Since it became clear in late winter that the coronavirus outbreak was going to change the way we all live our lives, the stresses of daily life have increased exponentially. This new reality has brought with it a ceaseless conveyor belt of emergencies large and small. We want to help make sure that your car doesn’t become one of them. So whether you suddenly find that you need to buy a new car, or you’re wondering how to maintain and be safe in your current car, we’ve martialed our expertise to provide answers to some of the most frequently-asked car-related questions of this moment, so you can move on to worrying about something else.
1. Can I Buy a Car Now, and How Does the Buying Process Work?
Yes! The magic of the internet means that you no longer have to spend time in a showroom to buy a car. Not only are there online options like Carvana, a used-car site that has no physical locations, but more and more dealers are putting their inventory online—and negotiating and closing deals using messaging tools or phone calls. You may still have to sign a physical piece of paper at some point, but you should be able to do so in a way that minimizes contact with others. Or an electronic signature may be all you need.
2. What Are the Best New-Car Deals and Incentives Now?
Carmakers are eager to support sales during this time of economic uncertainty, so some are offering zero percent or low-interest loans to qualifying buyers, while others are offering payment deferments or other payment assistance to existing owners or lessees. Both the deals and the automakers that are offering them are likely to change as the situation continues.
3. How Can I Defer Payments for a Car I Already Own?
Lots of automakers are offering payment deferment plans, but you’ll need to get in touch with your lender to take advantage of them. So far, most of the payment relief plans are only for loans administered by automakers’ lending arms, though Ally Bank is also offering deferments for its auto-loan customers. If your loan was financed through a bank and you’re struggling to make payments due to the crisis, it’s worth calling your lender to see if they’re willing to adjust your payment schedule. You never know until you try.
4. What Are the Best Lease Deals Now?
If you’re still in a financial position to sign a new lease deal, this may be the perfect time (assuming you can find a dealer who will close a deal with minimal or no in-person contact). Dealers, just like the rest of us, are spooked about the state of the economy, and they’ve already recorded one month of abysmal sales. We’ve compiled a list of this month’s best advertised lease deals here, but we encourage you to think of these numbers as a starting point for your negotiations.
5. How Can I Save Money by Buying Used If I Really Need a Car?
These may be unprecedented times, but the usual rules still apply. If you approach car buying thoughtfully and are willing to search for a good deal, you can almost certainly find one. We recommend doing as much of your shopping as possible online for the foreseeable future. For more tips on how to find a good deal, especially on used cars, read our coverage here.
6. I’m Worried about a Recession. Should That Affect My Car-Buying Plans?
It’s much too soon to say what the economy will look like in the months and years ahead, but it’s natural to wonder whether this is the right time to make a big purchase. The answer to this question will depend largely on your personal finances and the health of your existing automobiles. But don’t assume that buying a car means spending $35,000 or more. There are plenty of budget-friendly new vehicles on the market, and some of them are even worth driving.
7. Can I Get My Car Fixed Right Now?
You almost certainly can get your car fixed. Automotive service centers are deemed as essential businesses and so remain open even in states with shelter-in-place orders, though they may have changed their hours or operating conditions to comply with state rules. Whether you should get your car fixed in the middle of a pandemic is another question entirely. We recommend waiting to fix minor issues that don’t impact your ability to drive safely, or taking the opportunity to learn to fix them yourself.
8. How Should I Maintain My Car during the Pandemic?
Allowing your car to sit unused in the driveway can cause some problems. Your battery may die, a mouse might chew through a crucial wire, your tires may go flat. At the bare minimum, we recommend starting your car up and allowing it to idle until it warms up once a a week. If you’re able to drive around the block, that’s even better. Some maintenance, like an oil or lightbulb change, is worth doing yourself. You have our permission to let some other stuff slide. Read our full recommendations here.
9. Is It Safe to Go Out in the Car Now?
If you go out for a drive with people who live in your household and you don’t stop anywhere along the way to pick up new germs, this is an easy yes. If you find yourself needing to transport people you don’t live with, or are worried that your kids are transferring germs to their car seats, it’s a little more complicated. The most important thing is to be diligent about keeping your car clean, and limit the number of surfaces you touch after spending time in public.
10. How Do I Sanitize My Car?
Keeping the inside of your car clean and sanitized has never been more important. If you have to give a ride to someone who isn’t part of your household, we recommend giving your car a thorough wipe-down before and after those passengers are in your car. We also recommend wiping down your car after visiting public spaces like the grocery store or gas station, or when coming home from working your essential job. Diligence is key. Read our detailed tips here.