Consumer Watch: Car prices drop during pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- With millions of Americans sheltering at home the last two months, the pandemic had a drastic impact on the car industry.

While seasonal deals and holiday discounts are common in the car business, the price of a new vehicle usually doesn't vary a lot. But as with so many other things, the coronavirus has changed that.

Car sales dipped in April 50% compared to the same time last year, which puts consumers in the driver's seat.

"Dealers are now stuck with a huge backlog of unsold vehicles that they are desperate to get off the lot, and they're offering some aggressive financing incentives to entice buyers. This isn't just on last year's models, we're seeing big savings across a wide range of makes and models," said Jeff Bartlett with Consumer Reports.

The discounts can vary, but Consumer Reports was able to find a 2020 Toyota Camry for $2,600 off asking price, a 2020 Ford F-250 with a $5,000 discount, and a 2020 Infiniti Q50 for $8,000 off the suggested retail price. And zero percent financing has become an industry-standard practically overnight.

And, if you're willing to forgo a test drive, it's likely you can have a completely contactless car buying experience. Consumer Reports says that's because a number of websites and dealerships have digital platforms that allow consumers to select a model, color, trim level, and even negotiate the prices of a trade-in from home. Some will even deliver the car.

There are deals to be had on used cars well, whether you buy pre-owned from a dealership or a private seller.

"The supply of used cars out on the market will certainly be outstripping demand, and this will likely continue over the next few months. So even if you're not ready to buy now, you'll likely be able to save big on any vehicle purchase for the foreseeable future," Bartlett said.

And if your car lease is about to expire, CR has this advice.

"Not everyone is going to be comfortable starting a new lease right now, so we suggest reaching out to the dealer; many are waiving fees on lease extensions, so you can stay in the car you're familiar with for the next few months," Bartlett said.
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