What car owners need to know during the COVID -19 pandemic

6-Apr-2020
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What car owners need to know during the COVID -19 pandemic

Large parts of the world are in lockdown. In response to the global threat of COVID-19, the UK government has imposed the strictest ever peacetime regulations on our daily lives.

There's a great deal of uncertainty hanging over the weeks and months ahead. We are unsure when the restrictions might end and how soon we might get back to some kind of normality.

Car owners have been left wondering what is and isn't permitted. Issues around MOTs, getting your car serviced and even filling up with fuel have come to the fore, particularly for those key workers who depend on their car to do their job. If your car is likely to spend long periods sitting on the drive what do you need to consider to ensure it's in working order when it's called upon again?

Here we try and answer some of the questions that motorists are currently asking.

Am I still allowed to drive my car?

There is no blanket ban on driving your car but the reasons for doing so have been clearly defined. You should only use your car to purchase food and other essential items and this should be as infrequently as possible. You can use your car to travel to medical appointments or to take supplies to the elderly or vulnerable and to assist them during medical emergencies.

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I'm a key worker can I drive?

Key workers are allowed to use their cars to travel to work, as too are people that are unable to work from home. After large numbers of people took the opportunity to drive to their favourite beauty spots, the government has now clarified that you shouldn't use your car to drive somewhere to take exercise. 

Police in Shropshire have been closing car parks at places such as The Wrekin to discourage people from driving there during the current restrictions. Drivers who have taken advantage of the almost deserted roads to go for a country drive have been stopped by the police and in some cases fined. 


Persistent offenders risk arrest. As of yet, there are no roadblocks preventing travel around most of the UK. However, it's important that the current guidelines are observed if these are to be avoided. The government has hinted that more restrictive measures regarding car use may come into force if the present guidelines are flouted.

We all want to get out and enjoy all our beautiful county has to offer but the advice, for now is clear - stay home.

For the latest up to date information, we would recommend visiting the 'Going to Work' section of the government's guidelines.

Non-essential car journeys could invalidate your insurance

If you have an accident during this period and you can't prove that it happened during essential travel your insurer might be unwilling to payout. (worth checking with your insurance provider just in case) This is another reason why it's important to follow government guidance. Non-essential travel might feel risk-free but from an insurance, emergency services and disease control perspective, it isn't.

Do the laws of the road still apply?

With the roads being relatively empty it might be tempting to drive faster than we normally should. Don't. Not only are speed cameras still operative any accident you might have used up valuable emergency services time and resources.

It's one of the reasons we are all being asked to limit our journeys to essential travel only. Should you be caught out by a speed camera you're more likely to receive penalty points and a fine rather than a speed awareness course at the present moment.

Be extra alert for pedestrians and cyclists

Pedestrians in towns taking their permitted exercise are more likely to step into the road to put distance between themselves and passers-by.  Rural roads are seeing more people walking and extra care should be taken in rural areas.

There's also some anecdotal evidence of more people cycling. Bike shops are allowed to remain open and are doing a steady trade selling cycles to people who haven't been on a bike for years. They may well be further into the road to avoid both pedestrians and other cyclists.

Don't drive if you have suspected symptoms

Even if you have very mild symptoms of Covid-19 it's important that you don't drive. Not only are you likely to invalidate your insurance should you have an accident, your reactions and attention are likely to be compromised.

Should you be stopped by the police and be showing symptoms you're likely to receive a financial penalty. Should you then persist in driving you could face prosecution. Driving alone does not count at self-isolation and you should stay at home.

Can key workers share cars?

 
Key workers, particularly those in the NHS who commute to the region's hospitals, are asking if it's still possible to car share. Levels of car sharing among NHS staff is believed to be higher than the average across other workplaces. 

Drivers who regularly commute give each other lifts, help out non-driving colleagues and those who don't have a car. With the reduction in public transport as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions, cars are often the only means to get into work particularly when people are doing shift work.

