COVID-19 stay-at-home orders don't have to impact the timing of your next car purchase. Auto dealers have been deemed an essential business and most are offering a host of special incentives to keep car buyers coming through their doors (six feet apart, of course). While there are new precautions to take when you visit the dealer, smart car shopping is the same no matter what the world is experiencing. These tips should help you make a sound choice while limiting your exposure to others during the process.
Determine Your Budget and Start Researching
Whether you want to purchase a new or used car, determining your budget should be the first step. Use an online calculator to help you nail down a purchase price based on your down payment or trade-in value, your assumed interest rate, the monthly payment you can comfortably afford, and how long you want to pay off the loan for. Once you've got your price range figured out, you can start researching. Check out websites like KBB.com and Edmunds.com for unbiased reviews and typical sale prices of models you're considering.
Shop Around for Special Offers
Once you've narrowed down your selection, it's time to visit auto dealers' websites to see what current promotions or incentives are being offered. This pandemic has led to historically low interest rates and a significantly down economy (which means consumers are spending less nationwide), so nearly every dealer is offering some type of discount on late model cars, or a payment incentive through their financing arms.
In short, dealers are doing whatever they can to help people afford cars, and that means you could enjoy serious savings. Examples of offers include:
- Deferred payments for up to six months
- Special cash rebates and discounted pricing
- As low as 0% APR¹ for up to 84 months
- First responder discounts
Also worth researching: if you're shopping for a new car because your current lease is up, see if you can hold onto your car for a few more months until things get back to a new normal. Many dealers are offering lease term extensions up to six months.
Even if you plan to take advantage of special COVID-19 dealer financing, it doesn't hurt to have a pre-approval in hand for price negotiations. Quite often, the dealer's offer comes with strings attached in the form of exclusions on certain models and limits on the loan term or credit profile. If your credit is anything less than excellent, don't expect to get the “as low as” rate discount being advertised. That's why it's always best to work out the numbers ahead of time and come with your own financing. This way, once you've negotiated on the price of the vehicle, you can choose the financing that works in your favor.
Contact Dealers to Start Negotiating
Once you've decided on the make and model that will work best for you, and perhaps found a few dealers that are sweetening the pot with extra incentives, it's time to start reaching out to them. You'll be able to do most of the negotiating via email or phone with an online salesperson. Don't be shy about price shopping if you've got a few local dealers that sell the car you've got your eye on. Let them know you're shopping around and get as much in writing as you can. This is an excellent way to get the price you want.
And if the negotiation part is overwhelming, consider taking advantage of your Credit Union's partnership with Autoland. Through this car buying service, you'll work with a personal concierge who can shop and negotiate prices for the vehicle you're looking for on your behalf – and even deliver it straight to your door. Plus, you could still benefit from those automaker incentives. It's a haggle-free way to buy a car that allows you to stay safely at home.
Plan Your Visit
Once you've identified a specific car on the lot you intend to buy, it's time to prep for your dealer visit. Communicate with them to understand how hours are affected, what precautions they're taking, and whether an appointment is necessary to pay a visit. Bring masks and hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing. This may impact your ability to test drive, so ask about what's allowed. With all hope, the dealer will have stringent measures in place to keep the in-person interactions as safe and quick as possible.
Stick to The Plan
If you've communicated effectively in advance, much of the negotiation should already be done. But don't expect to entirely get away from the typical dealership sales process. The dealer will still likely try to talk you into extras like extended warranties and service plans when you're nearing the finish line. This could impact your monthly payment and put you over your budget. So again, if you think you need those things, research them in advance to make sure you aren't getting hit with unnecessary charges.
Buying a car is never easy. But being stuck at home could give you extra time to research thoroughly and patiently negotiate to get what you want. If you make a plan and stick to it, you'll be driving away happy in your new car.
¹APR = Annual Percentage Rate