Updated: What does the lockdown mean for UK motorists?
FCA could extend suspension of vehicle repossessions, Scotland bans click-and-collect services
Britain is under full national lockdown as of 5 January 2021, joining much of Europe. So what does this mean for motorists and car buyers?
Car drivers may be unsure of the restrictions affecting vehicle usage, while would-be car purchasers will be deciding whether or not to put their commitment on hold until spring, when it’s said restrictions could ease if Covid-19 case numbers sufficiently decline.
The government is taking drastic action to prevent social gathering and unnecessary contact, so the rules coming into place are comparable with those we saw in March 2020 and stricter than those imposed in the second lockdown two months ago.
To that end, there are a number of new rules coming into force that dictate what you can do with your car, how you can maintain it and whether you can buy a new model.
Here is a rundown of the measures affecting motorists across the UK.
Can I still buy a new car?
Some non-essential retailers in England have been allowed to remain open, although only to operate a click-and-collect and delivery service.
Car dealers can once again continue to offer a click-and-collect service, while operating a contactless delivery service. Showrooms, however, must close their doors, and tightened travel rules mean test drives won’t be allowed.
When it comes to collecting a pre-purchased car, the dealer will have to sanitise the entire vehicle – including the keys – and will take measures such as offering walk-through videos rather than in-person demonstrations.
New measures coming into force in Scotland on Saturday 16 January mean click-and-collect services can only be offered by essential retailers, and even then with strict social-distancing measures in place. It is as yet unconfirmed whether car dealerships can continue to operate as they are currently, and the new rules do not mention whether contactless delivery of vehicles is permitted.
Wales has been under a national lockdown since 19 December and is likely to remain in this state until at least the end of January. All non-essential businesses have had to close completely, including car dealerships, but cars can still be ordered and collected.
Can I buy a used car?
Used car dealers in England are subject to the same rules as their new car counterparts, meaning they can remain open if they trade according to a contact-free, closed-showroom model. The same is true of Wales, where they may not open, and Scotland, where click-and- collect services are being drastically restricted.
Buying privately isn’t advisable during the lockdown, as the rules state you should leave home only for essential purposes or to work if you can’t work from home. There’s no official guidance with regard to inspecting or collecting a car from another household, but social-distancing rules must be adhered to at all times, meaning you shouldn’t share a car with anyone from outside your own household.
One used car buyer has been taken to court for breach of Covid-19 restrictions after travelling 100 miles to purchase a used Volkswagen Golf GTI from a private seller. The Central Motorways Policing Group said “a private car swap deal isn’t a good or lawful reason to be out at 10pm”, but there remains little official clarification as to the specific legality of private trades.
Will my car be repossessed if I can’t pay for it?
Guidance issued by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) during the previous lockdown advised that “firms should not terminate a regulated agreement or repossess goods or vehicles under the agreement that the customer needs, except in exceptional circumstances.” This guidance is valid until 31 January.
Repossession of goods, homes and vehicles in the event of non-payment is largely suspended to account for increased economic uncertainty as a result of the lockdown and to avoid putting consumers at risk by forcing them onto public transport or leaving them homeless. The FCA proposes that from 1 February until 1 April 2021, repossession should remain “a last resort” for consumer credit firms, and only used in appropriate circumstances (ie not if the consumer is particularly vulnerable).
Until 31 March, consumers can also apply for a payment holiday from their car finance plan, provided they have not already used up the six-month allowance. Merely cancelling your direct debit does not constitute officially taking a holiday, however, so be sure to get in contact with your lender if you need to take these measures.
Can I visit a garage?
During the first lockdown, the government granted drivers a six-month MOT extension to avoid unnecessary driving and people coming into close social contact at garages. It’s unlikely that this measure will come into effect again, with garages allowed to remain open – not least because there’s still a backlog of MOTs from 2020.
If you have to use your car during lockdown, it must be roadworthy, so book in for an MOT test before the date of expiry, and have your car serviced if it’s due. Non-essential repairs are best left until the lockdown is eased, because you should leave home only for essential purposes.
Similarly, garages remain open in Wales and Scotland, although only for essential repairs and MOTs.
Can I go for a drive?
As with previous lockdowns, motorists should not go for a drive just to get out of the house. There are a number of key exceptions that allow driving, including to travel to a place of work if you can’t work from home.
Driving is allowed if you need to shop for essentials, while key workers can drive for childcare purposes and to take their kids to school. You can also drive to take care of vulnerable relatives or to attend a medical appointment. Automated car washes (mostly based on petrol station forecourts) remain open, but hand car washes have been closed nationwide.
As before, there are questions being asked regarding the police’s ability to enforce these driving rules. There are currently no plans to close any roads.
Are driving lessons and tests allowed?
Social-distancing and travel rules mean driving lessons and tests – both theory and practical – are cancelled until further notice. This includes motorcycle (CBT), driving instructor (ADI parts two and three) and standard examinations.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will contact all affected candidates to let them know the test has been rescheduled.
Driving lessons must only be given if the vehicle occupants are from the same household and the journey is of an essential nature. You should not leave home for the sole purpose of practising or teaching.