Buy a Car at a Safe Distance With a ‘No-Touch’ Deal

The online route to car buying is being ramped up to keep the metal moving during the pandemic.
Philip Reed
By Philip Reed 
Edited by Des Toups
GettyImages-1128322137.jpg-Buy a Car Without Touching Anything

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“No-touch test-drives” and home delivery of vehicles may mean you can still buy a car during the coronavirus outbreak in many parts of the country.

But to get new wheels, you’ll have to learn to navigate a new and rapidly evolving sales pathway.

Here’s a quick guide to the new world of car buying.

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What’s even open?

There’s a lot of confusion around how shelter-in-place orders affect car sales. In California, for example, dealership sales departments have been deemed non-essential, but their service departments have been allowed to remain open.

However, some dealerships are either defying the ruling or finding ways around it.

“Things are moving so fast,” says Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at car-buying site Edmunds. He says even the information on a dealership’s website might not be current, so be sure to call or text to find out about closures before you begin to shop.

Internet department gets its day

With the current fear of virus transmission, dealers are turning to their “internet departments,” created years ago for tech-savvy shoppers, to remotely provide pricing details, arrange financing and schedule home deliveries. Until recently, this was a little-publicized car buying workaround. Now, it’s a lifeline for dealerships to safely arrange sales without physical contact.

Michael Bradley, internet sales manager at Selman Chevrolet in Orange, California, said his dealership has temporarily stopped selling cars. But he still works from home, fielding questions from his customers, helping them with financing and setting cars aside for them to buy as soon as business opens again.

Search a dealership’s website, or call and request the contact information for the internet manager.

Test-drives that start at home

Online used-car sales companies, such as Shift and Carvana, are still delivering cars and test-drives — and even accepting trade-ins — while adhering to social distancing rules.

Toby Russell, co-CEO of Shift, which operates in California and Oregon, has rapidly adapted to the new challenges by providing a no-touch test-drive. His company has a concierge bring a car to a shopper’s home, wipe it down with disinfectant, and wait while the customer test-drives it alone.

If the person wants to buy it, the deal is concluded on an electronic tablet.

Cars delivered to your door

Having a car delivered to your home, along with the sales contracts, “used to be an insider’s secret,” says Montoya. But dealerships will now be more open to making home deliveries to provide a touch-free sale.

Tesla offers a “touchless” delivery at one of its stores or “Direct Drop” home delivery in some states. The car is parked at an agreed-upon location after the paperwork is done electronically. The buyer then opens the door using the Tesla app.

Many dealership websites are beginning to offer home delivery of vehicles. Check their websites to see what’s offered and then call or live-chat to confirm the details.

Car with shield on road

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Remote negotiation

Dealers are eager to sell cars and are now more willing to negotiate remotely, says Bradley. He says that haggling via email with customers has been part of the internet sales experience for years, which is good news for negotiation-challenged customers.

The information in pricing guides could be outdated with current situations changing so quickly. Montoya recommends shopping around by getting internet quotes to find the best price. Deals on new cars will certainly be appearing soon, but with carmakers’ factories closed, little has been announced yet.

Before agreeing to a deal, ask for a breakdown of all taxes and fees. You can also ask to have a copy of the sales contract emailed to you to review before the car is delivered.

Before you sign the contract

Just because you have the car delivered to you doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Here are a few tips from experts about the final inspection:

  • Have the car delivered during the day so you can see any scratches or dents. Also, the true color of a car is best viewed in sunlight.

  • Clean the car before entering it by wiping down touch surfaces with isopropyl alcohol.

  • Test-drive the car. Most dealers and online used car salespeople will let you test-drive the car alone.

  • Review the contract to make sure the numbers match what you agreed on.

  • If you’re buying from a dealer, all the registration should be done for you. Install the temporary registration in your windshield.

  • If you buy from a private party, be aware that some registry offices won’t be open. Check the website for your state's department of motor vehicles for details on how to get a temporary registration.

The new rules are being written daily, in real time. Keep your guard up: No deal is worth risking your health.

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