Cars.com Data, Survey Shows Pandemic Spurred Car Buying

During the COVID-19 pandemic, owning a car has become a critical part of navigating daily life. More than ever before, cars are a mobile bubble, a personal safe place in an uncertain world — and for many consumers, owning a car has become an essential part of navigating the pandemic.

Related: More Car-Buying News and Advice

That sudden need for a first car, or an additional car, led consumers to spend 30 million hours on Cars.com from March 2020 through January 2021, according to our internal data; that’s up 9.2% over the same period a year prior. And in a Cars.com national survey of more than 1,500 respondents age 18 or older, nearly 60% said the pandemic influenced their decisions to buy a car, with more than half indicating it accelerated such plans. For urban dwellers, roughly 3 out of 4 said the pandemic affected the decision to buy a car.

Car Shopping Changes

The car-buying process also changed due to COVID-19. With many states temporarily closing dealerships’ sales departments in the pandemic’s early months, new-car sales for the second quarter of 2020 dropped by 33% from a year prior, according to Automotive News. When dealerships reopened for in-person sales again, they found plenty of pent-up demand for both new and used cars. They also found new ways to sell those cars. 

Much of the shopping experience can now be done online thanks to digital tools like virtual appointments and home delivery, which allow consumers to shop from home. Cars.com’s internal data show that since the pandemic’s start a year ago, some 20 million vehicles listed on the site have been available for home delivery.

Those car shopping during the pandemic saw increasing car prices and cars selling at a brisk pace. The average price for new cars increased 4.8% year-over-year, while average used-car prices increased 9.7% year-over-year, according to Cars.com data. New cars averaged 53 days to sell, or 22 days faster from the same period a year before. Used cars averaged 34 days, or five days faster.

What Car Shoppers Want and What They Spent

With cars taking such a central place in pandemic life, many shoppers looked for more capability and comfort from their vehicles. According to Cars.com internal data, these features saw the significant increase in year-over-year searches:

  • Tow hitch: up 55.4% 
  • Cooled seats: up 36.3%
  • Heated steering wheel: up 34.0%
  • Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: up 24.3%
  • Rear cross-traffic alert: up 116.5%

For those who purchased a car during the pandemic, slightly more respondents spent between $20,000 and $40,000 on their purchase than other price ranges. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 22% spent less than $20,000
  • 29% spent between $20,000 and $40,000
  • 25% spent between $40,000 and $60,000
  • 23% spent more than $60,000

It’s hard to say what 2021 will look like exactly, but here’s hoping for brighter days and being able to take road trips to see family and friends again.

More From Cars.com:

  • How to Buy a Car Online During COVID-19
  • Coronavirus and Commuting: 6 Things You’ve Stopped Doing on the Road Back to Work
  • If You Must Carpool for School During COVID-19, Here’s How to Do It
  • Find Your Next Car

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