Column: Buying a new car? Hurry up and wait

Back in May experts predicted that a combination of a strong demand for cars and a shortage of semiconductor chips might crash the market for new vehicles.

Turns out they were right. And we don’t need any more proof than spending the past few weeks trying to replace our totalled vehicle.

A preoccupied driver turned right on red while my husband entered an intersection near the Oaks Mall on a green light recently.

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My husband couldn’t stop in time and that is the end of his car, which deployed both airbags and was deemed a total loss by the other driver’s insurance. Neither driver was injured, thank goodness.

So we thought about what our next vehicle should be and narrowed it down to the Ford Escape Hybrid or the Toyota Rav4 Prime.

Out of habit we headed to Main Street in Gainesville to take test drives.

But we learned as we entered empty parking lots of 10 to 20 cars on display that this is another post COVID-19-pandemic experience we weren’t prepared for.

According to dealers in Alachua and Marion counties we checked with, there will be no test driving either of these vehicles unless we are lucky enough to see one show up on their dealer website, then call the dealership with a credit card, and put a deposit down right there, sight unseen.

Then, anywhere from two weeks to more likely 12 or even six months out, depending on who you ask, you might get to see the real vehicle and move forward on the purchase.

While on the phone with Deluca Toyota in Ocala, we learned how to navigate the online world of car buying. Only in the middle of a sentence, our guide refreshed his screen and let us know that one of the two RAV4 Hybrids had just dropped off the For Sale list because someone else put a deposit on it.

“It’s a tough time for inventory right now,” a dealer said, and compared the car market to the housing market. “Normally you would have 250 new cars,” he said about onsite inventory ready for test driving. “We may have 10.”

Closer to home at Parks Ford/Lincoln of Gainesville we got the same answer. We thought we would try the Ford Escape Hybrid and dropped by only to find less than a dozen new cars on the lot.

One of the salespersons swears how great the new Ford Maverick pickup is and he drives one himself, but there are none on the lot to try out or purchase.

Another salesperson we called said we would need to order our choice vehicle and it would take from 8 to 12 weeks or more.

“It’s really up to the factory,” they told us. And they had no place to recommend in the state where we could test drive new models.

Gainesville Ford is in the same boat with taking deposits over the phone, and said that half their trucks are sold before they arrive at the lot.

One general sales manager—in the business for more than 40 years—said he has never seen anything like it.

Locally, a $2,000 deposit will reserve a vehicle you see online but that involves calling the dealership and setting up an appointment to haggle on the price, then lock it in with that downpayment.

Last week, one local dealer was waiting on 192 vehicles that were in transit to Gainesville.

This week we’re rethinking our plans to not what car we want to buy, but what car we can buy.

That Toyota Prius at Gatorland Toyota is looking better and better with three in stock ready to test drive.

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