What does the Covid lockdown mean for drivers

The rules on what you can and can't do are conflicted but the one message that is consistent is do not leave your home unless for essential purposes.

The UK has been in the midst of its third full national lockdown since January 5 2021 and many are still unclear what the official rules and regulations are.

The rise in COVID-19 cases has increased over the past couple of months, with a new variant of the virus allegedly spreading much quicker and effectively throughout the population.

The pandemic has been raging on for almost a year now, but with the vaccination process well underway, there is a glimmer of hope that we are now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the meantime, though, we all need to do our bit and stay home to protect the NHS and save lives, but what does this actually mean for the car industry and motorists?

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If you go out on the roads today, you will see just as many cars and people going about their daily business as you would on a normal day. If this is supposed to be a lockdown, why is this happening?

We’re here to help you make some sense of the rules from a driver's perspective so you know what you can and can’t leave the house for.

Buying a new car

The vast majority of non-essential retailers in the UK have been forced to close, with some stores operating a click-and-collect-only policy. 

The same applies to car dealerships that are offering the click-and-collect service and contactless deliveries. But showrooms are closed, as is the opportunity to test drive cars due to the strict travel bans in place.

Customers collecting pre-purchased cars from dealers will be shown tutorial videos rather than in-person demonstrations of how the car’s features operate, with the dealer also being required to sanitise the full interior of the vehicle and exterior touch-points - including the keys - before allowing it to be driven off of the forecourt. 

Scotland has led the way in the tightening of many rules for the duration of the pandemic, and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said click-and-collect can only be operated by essential retailers. 

So if you’re hoping to get a new car in Scotland, you may be out of luck from January 16 when the guidelines come into place. But we are awaiting confirmation whether car dealerships are directly impacted by these changes.

Buying a used car

The same rules apply to buying a used car as the ones above, with dealerships remaining open providing they operate a click-and-collect and contactless service.

It’s not advisable to buy a used car privately, as this would be deemed unessential travel and you could be fined if caught; the rules state you should only leave home for essential purposes.

There have been no specific guidelines against this, however, but the risk is yours and if you do, strict social distancing guidelines should remain in operation including no car sharing with anyone outside of your household or bubble.

The Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) shared a photo on Twitter of a used car buyer who travelled over a 100-mile round-trip to pick up a car from a private sale.

The shiny red Volkswagen Golf looked in good condition but maybe not so much after the police seized it.

The message from them was clear: “a 100-mile round trip to pick it up in a private car swap deal isn’t a good or lawful reason to be out at 10pm.”

Payment holidays and finance concerns

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has said those struggling with their finances right now can continue to take advantage of the payment holiday which was first introduced back in March 2020, and set to end at the end of March 2021. 

This is only on the grounds that they have not already used up the six-month allowance - only one holiday is permitted per person.

A payment holiday for those that have never heard of this scheme, is a period of time where you are not required to make payments on credit you’ve borrowed. This can be on credit cards, personal loans, payday loans, and of course, car finance.

The FCA's guidance on repossession of goods if a person is unable to repay their loans remains the same and is valid until January 31.

“Firms should not terminate a regulated agreement or repossess goods or vehicles under the agreement that the customer needs, except in exceptional circumstances."

Due to the economic uncertainty including job losses and the furlough scheme, there is a huge risk that repossessing goods, homes, and vehicles could result in people becoming homeless or having to rely on public transport to get them to work which could endanger their lives.

The FCA's new proposal is that between February 1 - April 1, repossession should remain "a last resort”, and only used in exceptional circumstances.

Visiting garages for repairs

Garages have been allowed to remain open under the new government guidelines which means you are in your rights to visit them if required.

The guidelines on what is deemed essential travel should still be followed, however, and it’s been advised that any non-essential repairs should be delayed until the lockdown has been lifted.

In the first lockdown, the government allowed a six-month extension on MOTs to avoid people driving unnecessarily and meeting in close proximity in garages.

The law on whether your vehicle is roadworthy and safe to drive means that essential service is permitted, as well as MOTs if it’s close to expiring. 

Aimless driving and what you can leave the house for

If you are bored at home and want to get out and about just to keep yourself entertained, then we’re afraid this is not permitted and would be deemed unessential travel.

You are allowed to drive if you are going to work and can’t work from home, to the supermarket to buy essential groceries, or if you are helping a vulnerable relative by shopping or collecting medication for them.

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There have been many reports of people being fined for being out of their homes for no reason, so it’s advised that you stick to these guidelines to avoid getting into trouble.

We know there are still a lot of grey areas about what we can and can’t do right now, even the politicians don’t seem to know what’s what.

But to avoid any uncertainty, the one clear message is to stay home unless it’s absolutely essential to be out.

Stay safe, and let’s hope the next few months are brighter for us all.

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