted, still require significant work before making it to production and eventual sale. Volkswagen has indicated that the arrival of the next GTI may have to be pushed back due to coronavirus-caused delays.
Several automakers have converted facilities to produce vital medical supplies. Once the services of those plants are no longer needed, it will take time to shift the plants and people back to vehicle and vehicle component manufacturing.
With the plunge in fuel prices and thousands of Americans out of work, the idea of spending more to get an electric vehicle or hybrid won’t be compelling for most consumers. During a year where electric and electrified car sales were expected to accelerate, they will likely stumble, along with the rest of the auto market.
Auto Show Debuts
Most new car models and significant redesigns are announced at one of the major U.S. auto shows, such as Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, or Chicago. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit was canceled for 2020. The venue the show uses in downtown Detroit was converted to a temporary COVID-19 hospital. The New York Auto Show has likewise been canceled for 2020. The Javits Convention Center where it is normally held was converted to a temporary hospital, closing the facility to large events.
The cancelation of October’s Paris Auto Show and the summer’s Pebble Beach Concours mark other significant automotive events that have yielded to the pandemic.
Some automakers have converted their glitzy in-person vehicle debuts into webcasts. Hyundai recently introduced the 2021 Hyundai Elantra live on the internet. Its luxury arm, Genesis, introduced its 2021 G80 sedan via live stream. Toyota debuted the 2021 Sienna and Venza during a webcast. Both the 2021 Ford F-150 and 2021 Ford Bronco made their respective debuts online.
Should I Be Concerned About Buying Cars Made in China, Korea, or Europe?
Currently, few cars are built in China for the U.S. market. The one relatively high volume model made there is the 2020 Buick Envision. Buick dealers have a deep supply of the two-row luxury compact SUV right now. They are currently offering generous incentives to help their pace of sales.
Korean automakers Kia and Hyundai build a number of their cars in Korea. However, many of their models, including some of their most popular SUVs, are manufactured in America. Only time will tell if shortages of their Korean-built models occur. The 2020 Jeep Renegade and 2020 Fiat 500X are produced in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus. Like most European factories, the plant producing the Renegade and 500X has reopened.
Can the Coronavirus Survive the Trip From the Factory to the Dealership on a New Car?
According to the CDC, the spread of respiratory droplets from affected people to others is thought to be the primary means of COVID-19 transmission. While they believe you can also get the virus from touching a surface that has been contaminated, it is not suspected of being the virus's primary means of transmission.
“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” says the CDC. There is currently conflicting information from medical authorities about the time the virus can remain viable on different surfaces.
Weeks or months pass between the time a car leaves its factory in Asia or Europe and when it arrives in an American dealership. It is extremely unlikely the disease would survive the journey, according to experts. Even cars built in America take a considerable amount of time to make it from the factory to dealerships.
What Steps Should I Take to Protect Myself When Shopping for a Car?
There are many ways to protect yourself from the coronavirus when car shopping. Here are a few:
Do Your Research Online
With all of the resources available on the internet, there’s little that still has to be done in-person at the dealership or lender. You can comparison shop for financing and fill out loan applications online. In some cases, you can sign the loan documents electronically and have them transfer the funds directly to the dealership.
You can also do much of your car shopping online. A good place to start is with our new car rankings and reviews and used car rankings and reviews. Our rankings are based on the consensus opinion of the top automotive journalists in the U.S., blended with quantifiable information about safety, predicted reliability, and several other factors. Our reviews are designed to answer the questions shoppers tell us are critical to their leasing and buying decisions.
Once you have an idea about the car you want, you can start contacting the internet sales department of dealerships. You can see their inventory online and negotiate the price of a vehicle by email or phone. If you agree on a deal, the dealership can send you the paperwork for electronic signing or have it ready so you can minimize (or even eliminate) your time in the showroom.
In short, the more of the car-buying process that can happen outside of the dealership, the better.
Explore Home Delivery Options
One way to avoid going out into the community is to take advantage of a dealership’s home delivery option. Not all dealerships will deliver directly to your home, but it’s a good idea to ask if it’s possible. Though not all locations participate, many Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealers will deliver cars to your home or office through GM’s “Shop. Click. Drive.” program.
Ford has announced that more than 75% of their dealers are now able to deliver vehicles to your door.
TrueCar (a U.S. News partner for our Best Price Program) now shows a badge on their site identifying dealerships that offer remote paperwork processing, deliver vehicles to buyers’ homes, and have a verified vehicle sanitation program. When you use our Best Price Program, you can see those dealers who deliver.
