Covid guidance: Car dealers reopen after three-month shutdown
Customers finally allowed back in England and Wales showrooms from 12 April, with many expecting a surge in demand
Britain has been under national lockdown restrictions 5 January 2021, joining much of Europe, but the government's easing process is continuing as planned - in line with falling coronavirus rates.
Up to now, car dealerships have been closed and there have been strict restrictions on travel, but with official guidance now eased to "minimise travel" as much as possible, and non-essential retail allowed to reopen, motorists should be aware of the latest rules and what they mean.
Here is a rundown of the measures affecting motorists across the UK.
*Can I buy a new car?*
Car dealers in England and Wales have been allowed to reopen as of today, 12 April, when non-essential retail is permitted to reopen its doors.
Customers will once again be allowed to enter and browse showrooms, for the first time in more than three months, having until now been restricted to using click-and-collect services. The reopening comes a week after restrictions were eased in Scotland, allowing dealerships there a headstart.
Dealers in Northern Ireland are still prohibited from fully reopening, but are from today allowed to operate click-and-collect services.
The SMMT predicts a surge in demand, but estimates that for the industry to compensate for four months of lost sales by the end of 2021, a new car will need to be sold every 12 seconds. Chief executive Mike Hawes said: "After one of the hardest years in living memory for everyone, reopening showrooms today takes the handbrake off UK Auto.
"With the widest and greenest choice of cars ever seen, unleashing pent up consumer demand can accelerate the industry’s recovery and that of the economy. As the automotive sector counts the cost of £22.2 billion lost in turnover during the pandemic, we hope today marks the start of that recovery, as well as giving consumers ever more choice for their motoring needs."
*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 open if they trade according to social distancing guidelines. The same is true of Wales and Scotland.
Buying privately hasn't been advisable during the lockdown, as the rules stated you should leave home only for essential purposes or to work if you can't work from home. In one particular case, a used car buyer was 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".
Rules on meeting outside have now been relaxed, which paves the way for private sales to recommence, but you should not enter a seller's home, and must take every precaution possible when making a transaction. Officially, you should not share a car with anyone from outside your household, and should remain two metres from all other parties.
*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. This measure has not been repeated, not least because there's still a backlog of MOTs from 2020.
As of 31 January, any six-month MOT exemption expired, meaning any car being driven on public roads - unless it is age exempt - must have a valid MOT certificate.
If you have to use your car while lockdown rules remain in place, 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, to avoid unnecessary travel.
*Can I go for a drive?*
It remains inadvisable go for a drive just to get out of the house. Trravel to a place of work if you can't work from home is permitted, as are other types of essential trip, but the government advises that remaining local is the best way of preventing the spread of coronavirus.
As before, there are questions being asked regarding the police's ability to enforce these driving rules, and there remain 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 - were cancelled at the beginning of the previous lockdown. This includef motorcycle (CBT), driving instructor (ADI parts two and three) and standard examinations. However, as of 2 February, the DVSA introduced "a limited theory test and practical test service for NHS health and social care workers, the emergency services and local councils", and beginning today (12 April), lessons can once again resume in England in Wales with strict social distancing guidelines in place.
In Scotland, learners must wait until 26 April at the earliest before recommencing lessons. Practical driving tests can begin on 22 April in England and Wales, and 6 May at the earliest in Scotland.
When taking a driving lesson, it is advised that both learner and instructor wear face coverings at all times, maximise air flow throughout the vehicle and thoroughly clean all touch points upon entry and exit.
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