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The New Way to Buy a Car: What to Expect at the Dealership

Online buying? Limited test drives? The way we buy cars may be changed forever.

The automotive sales business is experiencing an industry-wide catch-22: With special deals and incentives being offered, now may be a great time to buy a car. But the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the traditional car-buying process, which can make it trickier for customers. There needed to be a new way to buy a car, but how is it happening?

Most car dealerships have operated the same way for decades with a brick-and-mortar showroom and a lot full of inventory. While nearly every other industry began to move at least part of their sales online, car dealerships have stubbornly been stuck in the Stone Age, all but refusing to adapt to the times. Pre-COVID-19, the industry was only just dipping its toes into the e-commerce world. Now, the pandemic has forced its hand.

Each state and county is handling essential business operations and reopening differently. The buying experience could therefore be very different based on your location. But there have been some commonalities. So what exactly can we expect when trying to buy a car during these times? And what’s the best way to effectively – and safely – get your new vehicle from dealership to driveway?

car sale

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Safety Precautions

If you’re in the market for a new car, be aware that dealerships are implementing precautions that may affect your car-buying process. Here are some of the things to expect.

Limited Number of Customers

Most dealerships are limiting the number of customers they allow in the showroom at one time. In fact, some may only allow one party in at a time. Therefore, appointments might be required. Be sure to check with the dealership ahead of time to ensure you can visit at a time that works for you. Another consideration is the number of people that come with you. There could be restrictions on party sizes, which means you may not be able to visit with everyone you planned on, such as parents, children or friends.

Test Drive Changes

To prevent multiple people (driver and salesperson) from being in a confined space, some dealerships have been prohibited from allowing test drives. Check with yours to see if they are offering the option to customers. If so, be careful. Make sure your dealer has thoroughly cleaned and sanitized the vehicle since its previous ride. You’ll almost certainly not be able to drive multiple cars in one visit but dealers may also allow for at-home test drives.

Home Delivery

In an attempt to make the transaction as contactless as possible, some dealerships are offering to deliver your new car directly to your doorstep. This is something Tesla and third-part sellers like Carvana have been doing for years. If you get your car delivered, check that it is the right year, make and model and includes all the agreed upon features and equipment. Also take a look at the odometer. New vehicles shouldn’t have more than about 100 miles, between test drives and the delivery. If it’s a used car, check that there haven’t been any extra miles added since your purchase.

new car smell

Car Shopping

You probably don’t want to spend hours at the dealership. Therefore, it’s important that you complete as much of the car-buying process at home before you arrive. This will help get you in and out as quickly as possible.

There are more vehicle options now than ever before, so finding the perfect car for you could be the most time-consuming component of buying a vehicle. With little if any chance to peruse a dealership’s inventory, you’ll most likely need to do all your homework online.

There are numerous sites and online programs that offer potential car buyers the opportunity to do limitless research on all the makes and models available. AAA’s Auto Buying Program, for example, lets you compare vehicles and see what others in your area have paid. You can also build a virtual vehicle and then see the actual vehicles in the dealer’s inventory that match your requirements. AAA members will also obtain special pricing, which on average has saved them more than $3,400 on new vehicles.

Not sure what you’re looking for and can’t test drive? Renting a vehicle is a great way to discover the perfect car.

But finding a car that looks good on paper (or the screen) is only part of the story. Some manufacturers are turning to technology to provide at-home customer as close to a first-hand experience of having the car as possible. This includes augmented reality, which virtually overlays images onto a physical environment. Consumers can use their smartphones or tablets to place a life-size, three-dimensional image of the prospective vehicle in the street or their driveway. The technology also allows customers to walk around the car, open doors and get inside.

Car Financing

Aside from choosing your next car, figuring out how to pay for it is the biggest decision in this process. And if you opt to finance through a dealer, you could be spending hours in the office coming to an agreement, all for a loan that may not be the best you can secure.

Fortunately, you can take out an auto loan entirely from the comfort of your own home. Buyers can shop and get pre-approved for a car loan without leaving their house.

AAA’s Auto Loan Program offers low rates at competitive terms to fit your budget. All you need to do is submit an auto loan application online and you’ll receive a fast credit decision. As an added bonus, if the rate changes between when you apply for your loan and when you pick up the check, you’ll pay the lower rate.

No matter how you go about buying a new car in this changing world, or what your experience might be (we hope it’s a good one), know that AAA is always here to assist you in purchasing your perfect new car.

To learn about all the ways AAA can help you get a new car, visit AAA.com.

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