Despite this, Public Health England is insisting that the advice regarding social distancing applies when travelling to work even in the case of key workers. That advice states that a distance of two metres should be maintained between people who live in different households. 
In practice, that means that lift shares are impossible for most people. This is bound to present problems for some workers but employers are looking at how to ensure key workers get to where they're needed as safely as possible.

How do I keep my car free of the coronavirus?

We are all having to be scrupulously clean. Not only should we be regularly washing our hands for at least twenty seconds and maintaining high hygiene standards in the home it's also important to do the same for our cars. 

There are numerous surfaces and features in a car that can harbour germs, bacteria and viruses. During the average drive or trip as a passenger in a car we each touch a number of them. Professional car detailers, who carry out top to bottom deep cleans for dealerships and manufacturers suggest a list of 40 car parts which should be cleaned.

40 parts of your car to clean
1. Exterior door handles 21. Cupholders
2. Interior door handle 22. Rearview mirror
3. Frame of door and roof 23. Logbook
4. Interior door release 24. Key
5. Seatbelts 25. Headrests
6. Seatbelt clips 26. Interior light
7. Door pockets 27. Grab handle
8. Seat adjust buttons 28. Wheel valves
9. Horn button 29. Fuel cap
10. Steering wheel 30. Seat pockets
11. Control stalks 31. Rear central tab
12. Dashboard 32. Boot lid
13. Gear shift 33. Boot floor tab
14. Power button 34. Boot close button
15. Driver air vents 35. Parcel shelf
16. Central air vents 36. Washer cap
17. Heating controls 37. Dipstick
18. Glovebox 38. Oil cap
19. Multimedia screen 39. Bonnet lid
20. Central storage compartment 40. Window switches

Seatbelts can be a particular hotspot for germs. Belts are worn by different people and have a number of touchpoints when they're adjusted. If you cough or sneeze there's a good chance that germs will land on the belt and steering wheel so these should receive more regular attention.

The only people who should travel in your car during this period are members of your own household.

Do I need to get my car MOT tested?

A six-month MOT exemption has been announced by the Department for Transport from the 30th March for owners of cars, vans and motorcycles. This means that the date by which your next MOT is due will be extended for another six months. This measure will remain in place for at least the next 12 months. This measure does, however, come with a proviso that your vehicle must be kept roadworthy.

If your MOT has been delayed you should inform your insurer immediately. It's possible your premium might change and your cover could be voided. If you have an accident during this period and you can't prove that it happened during essential travel your insurer might be unwilling to pay out. This is another reason why it's important to follow the government guidance.

How do I check my car is roadworthy?

Ensuring your car is safe to drive should be a regular habit. Here's what you should check every time you drive your car.

Roadworthy Checklist
  • Ensure the windscreen, the windows and mirrors are clean
  • Check that all the lights are working and visible
  • Ensure the brakes are working

Your car's handbook should tell you how often to check the following;

  • battery
  • brake fluid level
  • water level in the radiator or expansion tank
  • Top up windscreen and rear window washer bottles with windscreen washer fluid if necessary
  • Check the tyre pressure and ensure they are free of defects and cuts and still have enough tread depth

Checking your tyre tread

Different vehicles need to have a certain tread depth:
  • Cars, light vans and trailers should have at least 1.6mm
  • Motorcycles, large vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles at least 1mm
  • Mopeds need only have visible tread

All vehicles should have tread across the middle three quarters and around the entire tyre

How do I ensure my battery doesn't go flat during lockdown?

With our cars sitting on drives and in garages during the lockdown period many people are worried about their battery going flat. A flat battery can be a real headache and, if you need your car to fetch supplies or to carry out critical work, a major inconvenience.

The easiest way to stop your battery going flat is to drive it but police forces are clear that driving your car to charge the battery is not an essential journey. Batteries can usually be left for around 4 weeks without any problem.

The exact amount of time will depend on the battery age and quality. The longer you leave any battery the more charge it will lose. If you are taking your car out once a week to purchase shopping it's unlikely to go flat.

However, if you are still concerned, turning your car over for five minutes every day will help and also give you the opportunity to act on any warning lights. Breakdown organisations like the RAC and AA are still attending breakdowns so you may well be covered if your car won't start.

