- buying a used car during a pandemic seems like a daunting task, but it's still possible—but put it off if you can't pull off appropriate social distancing.
- right now might actually be the best time to get a great deal due to the economic uncertainty.
- online car shopping sites such as carvana are great places to start for contactless used-car buying, but local dealerships may also be willing to come to you.
with the economy in crisis and the government uncertain when things might return to normal, you may be wisely considering buying a used car–or a certified pre-owned (cpo) vehicle—instead of a brand-new one as a way to save money. whether you were already car shopping before the start of the global coronavirus pandemic or your circumstances have changed in the past few weeks and you're suddenly in dire need of a car, you need to know what your options are and how to go about doing business right now, safely. we're here to help with the answers.
is now a good time to buy a used car?
actually, it is. with most businesses shuttered and consumers stuck at home, dealerships and car-buying websites find themselves desperate to move the metal. that could mean big savings for buyers at first, but the longer the economic conditions remain suppressed, the fewer decent used cars will remain on the market.
where can i buy a used car?
while it's true that some states have ordered dealerships' sales departments to close or restrict hours, many of them have pivoted to an online-selling model. many dealerships already had an internet sales department, which should be accessible via their website or over the phone. they may even have salespeople willing to meet you at your home (or wherever you're sheltering in place) to finalize a deal—if that's a chance you're willing to take. full disclosure: we're not. in any case, check your state's guidelines to determine if dealership sales departments have been deemed essential businesses, or reach out directly to a dealership near you to see if they're taking customers.
other options include online car retailers such as carvana or vroom, both of which have been selling cars in a socially distant manner long before any governor's order to do so. in fact, carvana is offering to delay the first-payment due date for 90 days to give buyers an extra cushion. you also shouldn't rule out old standbys such as craigslist, cars.com, auto trader, or even facebook marketplace to find cars for sale by owner right in your neighborhood. however, it’s essential that you follow current social-distancing rules and carry out the transaction in a way that keeps you from getting within six feet of the other person. so if you meet up with someone, do it in a location where you can keep your distance. don’t ride in the car together. bring wipes and sanitizer with you to use on yourself and the vehicle, before and after you get in. this will make it more challenging to buy a car in person, but as long as you and the other person are clear on the rules and follow them, it’s totally possible.
is there room for negotiation?
you bet. just like buying a car during a normal, virus-free month, car sales are subject to negotiation, and that's even more true for used vehicles. the good news is that right now the buyer has more of an upper hand than usual, so use that to your advantage. traffic and sales are almost certainly slow at the dealership you're shopping at, and the car-buying sites will be hurting, too. as always, be prepared to walk away (figuratively speaking in this case) from a deal if you aren't satisfied. don't feel pressured into making a decision on the spot. it's always best to take the time to think through a major purchase, even if you're buying in an emergency situation.
can i finance a used car right now?
actually, yes. banks haven't limited lending because of the pandemic, although rates may not be as low as they were before the crisis. our number-one suggestion when financing a car purchase is to arrange for the loan before beginning your negotiations with a seller, especially if it's a dealer. not only does this help you understand how much you can afford to spend, it also prevents a dealership from taking advantage by lending you money at a rate that's higher than what you could find on your own.
check with your bank online or by phone, or, better yet, your local credit union and find out what loan terms and interest rate they can offer you; use that information to drive your decision making. that being said, it's still a good idea to have the dealership's finance manager run your credit and help you shop for a loan. it's possible that another lender may beat your bank or credit union on a rate, which could save you money.
unlike new cars, used vehicles have a history, and it's difficult to know if they were well cared for or abused. there's a risk to buying used. unexpected repairs could crop up early on after you assume ownership, though purchasing a cpo vehicle greatly reduces your exposure because it's covered by a factory warranty. in order to protect yourself as much as possible, get a carfax report and search the vehicle identification number (vin) on the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa) website to check for uncompleted recalls.
if you're not purchasing a cpo vehicle, there's one last step that is important not to skip: an independent inspection. mechanics have been deemed essential workers by nearly every state government, and many of them are at their shops and available for consultations. it will likely cost a couple hundred bucks, but it's worth it to have any used car that doesn't have a factory warranty carefully looked over by a certified mechanic who's not affiliated with the dealership or used-car lot that you're buying from.
the mechanic will look for red flags and obvious signs of abuse and let you know what maintenance or repairs are most likely to be required and when. this process will take some of the guesswork out of your used-car purchase and provide some peace of mind.
of course, if you can wait until the all-clear is sounded and we are no longer under coronavirus restrictions, this whole process will be simpler. but there's no reason you can't use some of your time at home to research, locate, and grab a good deal on a used vehicle right now.