Covid-19: what it means for motorists and the car industry

Everything you need to know about how Covid-19 affects cars, motorists and the car industry in the UK

England is heading into a second Covid-19 lockdown on 5 November. The Government says it will last until at least 2 December, while other parts of the UK have used similar measures to control the spread of the virus.

As such, there are firm restrictions on what people can do and who they can meet with, but how does this impact drivers and the car industry as a whole?

Car dealers forced to close down again

Having been among the first non-essential retailers to reopen following the first national lockdown earlier this year, car dealerships have now been forced to close their doors again. Cars will only be available to purchase entirely online, with customers either having the vehicle delivered to them or collecting from the dealership.

The Government specifically mentioned vehicle showrooms as one of the types of non-essential retailer that have to close for the new lockdown - an announcement that was met with displeasure from the industry.

Car dealerships are thought to be one of the easiest types of retailer to make Covid-secure, due to the fact they’re generally based in large, open spaces where social distancing can be maintained without any difficulty. Garden centres have been allowed to stay open on this premise, but vehicle showrooms have not been afforded the same exemption.

Reacting to the news, Mike Hawes - chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) - said: “As England heads back into lockdown, we need to keep business operating. Auto manufacturing must have its showrooms open; it’s proven safe and secure, a very different environment from other retail premises. We need to keep the economy turning - safely - and prevent wider job losses.”

The National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) has written to the prime minister to request that dealerships are made exempt from the rules requiring non-essential retailers to shut.

Can I still drive my car?

You’re still allowed to use your car if you’re leaving your home for one of the approved reasons - these include shopping for essentials, going to a public outdoor location to take daily exercise (by yourself, with members of your household/support bubble or with one member of another household), childcare or education reasons, medical reasons, assisting an elderly or vulnerable person, or travelling to or from work.

As with the last lockdown, no plans have been announced to close roads or set mileage limits to prevent people travelling, but anyone who is stopped by the police and found to be flouting the rules could be subject to a fine.

This means that driving your car for any reason other than those listed above - including just going for a drive on your own - is inadvisable at the present time. Anyone caught doing so by the police could face a fine.

Garages to stay open

Although the last lockdown saw an MoT extension implemented, garages nevertheless remained open due to their classification as essential businesses.

The Government hasn’t explicitly stated what the rules for garages will be during the second lockdown, but as the restrictions appear broadly similar to before, it’s expected they will remain open.

Whether another MoT extension could be introduced for vehicles due to be tested in November remains to be seen.

Car production to continue

The first lockdown saw car production grind to a halt in the UK and across Europe, with manufacturers having to make their factories Covid-secure before being able to reopen.

This time around, though, the Government has recognised that factory employees cannot work from home and says that manufacturing should continue, as it is “essential to keeping the country operating and supporting vital sectors and employers”.

As such, it’s expected that car production will carry on, despite significant year-on-year declines continuing to cause worry in the industry.

Driving lessons and tests suspended

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has now confirmed driving lessons and tests will be suspended during the new lockdown in England. The pause is expected to last between 5 November and 2 December.

Crispin Moger, CEO of learner driver insurer Marmalade, said: "Learners have lost money from expired theory tests during the first lockdown, had tests delayed and have paid for extra lessons while facing huge backlogs with not enough test slots to accommodate. For many learners this will have been a knock to confidence, their freedom and progression in their journey to passing their test and this new announcement will only add to this delay."

He added: "With tests now postponed again, it is inevitable that learners will be out of pocket unless the DVSA chooses to extend the expiration limit on theory test certificates. During the last lockdown, we calculated learners lost over £1 million due to the restrictions."

Will lockdown cause fuel shortages?

Fuel retailers didn’t anticipate any petrol or diesel shortages when the first national lockdown was implemented back in March, and their predictions proved to be accurate.

Whereas supermarkets had to take measures to prevent the panic buying of essential items, fuel sales plummeted due to people travelling less. The result was a drop in petrol and diesel pump prices, which still haven’t fully recovered to pre-Covid levels.

Motorists are advised to use the provided gloves when filling up at petrol stations, after which they should use hand sanitiser.

What are the best selling cars in the UK in 2020? Click here to find out...

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