“Starting today, consumers will be able to easily identify dealers offering these ‘Buy from Home’ features within the TrueCar experience,” said Mike Darrow, TrueCar’s president & CEO.
Used car retailers CarMax, Vroom, and Carvana offer home delivery programs for preowned vehicles. You can complete all of the purchase and financing paperwork online, and the companies will deliver the vehicle to a place of your choice. Carvana is offering “contactless delivery,” where the representative will stay in the vehicle as you sign your paperwork.
CarMax has rolled out a curbside delivery option at many of their dealerships. Customers complete most of the process online before going to the used car supercenter. They can complete any remaining paperwork without stepping foot into the showroom, and can test drive their chosen used vehicle without a dealer representative in the car.
Tesla has announced a “touchless delivery” program, where customers can access their newly delivered vehicles using the Tesla app on their smartphones. They can then sign the paperwork left in the car, and drop the documents off before they leave.
Automotive subscription startup Fair is now offering a contactless delivery option at your home. The company provides used cars for as long as you need with an upfront payment and a monthly subscription fee. Unlike a lease, you can terminate the subscription at any time. It’s a viable option for workers who still need to get to work, but don’t want to risk exposure to the virus on public transit.
Ask the Dealership What Precautions They Are Taking
It’s fair to ask dealerships what they are doing to protect their customers from the virus. If you’re not satisfied with their response or happy with what you see in the showroom, you can take your business to a dealer with more acceptable procedures and adherence to health guidelines. General Motors is enrolling dealers in their CLEAN program, to ensure customers that CDC guidelines are being followed.
“With all of the uncertainty in today’s world, we know that our customers’ expectations have changed and that more will need to be done to meet those expectations,” said Barry Engle, executive vice president and president, GM North America.
Many dealers are reaching out directly to customers by email, describing the steps they are taking to clean their facilities and protect both customers and employees.
“The safety and security of our customers, team members and dealers is a top priority,” according to a Toyota spokesperson. “Our 1,500 Toyota and Lexus dealerships across the U.S. are taking extra steps to ensure the safety and security of our customers and their employees.”
Disinfect the Touch Points of Any Car You Test Drive
A thorough test drive of the car you’re considering is a critical part of any purchase. However, you don’t know how many people have had their hands on that door handle or steering wheel before you. It’s critical you treat it like any other public space and insist that it is disinfected before you drive.
It’s important to wipe the car down yourself, or watch a dealership representative do it, as you don’t know how thorough dealership personnel may have been when preparing the vehicle. Be especially careful with keys and key fobs, ensuring they, too, have been disinfected. Before wiping any fabrics or other soft-touch surfaces, test the disinfectant in an inconspicuous place to make sure you won’t damage the material.
Different sellers may have different standards when it comes to the cleaning of used cars. While some dealers may disinfect the interior of a used car as part of their refurbishment process, many just clean the interior and shampoo the carpets. If you’re looking at a private-party used car, you should assume that nothing has been done to disinfect the interior.
Some retailers, including used car seller CarMax, are offering test drives with no salesperson in the car. If that’s not an option, consider putting off your purchase, insisting everyone in the car wears a mask, or driving with all of the windows down to get a constant flow of fresh air.
Wash Your Hands and Don’t Touch Your Face
Just as with any other public location, you should follow the CDC's COVID-19 prevention guidelines when visiting the dealer and following your test drive. That means washing or disinfecting your hands, avoiding touching your face, staying far away from people who are ill, employing social distancing, and covering your sneezes and coughs. In many places, wearing a mask is now mandatory. In areas where they are not required, avoiding areas where people aren’t wearing masks is a good idea.
Don’t Shake on the Deal
It’s a normal part of a price negotiation to shake hands when you’ve reached a deal. Right now, you should avoid that tradition, and wash your hands immediately afterward if you instinctively do it anyway. In fact, it’s also a good idea to take your own pen to sign the sales documents and insist the desk you use to sign has been disinfected.
The Coronavirus and Used Cars
Many of the same car-buying tips you should follow when buying a new car also apply to used cars. Our guide to buying a used car covers the basics, but we’ll discuss other things you should do below.
What Should I Know About Coronavirus Transmission Before Climbing Into a Used Car?
According to the CDC, the virus is spread via respiratory droplets formed when an infected person sneezes or coughs. They can be directly transferred between people standing less than about 6 feet apart or from touching surfaces covered by the droplets.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the virus can survive on surfaces for longer than originally thought. The updated thinking is the virus can last for hours or days, depending on the surface. The materials used on the interior of cars – including plastics – are thought to support the virus for longer than on some other materials.
That’s why it is critical to ensure everything you touch in a used or new car has been disinfected.
