Can I buy a car during the coronavirus lockdown?

Here's what the experts say


ALTHOUGH most of us are not commuting to work during the continued Covid-19 lockdown, many are either working from home or keeping themselves — and perhaps children — entertained as best they can. But services we often take for granted, such as deliveries of food or DIY materials, have either slowed considerably or ground to a halt.

Businesses nationwide have suffered, and the car industry is no different. New car registrations in March fell by an eye-widening 44.4% compared to the same time last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Italy, which in coronavirus terms is thought to be about two weeks ahead of the UK, saw its registrations drop 85%. If the UK’s stats are eye-watering, then Italy’s are near catastrophic. As a result, car makers have shut production plants worldwide (some have shifted to manufacturing breathing aids and protective equipment for medical staff).

However, experts say that if you can avoid buying a car during the lockdown, then you should.

The main issue that buyers will face is physically getting their car. Forecourts across the country are closed, meaning you can’t go out and buy a car. The delivery of new wheels to your door is unlikely to be classed as essential travel, and test driving a new car is definitely not considered essential.

Alex Buttle, director of car selling website motorway.co.uk, warned people not to try and get a delivery of a new car unless necessary: “If, despite inspection restrictions, you decide you still want to buy a car at the moment, whether through a dealer or private seller, you may struggle to have the vehicle delivered or face breaking coronavirus rules about movement and social distancing.”

“Although the government is allowing certain delivery services to operate as normal, unless you are a key worker, it’s unlikely a car delivery will be classed as an essential purchase.”

If you are classed as a key worker, however, and you absolutely need a new car to do your job, then the government is likely to show a bit of lenience.

Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer of heycar, said that some dealers are allowing car buyers to view cars online in video format and handling contact-free deliveries where customers want to buy there and then, rather than waiting for the current restrictions to be lifted. “We’ve had some key workers who need a car straight away asking us about this option,” she said.

In general, though, online marketplaces are encouraging buyers to take the lockdown as an opportunity to research their new car, and come to an informed decision that they can then fulfil once it is once again safe to go out and test a car.

“Online research in the form of in-depth honest car reviews and digital walk arounds available on YouTube can give you all the information you need to make a decision, without leaving the house,” said James Hind, CEO of carwow.co.uk.

“Carwow has seen the majority of our partner dealers sign up to show consumers they are offering video meetings, remote buying capabilities and that deliveries can be booked in for post-lockdown. Remote and online buying is of course a trend that has been growing over the last couple of years, but has been significantly accelerated by the Coronavirus crisis, and we expect the appetite from consumers will last well after lockdown ends.”

Hilton encouraged consumers to make use of the increasing number of car “walkarounds”, which give the buyer the ability to get a detailed visual look at the car from their home.

So unless you’re a key worker, you won’t be able to get a car from a dealership. And if you buy privately, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get away scot-free with doing a deal and exchanging under lockdown. In simple terms, don’t buy a car unless you absolutely have to. Instead, use the time to do your research.

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If you thought that you might be able to get a car heavily discounted due to the lack of demand, then you also have another thing coming. Autotrader data reveals that used car prices have remained largely stable this month, despite the fall in registrations of new cars, and the closure of dealerships across the country.

Richard Walker, Auto Trader’s Data and Insight Director, said: “There’s no question the industry is facing a huge pressure, but to ensure we can return to health as quickly as possible; we urge retailers to resist the temptation to reduce prices. Many of our indicators suggest the market is capable of picking back up almost where we left off before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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