In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, Canadians have been urged by government officials at every level to self-isolate, practice social distancing, and restrict non-essential travel. Still, the use of many people’s vehicles has been deemed as essential and Canadians still might need to buy, sell, or service vehicles during this extraordinary time.
The Ontario Government included automotive dealerships and repair facilities in its list of essential services that were able to remain open after 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, but it differs from province to province, so it would be wise to check to see if your local dealership of choice is still operating. [Update, April 6: The Ontario government has now deemed car dealerships as a non-essential service, so most are closed now but their service centres remain open.]
Ivana Yelich, Director of Media Relations for the Office of the Premier of Ontario stated, “In certain areas of the province, specifically rural and remote areas where public transit or ridesharing is not an option, cars, trucks and other vehicles are essential to their way of living and for the local workforce.” Some examples include farmers, pharmacists, supermarket employees, doctors, nurses, first responders, and more.
This doesn’t mean that all automotive retail and service facilities will remain open, however. Yelich added that, “Dealerships are not compelled to remain open, but may do so at the proprietor’s discretion.” It’s best to call your local dealer to see how they are managing this situation.
Purchasing a new vehicle or getting maintenance for one you already have may be required during this time. Having a reliable mode of transportation is not viewed as an extraneous expense, but a necessary one for many Canadians. Regardless of the situation, there are precautions that should be taken to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
Some dealerships will be closing, while others are taking proactive steps to remain open and manage the changing needs of their customers. Some will also be operating on reduced hours. John Martins, President of Hamilton Volvo and Volvo of Oakville, shared a number of new protocols their team have instituted, from spacing out customer appointments and disinfecting steering wheels and various other touch points, to providing techs with disposable gloves for each vehicle. He also encouraged customers to express their individual concerns so that they can be specifically managed.
Some brands, like Audi, for example, have shifted to virtual showrooms and have moved much of the car-buying process online.
Because some Canadians will need to buy, sell, or service a vehicle during this time, we’ve compiled some suggestions to consider.
Keep Your Distance
Health Canada says COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets and contact, so experts recommend keeping a distance from other people of at least 183 cm (six feet). Thankfully, much of the process related to buying, selling, or servicing a vehicle is done digitally via computers, tablets or phones these days. It is easy to research a new or used vehicle online based on your specific needs and parameters.
Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) has also authorized digital sales to complete a transaction during the pandemic, however, there are some stipulations, and these new rules will vary from province to province. The process of buying, selling, or leasing must take place either entirely on a dealership’s premises, or alternatively online. Delivering a hard copy of a contract to be signed off-site would be considered “trading off-premises,” according to a recent bulletin from OMVIC. Contracts can be emailed, printed, signed, scanned, and emailed, however. E-signatures will also be permitted under these revised rules.
Martins says that customers are welcome to communicate via email or over the phone based on their preference, and duplicate screens have been set up at some dealerships to accommodate communication of information beyond the suggested distance should someone still wish to go into a dealership. Needless to say, any test drives will be conducted without a salesperson present during this time, and extra measures have been instituted to sanitize vehicles being test driven and traded in. Each dealership’s processes will vary, so ask yours how they are handling this.
Many dealerships now offer the ability to book service appointments directly on their website and provide a key drop box, so there’s often no need to come in direct contact with anyone. Arrangements can be made to discuss details of the repairs and payment can be made with your credit card over the phone.
Buying or selling privately may be more challenging, but not impossible. Communicating via phone or email is common these days, but there’s still the matter of the test drive. Investing in masks, gloves, and disinfecting wipes a good idea, as is keeping a distance. Also ask if the parties you meet with, or anyone in their family, have been travelling or under the weather recently. Check out autoTRADER.ca's guide on buying/selling privately here.
[Update: autoTRADER urges that interactions remain online and that non-essential transactions between private buyers and sellers are postponed until the Canadian government eases social distancing guidelines.]
Keep Your Environment Clean
Health Canada says it is possible for COVID-19 to be transmitted through objects or surfaces that have been in contact someone with the virus and then by touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before your hands have been cleaned. It is crucial that you frequently and thoroughly wash hands and avoid touching your face to limit your exposure. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are a good idea, as well as wearing latex gloves to protect you while out in public where you may be opening doors or touching various surfaces within a dealership. The same can be said for test driving a vehicle whether through a private owner or dealership, so it’s best to be prepared.
Plan Ahead, Be Patient
Whether looking to purchase a vehicle or merely have snow tires removed, delays or longer-than-normal wait times should be anticipated. Be mindful of the safety of personnel, as staff and business operating hours may be limited during this time. Production has also been affected in many areas of the world, so ordering a new vehicle or awaiting the delivery of parts will likely take longer than expected. This is an unprecedented situation, so manage expectations accordingly. Exercise caution, common sense, and patience. Show empathy for those who are working during this time of economic uncertainty.
Automotive manufacturers like Genesis offer an ambassador service that will come to your home or place of business to deliver a vehicle to test drive or pick it up for service. Tesla allows owners to similarly arrange for a Mobile Service Technician to make a house call. Each dealer or retailer group will be operating under different circumstances, but if you reach out to express your concerns, they may be able to accommodate special requests during this uncertain time. Private sellers or buyers are also in the same situation, so they’ll likely understand your concern and assist with making arrangements.
The health and safety of our community is our top priority. autoTRADER.ca encourages all Canadians to practice social distancing in accordance with recommendations by Health Canada and avoid non-essential travel. It's up to all of us to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. If the purchase of a vehicle is essential to your situation, please contact your local dealership to discuss options relative to your region and ensure accordance with Health Canada guidelines. For more information on how COVID-19 might impact Canadian car owners, see our resource page here.