Should You Insist That Used Car Cabin Filters Be Changed Because of the Coronavirus?
While a vehicle’s cabin air filter should be inspected as part of a used car purchase and replaced occasionally, it’s unknown how much replacing it will do to protect you from the coronavirus. Viruses are much smaller than the particles vehicle cabin air filters are designed to capture, though they may capture some respiratory droplets that can be recirculated through the HVAC system. Even if some cells are trapped, they’re not killed by the filter.
While replacing the cabin air filter may have some benefit, wearing a face mask and wiping down the places in car interiors that are frequently touched, such as steering wheels, door handles, turn signal stalks, and radio controls is critical.
How to Shop Safely for Used Cars From Dealers
Like with new cars, much of your used car shopping can be done from home. Once you’ve decided what you want and have found one at a local dealership, ask for the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). With the VIN, you can get a vehicle history report from a company such as Carfax or Autocheck. The information in the report will tell you if you should pursue the car or keep looking. Many dealers will provide vehicle history reports to potential buyers, so you don’t have to purchase one yourself.
In theory, a car dealer should disinfect their used cars just as well as they do their new inventory. However, you shouldn’t take any chances, and insist on seeing them wipe down the car or doing it yourself. If you’re not satisfied with the way they’re prepping the car for your inspection and test drive, it’s not worth risking your health by getting in the car. Simply find another dealer.
Many dealers are now offering to let buyers test drive vehicles without a salesperson in the car. If that’s an option, you should do so. If it’s not, reconsider your purchase or look for ways to create maximum social distancing, wear face masks, and drive with the windows open.
A crucial part of any used car purchase is an inspection by an independent mechanic. If your city has mobile inspection services, now is a great time to use them. If not, see if the dealer will take the car to your mechanic or if your mechanic will visit the dealer. If either is hungry enough for business, they may help you out.
Get as much of the transaction paperwork done online as possible, or have the dealer email the documents to you, so you can print them out and sign them at home. If you’re in the dealership, use your own pen to sign, and insist that the desk you’re using is wiped down before you start signing papers. Even though you want to minimize your time at the dealership, you should not rush your visit by failing to read each and every paper you sign. You want to make sure the papers you sign reflect the deal you agreed to, are complete, are accurate, and don’t include any costly extras.
How to Shop Safely for Used Cars From Private Sellers
When you buy from a private seller, you have no way of knowing how well the car has been cleaned before you arrive, or how many other potential buyers have been in it. You should be prepared to wipe down the touch points of the car yourself. If the seller resists, move along to another used car.
Issues you may currently have if you opt to buy a car from a private-party seller include completing the sales and registration paperwork or making payment. In some states, the departments of motor vehicles are either closed or operating with reduced staff. In general, you want to make payment at your bank, but some bank branches are currently closed, operating at reduced hours, or conducting business by appointment only.
The Coronavirus and Car Leases
Leasing a car can be complicated in the best of times. It’s even more complex right now, as reduced dealership staffing or hours of operation can limit your ability to return a car at lease-end and lease or purchase a new vehicle.
What to Do if Your Car Lease Is Expiring During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
If your lease is nearing its end, you want to contact your leasing company to discuss your options. In some areas, dealers may be closed by stay-at-home orders, making it difficult, if not impossible, to return your car when the lease ends. Those same directives can make it difficult to comparison shop among local dealers for a new car to replace your current lease.
Different automakers have offered various strategies to deal with lease returns during the pandemic. Some are accepting returns through their service departments, which are considered essential and are remaining open in most areas. Others will come to your house to pick up the car. Most have offered lease extensions.
If you’re stuck at home during the pandemic, you can use the time to research your next car, look for lease deals, and start contacting dealers to find the best offer. A growing number of dealerships can deliver cars right to your home.
Can You Extend Your Car Lease as a Result of the Coronavirus?
Many automakers have offered lease extensions to get customers through the worst of the pandemic. Jaguar and Land Rover, for example, will extend leases for as long as six months. If you opt for an extension, it’s critical you discuss whether your mileage cap will be increased or whether you’ll be subject to the original limit. Through this due diligence, you can manage your driving and avoid excess mileage fees.
Many Leasing Companies Are Deferring Payments
If you’re one of the millions of employees who’ve suddenly found themselves with no job or drastically cut hours, the thought of making a lease payment is probably stressing you out. Fortunately, the majority of automakers, and their leasing arms, have deferred payments on current leases.
It’s essential you reach out to your leasing company before you miss a payment. Doing so will help protect your credit score, save you from a late fee, and give your leasing company an opportunity to help. It’s more difficult for them to help you when you’re already behind on your payments.
