COVID-19 Changing How Car Buyers Shop

Some consumers looking to purchase vehicles to avoid public transportation, rideshare services
A car key in the ignition

The coronavirus outbreak isn’t stopping some consumers from thinking about their next car purchase, but it may be changing the way they plan to go about it, new data suggests.

Online car-buying platform Cars.com surveyed 3,021 adults ages 23 to 73 to see whether the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their plans to buy a vehicle. The survey was conducted from March 16 to 25. Additionally, Cars.com surveyed 238 car dealers from March 16 to 27 to see what impact the pandemic is having on car sales.

While COVID-19 is prompting many shoppers to focus on buying essentials like groceries and cleaning supplies, the Cars.com survey found that some consumers may be finding a car more necessary than ever because of the outbreak.

COVID-19 creating new audience of car shoppers

Consumers who do not currently own a car may be finding new incentives to buy one because of COVID-19. The survey found that 17% of respondents who don’t own cars said the pandemic has led them to consider a car purchase. Of those now thinking about buying a car:

  • 43% said they want a car so they can stop riding public transportation
  • 28% said they want a car because they no longer trust the cleanliness of others’ vehicles

On top of that, approximately one-third of consumers who were already planning to buy a car have decided to do so sooner because of the outbreak. The survey also found that 42% of respondents said they have used rideshare services less frequently since the pandemic began.

Dealers expand digital options

Stay-at-home orders from states across the country intended to combat the spread of COVID-19 are keeping consumers from visiting their local car dealerships. However, many car buyers are moving forward with their shopping plans online.

According to Cars.com data, nearly 80% of the platform’s online visitors have a high intention of making a purchase. Company data also found that 48% of online visitors were interested in handling price negotiations online and 42% were interested in taking care of their financing online. In fact, a Cars.com company, Dealer Inspire, saw a nearly 250% increase in usage of its online retailing tool in March compared to February.

Auto dealers are also exploring ways to cut down on the need for in-person contact during a car sale. Among dealers who were surveyed:

  • 57% said they are ramping up online financing options
  • 49% are offering local home delivery of purchased vehicles
  • 40% said they are offering online estimates for trade-ins
  • 36% are expanding online chat options

For those in the market to buy a car, an increase in digital options may actually make the experience easier. Some may even find they feel more comfortable shopping for a car online since they won’t have to deal with the stress of haggling over prices face-to-face. Whether you buy a car in person or online, make sure you do your research to ensure that you’re getting the best price and the best financing on your auto loan.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.