Car sales collapsed in the fire zones. But there were no reports of stores or inventory being damaged by the fires, which killed at least seven people, destroyed 2,000 homes and buildings and caused at least $1 billion in property damage.
Peter Welch, president of the California Motor Car Dealers Association, said the huge fire dumped ash on the vehicles sitting on dealers' lots. That can be cleaned off with no damage to the vehicles, he said.
"There is ash and stuff everywhere," said Bruce Hirata, sales manager at Witt Lincoln-Mercury in Escondido, which closed for two days.
Many dealerships were short of workers because the employees were among those told to evacuate. Virtually no one shopped for cars.
"We sold one car in the last four days," said Caroline Bossemeyer, an employee at Poway Hyundai-Mitsubishi in San Diego County. The store usually sells about 25 vehicles per week.
For dealers, "the main issues were air quality and these massive evacuations; employees were spread out all over the county in evacuation centers," said Dean Mansfield, president of the New Car Dealers Association of San Diego County.
He said that in some areas, dealerships had to close for as long as three days because of short staffs, closed freeways and poor air quality. Some stores couldn't operate service bays because many service areas in California are open-air, he said.
Most dealerships were back in operation by Thursday, Oct. 25, Mansfield said.
Hardest hit were dealerships in Escondido and Poway, cities that were under mandatory evacuation orders. About 25 dealerships in those cities had to close for a time, but Mansfield said he did not know of any that were directly hit by fire.
Mossy Automotive in San Diego, which has eight dealerships in San Diego County, closed Mossy Nissan in Poway and Mossy Nissan in Escondido for two days. "We did it because of the smoke," said Lois Silver, human resources manager. "They were surrounded by fire."
Toyota of San Diego was a drop-off point for people who want to donate food, socks and undergarments to firefighters. It will distribute donated items to firefighters at least once a day until the fires have subsided.
About 35 Toyota of San Diego employees were displaced during the evacuations, said David Conant, president of Conant Auto Retail Group.