Coronavirus and Car Buying: What You Should Know | News

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While there remains a lot that we don’t know about how the COVID-19 coronavirus will play out, U.S. health officials still say there will be many more cases here and elsewhere in the world before the situation gets better. As a result, U.S. auto production is essentially shut down into mid-April, though car repair facilities generally remain open, as do sales operations in most states.

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The virus pandemic is global, and few industries are as interconnected around the globe as the auto industry. While China was the first country affected and South Korea followed, the situation has improved in those countries. Europe now is the world epicenter of new cases.

Buying a car might not be your major concern right now. However, we will eventually get back to normal life and work, so you might have questions if you need a vehicle now — or at any point in 2020, including replacing a vehicle coming off of a lease. We are continually surveying the available information to answer some of these questions, and we’re updating these answers on Cars.com as new or more complete information becomes available.

Are car dealers still open?

The situation is changing daily, but car dealers are not closing, or being ordered to close, even in most states and localities with the strictest rules. The federal Department of Homeland Security this week included vehicle service and parts businesses on its list of essential infrastructure exempt from closure orders, but it did not address sales. A handful of states have ordered sales stopped, while others have specifically said they can be open. Some jurisdictions have set specific rules for conducting sales to limit contact. And in a lot of places, the status is confusing — you need to contact the individual dealer to check on its status. National trade groups have been pressing for federal clarification and a national policy.

What if I have a vehicle coming off a lease soon?

Most makers’ finance units are creating coronavirus plans to offer flexibility on leases — typically up to a six-month extension on lease expirations — until the auto business is back to normal. You can read more about leasing plans and assistance in our coverage here.

Electron microscopic image of sample from first U.S.case of coronavirus COVID-19. Viral particles are colorized blue.

Centers for Disease Control image

Will there be shortages of vehicles from domestic and foreign automakers that are built in North America?

Not so far, but there could be later in 2020, particularly for popular vehicles. Cars.com listings show substantial inventory on dealer lots, but production in the U.S. is mostly shut down, with prospects for a restart date uncertain. Honda was the first to announce a company-wide shutdown of all North American plants and that’s now been extended through at least April 6, which alone will cut output by by about 60,000 vehicles across much of its Honda and Acura lineups — if it lasts just that long. GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles initially shut down production through at least March 30, but Michigan’s overall business-shutdown order now runs at least through April 13. Ford and FCA have said they want to restart some plants on April 14, and GM has not announced a date. 

For others, the situation also is fluid. Toyota, Tesla, Nissan, Volvo, Subaru, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have shut down in North America with varying hoped-for April dates to restart. BMW and Kia have been running, but now will close until at least mid-April; Kia’s shutdown, meanwhile, affects the popular Telluride that already is in short supply. Volkswagen has shut down its U.S. plant and tried to keep open its Mexican VW and Audi production, but it, too, is now down for lack of parts.

Will there be shortages of imported vehicles?

So far, no — but it’s likely down the road, at least for European vehicles. Listings on Cars.com also show plenty of imported vehicles for sale. Production problems vary by country, and it also remains to be seen how much the pandemic will affect the shipping and delivery to dealers. 

The only China-built vehicle currently sold in significant volume is the Buick Envision compact SUV, and there are thousands listed now on Cars.com. We get many more vehicles from South Korea and Japan, but automakers in those countries have mostly only had brief disruptions. However, Mazda — which has no U.S. plant — is shutting down operations in Mexico until at least April 5 and is shutting down its main plants in Japan until April 30, citing parts problems and uncertainty about future demand. The coronavirus situation still is expanding in Europe, where the entire auto industry has ground to a halt with all major automakers shut down. The effects of Europe’s situation on U.S.-sold models vary from every Porsche or Land Rover to just the Arteon for Volkswagen.

Will there be shortages of cars sold in the U.S. due to disruption of parts supply chains?

Lingering parts chain disruption could hamper production even when assembly plants reopen. It’s too early to know which vehicles might be in short supply. China, a major parts supplier to automakers worldwide, is beginning to reopen factories. But the disruptions in Europe and now in the U.S. could lead to ongoing supply problems for vehicles built in North America and elsewhere.

Will there be delays of new models for the 2021 model year?

Delays in 2021 launch schedules are likely, and factory disruptions also could slow retooling and arrival of new models — it could be a while if you’re waiting for that new mid-engine Corvette, for example. Several unveilings of new models have already been postponed — such as an event for the all-new Ford Bronco — or are being streamed online. And look for some delays in all-new vehicles due to dealers this year and beyond, such as Ford’s Mustang Mach-E electric SUV and Jeep’s coming Wagoneer. Michigan’s shelter rules have shut down construction at a plant for that Jeep as well as one that would build a redesigned Grand Cherokee. Automaker financial stress also could result in delay or cancellation of development projects: FCA let go 2,000 contract workers supporting projects that are now on hold.

Illustration of a coronavirus showing the spikes on the surface that give the look of a corona around the virus.

Center for Disease Control illustration

Should I avoid cars built elsewhere with major parts from outside the U.S.?

That wouldn’t be easy because of global supply chains. Then again, none poses a significant risk: An official of the Centers for Disease Control reports that the life of the virus on various materials can range from hours to days, but not as long as it would take even most U.S.-built cars to show up at dealers.

Can I take precautions with a new car — or any car — if I am worried about exposure?

Coronaviruses are relatively easy to render harmless with common household disinfectants, such as Lysol, that also would be easy on your car. You can find a list of COVID-19-fighting products here.

Do I risk coronavirus exposure from shopping for a car?

There is a risk from any encounter with other people, and going to stores for nonessentials is being discouraged. However, as people avoid ride sharing and public transit is being limited, getting a car might even be a priority just to keep an essential job

You can limit time with other people in a dealership by doing your research online (Cars.com would be a good place to start, just saying) and handling the buying process and financing online or via email. Several luxury brands have concierge service that will just bring the car to you, as do some used-car services. And GM’s existing Shop Click Drive program allows the buying process, including financing, to be done online through participating dealers; this includes about half of GM dealers. 

More dealers for all brands are ramping up online sales operations and doing home delivery or no-contact pickup. While many dealers were slow to embrace online selling before the pandemic, many now are more open to it, and this could be a lasting effect of the crisis. Cars.com is trying to help dealers with this effort.

If you do go to a dealership to pick up the car, ask in advance about precautions the dealer is taking. The National Automobile Dealers Association, the car dealers’ trade group, has posted information on preparedness based on CDC recommendations for dealers to protect shoppers. Automakers also are advising dealers on best practices for sales and service departments, including stepped-up cleaning of the vehicles and limiting personal contact, and even closing the physical showroom. When you arrive, avoid a handshake, maintain a 6-foot space, avoid any obviously ill person and follow the CDC’s recommendations for preventive actions, including hand washing and hand sanitizers before and after contact with others.

Does the virus mean there will be deals?

Very likely later, but not yet. Lower interest rates, however, have brought down costs for payment buyers. And several makers have announced plans for initial payment flexibility for buying new cars. Hyundai and Genesis also have plans to help existing owners with payments should their jobs be affected. While production cuts may limit supply in the short term, automakers and dealers are likely to increase incentives down the road to clear the lots and to support ramping factories back up.

Will there still be auto shows this year? 

Not this spring. Among major shows, the Geneva International Motor Show was canceled and the New York International Auto Show has been postponed from April until late August. The next big show in doubt is the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which is due to open in June.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.


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