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Coronavirus: What motorists need to know

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Autocar’s advice on how drivers will be affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic

As the UK government effectively orders the entire population to stay at home in an effort to contain the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, motorists are understandably unsure as to how the new rules affect them. Autocar has compiled this guide to help you know what you can and can’t do until the restrictions are lifted.

What is the coronavirus (Covid-19)?

Covid-19, also known as the coronavirus, is a potentially deadly viral infection that is easily transmitted between individuals. Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it’s highly contagious and sufferers only begin to show symptoms several days after infection.

The elderly and people with underlying health conditions can develop especially serious forms of the resulting illness, so the UK and most other countries around the world have imposed strict lockdown measures to limit its spread. 

Can I still go for a drive in self-isolation?

Although driving hasn’t been banned, you should take your car out only if you have no other alternative. The government has said trips to the supermarket and pharmacy are permitted, as well as commuting for key workers, but simply driving for pleasure isn’t advisable until the restrictions lift. Bear in mind: if you break down, somebody has to come to recover you, and if you have an accident, you could end up in hospital where the chances of infection are much higher. 

How can I stay safe when refuelling at a petrol station?

The price of fuel has fallen quite significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic – the Morrisons supermarket chain has dropped unleaded prices by an unprecedented 12p per litre – and fuel stations remain open for the time being. 

Fuel pump handles have, however, been identified as high-risk touchpoints, so customers have been advised to use gloves while filling their car and to wash their hands thoroughly as soon as possible after leaving. 

Can I still get my car serviced? 

Under the terms of the government’s latest announcement, garages have been classed as essential businesses. This means that key workers’ vehicles, which are considered essential means of transport, can still have vital repairs carried out in order to maintain roadworthiness, but garages are likely to postpone any other work until the stay-at-home rule is lifted.

What if my car’s MOT runs out?

The government has now announced that MOT testing will be paused during the Covid-19 outbreak to reduce contact between garage workers and customers. Cars, motorcycles and vans have been granted a six-month exemption from 30 March, meaning that – as long as they remain in a roadworthy condition – they can be driven without a valid MOT certificate. Vehicles should still only be driven for absolutely essential purposes.

Do I still need to pay the Congestion Charge or ULEZ entry fee?

Central London’s Congestion Charge (£11.50 per day) and ULEZ entry fee (£12.50) have been suspended indefinitely as part of a drive to reduce crowding on the city’s diminished public transport offering. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the move will also make it easier for key workers, such as NHS and supermarket staff, to get to work. A total of 40 underground stations have now been closed, while bus and mainline train services in and around the capital have been heavily reduced. Announcements will be made before the Congestion Charge and ULEZ entry fee are reinstated.

What do I do if I’ve booked a driving test?

The DVSA has suspended practical driving tests for up to three months, with the exception of those booked by critical workers, including NHS workers and goods delivery drivers. Any booked tests will be automatically rescheduled at no cost to the learner, who will be notified of the new date by email around two weeks before the original scheduled test. 

Driving theory tests have been cancelled for one month. The DVSA will issue refunds for any tests that had been booked and continues to take bookings for test slots from 21 April onwards. 

Is now a good time to buy a new car?

Dealerships had, by and large, announced temporary closures even before the Prime Minister forced all non-essential retailers to shut down.

Lookers, one of the UK’s largest multi-marque dealer groups, said yesterday (24 March): “It has become clear that maintaining safe social distancing measures whilst continuing to operate car dealerships has become increasingly difficult. Against this background and with the support of our OEM brand partners, the Group is temporarily closing all of its trading locations with immediate effect.”

Rival firms including Sytner, Marshall Motor Group, HR Owen and Chorley Group, as well as many smaller dealers, have all now closed their doors for the time being. 

Online platforms, such as our sister title What Car?’s New Car Buying service, remain in operation, offering buyers the ability to specify and order a new car without violating the self-isolation rules. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that much of the European, US and Asian manufacturing sectors remain in a state of shutdown, so waiting times for new cars are likely to be significantly extended. 

Can I still buy a used car or go to an auction house?

Various sources have reported a huge spike in online searches for used cars costing less than £2000 as second-hand dealerships and auction houses are forced to move to a digital sales model to limit person-to-person contact. 

From 26 March, BCA, the UK’s largest used car auction chain, will host all of its events online, with prospective buyers invited to place their bids via a dedicated website or app. Punters can also take their chances with a used car from the internet’s still thriving array of private sales platforms, including Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

It goes without saying, however, that buyers should take every precaution possible when viewing or picking up a used car: stay a safe distance from the seller, disinfect the interior thoroughly and don’t spend more time out of the house than you absolutely have to.

The most important thing to remember is this: if you can wait to buy a car until after the outbreak, you should.

Read more

Coronavirus and the car world: driving test suspension, more plant closures​

Autocar and Covid-19: a word from the editor​

MOT Checklist: everything you need to know

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