There has been a lot of confusion about what constitutes an "essential" business as much of the country is under a "shelter-in-place" warning. Dealerships are no exception. While auto service departments have been deemed essential and are still buzzing with routine maintenance and repairs, the dealership floors are unusually quiet. 

car salesperson on the phone
Some dealerships are accepting customers by appointment only, so call ahead.

To mitigate the risks of the Coronavirus pandemic for employees and customers, many dealership showrooms have instituted a "by-appointment-only policy, while others have closed completely. We’ll answer the top questions car shoppers are asking based on what we know at this time. As this is a constantly changing environment, we recommend that you contact your dealer directly. 

Are Dealerships Considered “Essential”?

Toyota Dealership

The classification of "essential business" has remained vague as it applied to dealerships. The federal government listed “automotive repair and maintenance facilities” as essential in a Department of Homeland Security memo last week, but when it comes to car sales, each state is operating by its own guidelines. According to cars.com, Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey have all clarified that car dealerships constitute essential businesses only to maintain and repair vehicles, while showrooms must close.

In other states, the uncertain language means some dealers are keeping a few salespeople on the floor to accommodate car buyers. The National Automobile Dealers Association has rallied to get dealership sales classified as "essential" alongside service departments. They make the argument using a hypothetical example of an essential employee who totals his or her car and needs to purchase a new one to get to and from work. No action has been taken on the federal level to label dealership sales as essential at this time.

How Dealerships Are Accommodating Customers

Test driving a car solo

Many dealerships that remain open have implemented special conditions to keep up their sales in the safest way possible. Social distancing measures such as offering to deliver vehicles, letting a customer test drive without a salesperson in the car, and setting up appointment-only visits are common tactics. Although this is not the best time to casually browse vehicles and test drive a dealership's entire lineup, if you need to make a car purchase for reasons such as getting to work or other essential travel, it's likely you'll still be able to.

Can I Still Buy a Car or Get One Serviced?

Getting an oil change or repair taken care of shouldn't pose an issue since most service departments are open and operating. They are there to help all the folks who can't simply stay home during the crisis including healthcare workers and first responders. Buying a car, on the other hand, is a different story. Whether the sales department at your local dealership is open will largely depend on your state's rules and each individual dealership. If your car purchase can't wait, don't assume your dealer is operating business as usual. We'll share what steps to take before you head to the dealership. 

Tips for Car Shopping and Repairs During COVID-19

Dealership service department

If you need to buy or service your vehicle, and it can't wait until the shelter-in-place order is lifted, follow these guidelines to stay safe and make the best use of your time:

  • Do extensive research online. You should have a good idea of one or two models you're interested in as well as and the trims and features you're looking for. With this knowledge under your belt, you'll be able to test drive the vehicles right away and skip the long pitch from the salesperson. Most dealerships that are open only have a few salespeople working right now. 
  • Call your dealership first: Make sure they have the car in stock and set up an appointment for a test drive (if allowed).
  • Get a quote over the phone or online. This will save time for the negotiating step of the car buying process and help you find the best price.
  • Buy a car online. Use an online car shopping site if your dealer's sales department is closed.
  • Call ahead for service and repairs. Make an appointment at the dealership for routine maintenance like an oil change or call ahead for an emergency like a tire replacement. Remember to keep your distance while in the waiting area. 

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