Can you buy a car in lockdown? Should you? Should you wait? Will prices go up?

In the first lockdown I correctly predicted that there would be a car sales boom, particularly for used cars, post-lockdown, due to pent-up demand, but more crucially in light of research and data that indicated more people wanted to have their own cars and avoid using public transport due to fears over COVID 19.

So for example there were X millions of people who had driving licences but didn’t own cars – that was a huge ready potential market straight away. And sure enough, that’s exactly what came to pass.

Of course just as you might expect, after the initial surge in the summer (post first lockdown), the clamour for cars started to slow a little and that was for several reasons. Those that had been waiting to buy a car pre-lockdown, had bought them; those that had decided to buy a car during lockdown had also bought them.

Then there followed uncertainty over whether the furlough scheme would end or be extended and people, understandably, started to worry if they would still have money coming in. Compound this with airports and airlines going into mothball and the leisure and hospitality industries collapsing –  inevitably job losses and unemployment has sadly subsequently soared.

There were other factors too, due to the pandemic many more of us were, and are now continuing, to work from home. Which means that some people didn’t need that commuting car anymore. Or maybe they decided to downgrade since the leasing deal might be proving a bit costly and in light of economic uncertainty – unnecessary.

Plus for some people a car is about image and presentation, and if you’re not taking it into the office or to meetings, then perhaps you no longer need a flash motor – so you chop it in for something a little more affordable and probably more practical.

And of course people get lazy. If you’ve put off buying a car for a bit, time drags on, and that urgency you might have felt during the last lockdown thinking – I really wish I had a car – might have waned. Or with the surge of prices, you might have thought –  let’s just wait and see.

The good news is you haven’t waited too long. Not yet anyway.

In fact prices did start to ease, the market did calm down. Some additional new car sales during the September plate change replenished used stock, though at the same time we all became aware of the ‘secret’ of the notorious stockpiles of cars waiting to be sold sitting in various airfields around the country, as well as in defunct race tracks like Rockingham.

It turns out there are still plenty of cars out there after all and there’s no longer a mad rush to buy them.

So if there’s enough stock and prices are sensible again, then it becomes all about what sort of cars do people actually want or need.

As I’ve said, some car owners would have downgraded, wanting to save money and not needing something so ostentatious and status-conscious to impress their peers perhaps.

While on the other hand, some people also found themselves in the fortunate position of having saved money during the first lockdown – you know from not going out, not going on holiday, not commuting, and just not spending as much money as they normally would. Apart from on toilet rolls and pasta!

Many of these people figured they might as well treat themselves to a nicer car than they otherwise would have bought or even upgrade from their existing one.

You can’t blame them, especially if you’ve been tragically and sadly spooked by the loss of life amongst friends and loved ones, and uncertainty about the future caused by Covid – at some point you can’t help thin – don’t know how long we’ll live, you only live once, sod it, let’s just get that Porsche, Beemer, or whatever cool car you’ve always dreamt of.

And you know what – why the heck not!

It remains then, hard to predict what cars will sell most. I do think used cars are still leading the way, and there’s probably a divide of popular metal between sub 15 grand cars that are sensible, affordable and practical and higher end, more desirable metal.

Newer cars are still struggling a little – as indicated by production rates falling – and despite everyone talking about electric cars, it’s the good old-skool internal combustion engine people are naturally migrating towards, and that too petrol more than diesel (which has been demonised of late).

So what about right now in Lockdown 2.0? Well as mentioned, prices appear to have stabilised a little, and car-buying momentum dropped to a reasonably healthy tickover – I say healthy, that’s a relative term considering the economy at large at the moment.

However car sales tend to normally slow in the winter – people don’t want to be trudging around in the cold wet weather and early nights, inspecting or checking out cars. Plus usually they’re saving up their cash for Christmas.

Typically car sales can pick up again in January.

This year, people aren’t likely to be travelling as much for Christmas and with only about three shopping weeks till Santa drops by after lockdown ends in England – that’s if the second lockdown ends as scheduled on December 2nd – they may find themselves having saved more money than expected.

I must say, it’s all a bit uncertain though, because regional or nationwide lockdowns might continue, as the virus is still very much on the rampage – we have now passed 50,000 deaths in the UK (may they rest in peace and may those left behind find strength to cope with their loss). So there remains the question of the lockdown being extended if it doesn’t prove effective enough.

Or maybe it will end on time, and now that there’s been some good news about a vaccine and suggestion that there’s even a small chance it might start to get deployed by the first week of December, things could start to turnaround. Just as the international money markets have shot up in the wake of this news, so consumer confidence might surge and spending may happen big time.

Of course it all makes the car market a little volatile to predict, even more so than during the last lockdown I reckon. But used car prices experts CAP aren’t expecting values to fall off a cliff, but do expect them to be suppressed. On the other hand an Autotrader survey revealed that 58% of people looking to buy a car, were undeterred by this second lockdown and planned to go ahead and secure their new motor within a couple of weeks.

7% even said – as already discussed – that it made them want to purchase a car even quicker and only 14% said it had actually put them off.

There are no figures or data since the revelation about the vaccine of course, but considering that the reality is that it will take time for a vaccine to be administered and take hold throughout society, we’re probably looking at the continued presence of coronavirus at least until April next year.

The other big difference with lockdown 2.0 of course is that you can still buy cars – okay so dealers technically have to close their forecourts being non-essential retailers – but online sales, home deliveries and click and collect services are allowed and in operation. Which of course is also a big change in consumer behaviour as most people previously preferred to buy a car in person rather than online.

And again going back to the Christmas thing – if there is a chance that people will get to visit families and spend time with them over the festive period and don’t want to use public transport – that also provides an impetus to buy a car sooner rather than later.

To the question then – should you buy a car in Lockdown 2.0?

Yes and no – no because I always tell people that they need to check out a car for themselves and take it for a drive, both to see if it all works as it should, but also to make sure that it’s right for them and their family’s needs.

Having said that – I’ve several times bought cars sight unseen off Ebay in the past myelf – but then I’m in the fortunate position of having experienced many cars due to what I do.

That’s the ‘no’ part – the ‘yes’ part is because prices have settled down, dealers are desperate and it is still possible to buy cars. Perhaps not everyone is aware that they can buy cars during this lockdown, perhaps not everyone is willing because of a lack of financial security, which puts those that can and will buy cars right now, in a better bargaining position.

However post-lockdown and post-vaccine announcement, things might change radically again in that, as I’ve said, consumer confidence might grow, people might get out and about to hunt down cars just in time for Christmas, and those with funds left over or feeling more hopeful and optimistic about 2021 – which quite frankly we all desperately need too, let’s be honest –  might all aid to bolster a January uplift in car sales.

And all of that, of course, means prices could rise. So yeah. if you’re comfortable buying online, if you’re already familiar with what you want and which car will be suitable for you – and if you’re not you can always seek the opinion of helpful experts like myself – then go ahead and get that motor now!

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