Everything you need to know about how Covid-19 affects cars, motorists and the car industry in the UK
England is now in its third national Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown, with restrictions unlikely to start being eased until March when a higher proportion of the population has been vaccinated against the virus. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own similar restrictions in place.
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 remain closed
Having been allowed to briefly reopen following the second national lockdown in November 2020, car dealerships across England – and indeed the rest of the UK – gradually had to close again as Tier 3 and Tier 4 local lockdown restrictions were rolled out in stages across the country.
The latest national lockdown means dealers are being forced to keep their doors shut at a time when they had hoped to be reopening them. Cars are only available to purchase entirely online, with customers either having the vehicle delivered to them or collecting from the dealership.
The Government has previously specifically mentioned vehicle showrooms as one of the types of non-essential retailer that have to close under lockdown measures – a decision that has been 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.
Mike Hawes – chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – previously 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) wrote to the prime minister last year to request that dealerships were 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 two lockdowns, 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 not allowed at the present time. Anyone caught doing so by the police could face a fine.
Garages to stay open
Although the first lockdown saw an MoT extension implemented, garages nevertheless remained open due to their classification as essential businesses.
As with the second lockdown, this third lockdown will see garages remain open for repairs, servicing and MoTs. This means it’s unlikely that another MoT extension will be introduced.
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.
The second time around, though, the Government recognised that factory employees could work from home and said that manufacturing should continue, as it was “essential to keeping the country operating and supporting vital sectors and employers”.
As such, it’s expected that car production will carry on during this third lockdown as well, 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 third lockdown in England. The same applies to Wales and Scotland, where national lockdowns are also in place.
Will lockdown cause fuel shortages?
Fuel retailers didn’t anticipate any petrol or diesel shortages when the first and second national lockdowns were implemented last year, and their predictions proved to be accurate.
Whereas supermarkets had to take measures to prevent the panic buying of essential items during the first lockdown, 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.