The RAC also suggest that if your car is being kept in a garage you may wish to use a trickle charger which ensures your battery remains charged.

Can I still get my car serviced?

Under the government guidelines, garages are allowed to remain open as they provide a vital service to key workers. Despite this many franchised dealerships are closing temporarily which may result in staffing problems in dedicated service centres.

Organisations that represent dealerships have called on the government to ensure that essential repair and maintenance services will not be affected by the wider closure of shops and other establishments. 

This is of particular concern for key workers who will need to keep their cars on the road and in safe working order through the crisis. JT Hughes have taken the difficult decision to close our service centres temporarily to protect both staff and customers. You can still arrange an MOT or service online and one of our team will be able to schedule a convenient date as soon as the restrictions are lifted and we re-open.

I need to get my car serviced as part of my warranty agreement

There is concern from owners of newer cars that have regular services as a requirement of the warranty if they are forced to self-isolate due to them or someone in their household having the virus. If the car has a mileage-based 'variable servicing agreement' then there's nothing to worry about as the car won't be adding miles while you're forced to quarantine. If your warranty demands services at particular time intervals the guidance is less clear.

Your agreement may have a grace period of around one month or 1000 miles to have the car serviced before the requirements of the warranty is breached. It's recommended that anyone who thinks they might be in this position should contact their car's manufacturer for advice and clarity. The Motor Ombudsman says that a car manufacturer cannot decline a claim or cancel a warranty because a service is missed but can only do so if negligence on the owner's part caused a fault on the car.

Dialogue with the manufacturer is strongly advised if you are concerned about a warranty agreement. As dealers are in temporary shutdown it will be necessary to contact the manufacturer's main customer service department. You'll be able to find details as to how to do this on their website. It's important to go through the small print and raise any issues or concerns you might have with the manufacturer.

What if I struggle to keep up car finance payment?

Around 9 in 10 new cars purchased in the UK are bought with some kind of finance agreement. Under normal circumstances this is a sensible means to finance a new car, but the current lockdown is definitely not normal circumstances. Thousands have already been laid off from their jobs, others have been put onto reduced pay or furloughed for the time being. Freelance workers have seen their upcoming work streams completely collapse. As a result, many people are now concerned about how they will finance their credit agreements.

The Money Advice Service advises that anyone who thinks they might struggle to keep up finance payments to talk to their lender. These are extraordinary times and there might be more flexibility than usual.

If you can still afford to make a payment, just not the full amount, negotiating a longer payment period could reduce the monthly amount due but ensure you're still bringing your overall debt down. If you cannot currently afford the payments at all then you could be offered a payment holiday for a few months. The solution offered will differ from lender to lender but most are keen to help borrowers through this difficult time. When contacting your lender it's advisable presently to use email and online forms as they are all receiving an unprecedented number of calls to helplines.

What options are available to help keep car services and maintenance safer during the pandemic?

According to the online garage booking and comparison service BookMyGarage, there's a growing number of garages offering no-contact collection and delivery for all car maintenance services. Some garages just require notification of where keys have been safely left and the car will be collected by someone wearing gloves and protective equipment. The services are being targeted primarily at NHS staff and other key workers as well as people forced to self-isolate, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Fixter offer an online car maintenance service with the car being picked up contact-free, serviced or maintained and then delivered back to the customer. Interest in their service has rocketed since the outbreak of COVID-19 with the company experiencing their busiest days.

Frontline NHS workers can take advantage of a Halfords free ten point car check during the COVID-19 pandemic. This covers tyre pressure, oil and water levels, headlights, brake lights and screen wash.

Car safety recalls during the lockdown

There has been some confusion about car safety recalls during this period with some owners reporting that they've been turned away from dealerships. The Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency which is responsible for issuing recalls for vehicles with known safety issues is seeking to clarify the situation as a matter of urgency. It's a legal requirement for car owners to ensure their vehicle is safe to drive which includes responding to any safety recalls. Failure to do so can result in a car's insurance being invalidated, risks a £2,500 fine and three penalty points on a driver's licence. Last year, 1218 recalls were issued according to DVSA figures.

