Car Shopping During COVID-19

The absolute COOLEST development in car shopping in our strange new COVID-19 world is that so many dealerships are offering services that genuinely serve the buyer’s best interest rather than their own. Here are just a few examples:

  1. For efficiency, when they set appointments, many dealerships now take time by phone to figure out how best to serve you when you are there because they are “appointment only.” Why is this good? Less time in the dealership means more time focused on precisely what you want to do while you’re there and then getting out to ponder the next steps in your overall purchase strategy.
  2. Because they now want to accommodate customers who don’t feel comfortable visiting the showroom, many dealerships now also offer at-home test drives and, in many cases, at-home signing of the purchase or lease documents. Why is this good? These new systems allow you to be more thoughtful in your own space, where most people feel more empowered. You know how the home team has better odds of winning when and because they’re on their own turf? It’s the same phenomenon when buying an automobile from home. You’re on your own turf, you’re more empowered, and you have more opportunity to be circumspect. These are all great qualities to nurture when you’re deciding about a large purchase.
  3. Some dealerships are using Zoom meetings to discuss financing options and/or warranties! They set up Zoom meetings at your convenience, and you can preview the paperwork (and financing terms and payments if applicable) with a finance professional in advance of purchase. Why is this good? Again, more power if you’re in your own space and not exhausted in a dealer’s finance office. It’s easier to make sound financial decisions when you aren’t forced to decide on the spot. Zoom makes it very hard for a dealer representative to get you to “decide now” or “sign now” because it’s not physically possible.

There is a strong possibility that these measures won’t last. Ultimately car dealerships will want to go back to meeting you in the showroom, keeping you there as long as possible. This way, they become your friend, and you become more invested in purchasing from them. This means they’re more likely to close the sale on the spot before you have the chance to change your mind or do the research and get a better deal.

But the good news is that they are now practicing and perfecting the skills required for you to “have it your way” as you shop for (and ultimately purchase) a new or used car (truck/SUV). Now, you can insist on the COVID ways of doing business. Why is this good? Practice makes perfect. COVID restrictions have compelled dealerships to practice truly customer-centric service models. If a buyer insists on the “COVID way” of buying a car, it is far more likely that dealerships will be accommodating, because they now have the tools and experience to do so, even if it’s not their preferred way of traveling the “road to the sale.” Car Pal can hop on the call with you, and the balance of power is firmly on your side. You are meeting on your terms and with an ally at your side.

Recently a client of ours did just that. She had selected a vehicle and met via Zoom with the finance manager at her convenience to discuss the rate, payments, and additional products they sell, such as extended warranty. She took the Zoom meeting on her own best schedule without waiting for hours in the dealership, becoming stressed and fatigued. She was able to make good decisions for herself. The CEO of Car Pal hopped on the call to make sure the rates and terms were aggressive while the client felt zero pressure. You know, kind of the way all purchases should roll!


By stark contrast, on the very same day, another client went in to check out the Honda Ridgeline pictured below. Car Pal asked that the vehicle be cleaned in advance since it was listed as “There is not a cleaner one available!” and as you see from the screenshot, it’s rather filthy. Yet we were told that they wouldn’t clean it until someone purchased it because the costs to get it cleaned are high (things that make you go hmmmm). Once the client got home from the test drive and decided to purchase the Ridgeline, the client called Car Pal to discuss the next steps. This is when we would arrange for a third-party mechanical inspection and go over logistics of purchase with the dealership.

Car Shopping During COVID 19

Car Pal called over to the sales consultant to let him know that the client would be closing on the car in an hour, and he replied, “We have another appointment on this vehicle coming tonight, so if you want it, you’ll have to come back right now!” Car Pal discussed with the client the pros and cons of rushing back, or calling their bluff. Because so few Ridgelines meet our client’s criteria and requirements, we decided to go right back. A nightmare ensued once when the finance office representative refused to take a debit card, even though the salesperson had told us it would be fine. A round-trip drive of over an hour to get a checkbook meant that we made the only rational decision and moved on in the end. But this unfortunate event is a perfect example of an attractive “We Deliver” (COVID lure) that was nothing more than hot air on a red-hot webpage.

Every state has different rules regarding car sales, but many dealerships only have skeleton staffing. When you add the current social-distancing requirements, it can mean that potential buyers are lined up outside, waiting for their turn. These conditions are far from ideal, and the wait times for paperwork are longer than ever. And of course, once you have the final paperwork, the finance manager will pressure you to buy “vital” protection plans, service plans, and warranties. These are often sold at 500% markups and more. Now exhausted from the long waits, buyers are even more likely to purchase what they don’t need just to get out of there!

A Honda dealership in Texas promises “Free Delivery” on their website. Car Pal called in for the pricing, which jumped from the Internet price of $23,500 to $24,500. I ask the manager why the price has increased by $1,000. Guess why? For the delivery fee. The message is abundantly clear to us. Even with special offers, car dealerships are there to make a profit. They might make an offer online, on TV, or on a third-party site like Car Gurus to lure you in, but then it may be offset by some bundle of charges that will more than make up for their “discount.”

Keep in mind:

With few exceptions, “the house always wins!”

Alas, everyday buyers are lured in by dealer incentives and a false send of customer-centric service. Remember, “no interest for 84 months” offers and other manufacturer incentives are NOT a discount. Once you overpay for the vehicle, the 0% is offset tenfold. Reference that goes into more detail. In short, there can be a significant cost associated with COVID-19 offers of “free” and extra “conveniences.” The benefits might be “perceived” but in point of fact, also “imaginary”.

If you’re in the market to buy or lease a new or used car, contact us. We promise to get you the best deal with the least hassle.

Avoid Dealership Negotiations

We'll Do The Hard Work For You