Car Buying Stories: Keeping the Dealers at a Distance

Photo credit: Honda
Photo credit: Honda

From Car and Driver

The novel coronavirus has compelled novel approaches to almost everything we do, including buying and leasing cars. As dealers minimize in-person contact, buyers are benefiting. When Billy Huys needed to replace his leased Toyota Highlander earlier this year, he found a dealer in Gladstone, Oregon, not far from his home in Portland, that combined the best of the brick-and-mortar and online experiences.

Huys had searched intermittently since last fall for another Highlander or something similar, eventually extending his lease for six months when he couldn't find a payment he was happy with. As states began imposing lockdowns, many car shoppers wondered if prices would decline as the economy stuttered. But according to Huys, "[Even] with the quarantine, I was not seeing pricing any better than back in November. In fact, some numbers had even crept a little higher."

In May, with his lease extension coming to an end, Huys happened on deals for the Honda Pilot. "My wife had loved the Pilot when we ended up with the Highlander originally," he said, "but the leases on mid-level Pilots were always more than I wanted to spend."

When Huys contacted Honda dealers, he encountered a side effect of the pandemic: "I noticed during the early days of the COVID quarantine that salespeople were being let go and constantly revolving," he said. "I was literally ready to go test-drive and buy, and this dealership [I was talking to] dropped the ball."

Huys reached out to a salesman he'd emailed in 2019 about a Pilot, but the price had been too high at the time. "I did like the guy, not your typical car salesman," Huys said. "I told him what I was looking at and asked if he could do better. Within two emails, he was able to present a 2020 Pilot with a better lease deal and a few extras."

Instead of going to the dealership for a test drive, the salesman brought the Honda to Huys's house for him and his wife to try out. "It was great since we had kids at home but both wanted to test-drive," he said. "The salesman drove up, sanitized the interior, and my wife went for a drive. We all wore masks, and I had put a chair in the driveway for him to wait at a safe distance. Then when she was done, I took a spin."

Driving alone on familiar terrain, Huys and his wife weren't distracted by unfamiliar roads or a salesman riding shotgun. They focused on the Pilot's driving experience and were able to make representative comparisons with their Highlander.

Afterward, they had a literal home-court advantage when discussing the terms of the deal with the salesman in their driveway, eliminating the often high-pressure dealership closing, with no dispatches to the general manager.

The entire process took less than an hour. The salesman returned to his office and sent back the paperwork for Huys and his wife to peruse. They signed it at the dealership the next morning. "Honestly," Huys said, "I never want to buy at a dealership again."

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