If you need to replace your vehicle, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how you do that. The traditional method of shopping for a car is anything but physical-distancing-friendly.
"Unprecedented times." "The new normal." "Physical distancing." Everyone is tired of talking about how COVID-19 has changed the way the world works. It’s true though—everything has changed, from buying toothpaste to dropping kids off at daycare to buying a car.
Ah, yes. The car dealership. If you need to replace your vehicle, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how you do that, too. The traditional method of shopping for a car is anything but physical-distancing-friendly.
You won't be walking around cars, and touching buttons is nearly taboo.
Today, there are no handshakes in the showroom. You won't be walking around cars, and touching buttons is nearly taboo. And forget about taking a test drive without all the touchpoints being wiped down before and after. The way Americans are used to buying cars does not translate well to our new normal during the pandemic.
However, both manufacturers and car dealers have implemented contactless methods to safely shop for cars. Volvo has always been a safety-centric carmaker, and their contactless car-buying methods are among the best in the business. Now, more than four months after the pandemic shut down the United States, almost all dealerships have followed suit and developed plans for digital retailing and contactless sales.
Wondering how it works? Here’s a walkthrough of what contactless car purchasing looks like.
The Product Demo
If you're buying a new car while the coronavirus is still going strong, it's probably because you need one, not because you just want a change. Nevertheless, your new car has to be equipped with the features you need, and it certainly doesn’t hurt if you love the way it looks. How do you do that without climbing into the car and pawing at all the handles, buttons, and switches?
If you’re comfortable with a computer or phone screen, you can virtually explore the car. A few carmakers have walkarounds available on their website to demonstrate the vehicle, zoom in and out on features, and see what your new car could look like.
Dealers have even more tools at their disposal. Salespeople can walk you through a car’s options using FaceTime or video chat while you’re in the comfort of your home. And where carmakers can only do product demos for new cars, a salesperson can show you around and through a used car too.
With contactless car sales, in-person product demos are still possible. You’re trying to avoid cross-contact with someone who could be sick, not prevent contact with the car completely. Once you’ve chosen a potential vehicle to buy, dealership staff at most stores will bring it to you for a private vehicle showing, sanitize it, and let you check it out at your convenience. It insulates you from being infected.
In-person demos aren’t ideal because cleaning isn’t always as stringent as you may want. But it’s possible.
Can you test drive in contactless sales?
An important part of a vehicle purchase is the test drive. COVID throws a wrench into things, no doubt. If you’re being cautious, test driving a car during an in-person contactless showing doesn’t add any risk. But a test drive might not be something you’re comfortable with if you’re trying to avoid any exposure whatsoever.
A test drive might not be something you’re comfortable with if you’re trying to avoid any exposure whatsoever.
If you’re limiting your contact completely, take note that most dealers offer a hassle-free exchange policy on purchases within a set time and mileage from delivery. Make yourself aware of what those terms are before buying.
How does a contactless car trade-in work?
Trading in a car is an uncomplicated way to get rid of your old car, but what if you don’t want anyone looking through it or driving it? Dealers today typically sanitize trade-ins before returning them to customers, but that process takes time.
Marcin Ladowski, COO of CarBrain, acknowledges that trading in a car right now might not be ideal. “It might be convenient, but what if you decide not to trade in the car? Or what if you can’t take delivery immediately and need to drive your car a while longer? You’ve just had someone in and around your car, touching the same surfaces you’re going to touch.
“Another option exists that is truly contactless—selling to an online car buyer. Sight unseen, you can get a fair offer and sell your car with zero contact.”
The situation becomes even more peculiar when trying to get rid of a junk vehicle, in which case buyers will typically want to get a close look. Luckily, companies like CarBrain can accurately assess the damage on a vehicle by analyzing high-quality images and comparing them with similar models within their vast internal database.
This allows for a remote and contactless selling experience.
When you finance a car, you provide your financial information and supporting documents, the dealer gets you approved, and you sign forms.
All states but three have adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) to allow e-signatures. But not all dealerships are on board yet.
Financing documents can be a tricky situation depending on where you live. Until recently, some states forced dealerships to have ‘wet ink’ signatures on documents—that is, true pen-on-paper autographs. Now, all states but three have adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) to allow e-signatures. But not all dealerships are on board yet.
E-signatures let you sign documents with zero in-person contact and email them back and forth with the seller.
Contactless delivery might sound somewhat oxymoronic, but dealers are doing it to the best of their ability. The vehicle is completely cleaned and sanitized before you take delivery from the dealer. That might be during a short visit to the dealership, or your new car could be dropped off to your home or office. If it’s dropped off, it’s sanitized once again after the driver parks it and before you take possession.
Buying a car in today’s climate might seem risky and unnecessary, but it’s safe to do so if you’re careful. Check out contactless car buying. You might be surprised at how easy it is.