Different carmakers and leasing companies are offering varying amounts of payment relief. Don’t assume any offers you see advertised from one brand will be mirrored by your leasing company.
Is a Lease-to-Buy Option a Good Idea During the Coronavirus Crisis?
Most car leases allow you to purchase the car at the end of the contract for a specific price that’s stated in the paperwork. Depending on market conditions, the stated price in the lease can be more or less than the car’s actual value at the end of the lease. If the price stated in your contract is much lower than the market price, buying your leased car is a good deal. If it’s higher, purchasing the car is more expensive than buying a similar car on the used car market.
With changing market conditions, rental car fleet liquidations, and lease return delays, used car prices have fluctuated greatly. Before you consider buying your leased car, you’ll want to look at what similar used cars are selling for in the marketplace to see if you can buy one for less.
Is it Safe to Take My Car to a Dealer or Independent Shop for Service?
As long as you follow some precautions, it is generally safer to take your car to an auto shop for service than it is to delay important maintenance or repairs. Of course, treat the facility as you would any other public space and follow the CDC's guidelines to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Auto shops and dealer service facilities were allowed to stay open under many jurisdiction’s stay-at-home rules. Officials consider them an essential service. Before you go to the shop, be sure to call ahead. Many are still operating with limited hours, have reduced staff, are only performing certain repairs, and have stringent drop-off and pick-up procedures you’ll need to follow.
Before you leave the facility, wipe down the door handles, steering wheel, and other touch points with a sanitizing wipe.
Some consumers may be tempted to skip the repair shop altogether and do their own auto repairs. While most consumers can do basic maintenance, new cars are far more complicated than vehicles of the past. Any repairs that involve safety systems are best left to trained professionals.
How Large of an Impact Will the Coronavirus Have on the Car Industry?
Automotive research firm ALG (a division of U.S. News partner TrueCar) initially forecast 16.9 million vehicles would be sold in the U.S. this year. They’ve revised their new car sales estimate to reflect market disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Their “optimistic” forecast now pegs the market at 13.1 million units, and the “ALG Baseline” forecast predicts 12.6 million vehicles will be sold. Their most pessimistic “cautious” forecast shows only 11.3 million new vehicles sold.
“Online shopping and digital retailing will play a critical role in mitigating the drop in vehicle sales,” says Eric Lyman, senior vice president at ALG. “Automakers are already rolling out innovative incentive products to stimulate consumer demand but the industry must iterate on existing sales practices and become more accommodating to shoppers in a ‘stay at home’ environment.”
The analysts at ALG believe the industry will bounce back over time, with many of the sales lost this year occuring at a later time, as vehicle owners need to replace aging cars.
According to multinational accounting and consulting firm Deloitte, 42% of Americans said in July that they are delaying large purchases, while 26% said they’re concerned about making upcoming payments. Their data also shows that more than half of Americans plan to limit their use of ride sharing and public transit, while 52% say they’ll delay the purchase of their next car.
The Coronavirus and Gas Prices
Gas prices plummeted across the country as the pandemic took hold. The drop came from both a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the fact that Americans were driving less. With many working from home and reducing travel, the demand for automotive fuel has greatly decreased. The average price dropped below $2.00 per gallon for several weeks, but has since climbed above that mark. It remains well below the price a gallon of gas was selling for last year.
“The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) data shows gasoline demand and supply continue on a roller coaster ride,” said Jeanette Casselano, an AAA spokesperson. “As motorists react to unfolding COVID-19 information, we are seeing driving behaviors related to filling-up ebb and flow.”
Do low gas prices mean you should go out and buy a gas guzzler? Probably not. Fuel prices are already bouncing up as closures stemming from the coronavirus crisis begin to taper off, and drivers return to the roads.
More Coronavirus Resources From U.S. News & World Report
- Coronavirus and Car Insurance: Should You Make Changes to Your Auto Insurance Policy?
- What if I Can’t Make My Car Payment?: Resources for Borrowers Struggling Financially.
- Relief Programs for Borrowers and Lessees: What Are Automakers Doing to Assist Customers?
- Coronavirus and Car Deals: Can You Get a Good Deal on a Purchase or Lease?
It is the mission of U.S. News & World Report to help you through life’s major decisions and events. We’ve created this hub of coronavirus information to help you and your loved ones weather this storm. We have resources ranging from how to avoid being infected to understanding your rights as a traveler with canceled vacation plans. Our education team has resources to guide you through changing financial aid policies and how to move your education online.
The U.S. News Money team offers a wealth of information about navigating today's turbulent financial environment while helping you protect your savings and retirement.