The DVSA are now looking at how to ensure that urgent recalls are dealt with during the lockdown period.

No change to tax and insurance

Since 2014, Vehicle & Excise Duty has been administered online with no need for dated paper discs. It will carry on as normal during the lockdown period. Insurance should be renewed as usual. The 6-month MOT extension means that drivers can use their current MOT certificate for renewing tax and insurance. Breakdown recovery subscriptions can be renewed or taken out as usual. As cars are now spending longer periods of time sitting stationary on drives and in garages, breakdown recovery with a home start service might well be worth considering.

Roadside assistance firms are still operating for essential journeys

It's vital that key workers can still travel to work and that people can ensure they have all the food and essential supplies they need. To help with this, the RAC, Green Flag and AA are maintaining roadside assistance for breakdowns. Patrols and recovery teams are strictly adhering to the guidelines regarding social distancing and hygiene. They are all using latex gloves, hand sanitiser and wipes to clean areas of any car they touch.

Can I still fill up with fuel?

Garages remain open for fuel and as a result of the dramatic drop in global oil demand, prices at the pump are plummeting. This shouldn't be taken as a green light to fill up for unnecessary journeys but should help to reduce the financial burden on drivers during this period. Drivers are advised to fill up when they go out for food or other essential items to minimise the number of journeys they make. Fuel pumps are touched by large numbers of people every day and Public Health England advises that plastic gloves should be worn and hands washed immediately after use.

Can I continue with driving lessons and take my test as planned?

The risk of catching COVID-19 during a driving lesson is regarded as high and driving instructors should not be offering lessons at this time. All driving tests have been cancelled for three months at least and the theory test has been suspended until at least April 20th. The only exception to this is for individuals with a 'critical need', these include front-line NHS staff and potential delivery drivers. The DVSA can provide advice as to how these can be accessed. Driving instructor (ADI) standards checks have also been suspended.

Can I buy and collect my new or used car?

Most dealerships are now closed and orders already placed will not be available for collection during the lockdown period. Your dealership will be available to advise as to when the vehicle will become available. There are exceptions being made for critical workers who rely on their own transport to get to and from work and for those people who are elderly or vulnerable who need a car to ensure they have essential supplies.

5 Comments
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Toni MAHER
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4/30/2020 12:07:26 PM
24 days ago
What about if my car breaks down and needs to be repaired? I can't afford to go to a main dealership.
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Tony Martyr
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4/9/2020 9:51:54 AM
9-Apr-2020
I would advise car owners not to leave the handbrake hard on during long periods of inactivity. Some models, particularly if there is a period of rain during the idle period, suffer from the handbrake locking on.
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John Major
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4/8/2020 10:25:24 AM
8-Apr-2020
Agree with the other comments - many thanks for this. Any info during these times of complete uncertainty is very welcome. Please therefore accept this observation as constructive: as someone who purchased a new car less than six months ago, I was mainly interested in the section on how missing out the required servicing might affect my warranty. I was disappointed to read that your advice seemed to be (i) this is a bit of a grey area; and (ii) if we had any concerns we should get in touch with the manufacturer direct. I really think these are the kind of issues JT Hughes, as our dealer - the company that sold us the car - should be taking the lead on. Surely it is you who should be liaising with Honda on our behalf, identifying what, if any, such issues might be and resolving/coming to an agreement with them on how any potential problems a delay in the required servicing will be dealt with. Do you not agree you should really be advising what action, if any, we need to take. Not just leaving the ball in our court. It's the reason many of us bought through you, as a dealer, rather than privately.
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Maralyn Hepworth
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4/8/2020 9:08:00 AM
8-Apr-2020
Many thanks for this. Very clear and comprehensive. Off to give my car a 5 mins burst on the drive. Keep safe, all at Hughes.
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richard priestley
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4/8/2020 8:58:23 AM
8-Apr-2020
thank you for a very comprehensive and useful statement which will be a good reference point of information during this difficult time. much appreciated .
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