Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice: keeping it legal, staying safe, and how you're affected

Petrol prices drop by reconrd amounts in COVID-19 pandemic

Worried about driving as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic takes hold? Your car should be a safe haven from it, if you follow the advice and stop all non-essential driving. For those who need to drive, fuel prices have fallen by record amounts.

Going for a drive should be limited to buying essentials such as food and medicine (reasonable amounts thereof) or making sure elderly or vulnerable relatives have everything they need. Just be responsible about where you go, and keep contact with others to a minimum.

Read on to find out all you need to know about driving right now.

>> What to do if your car runs out of MoT?
>> Is your warranty still valid if you're late for a service?
>> Keeping your car clean and yourself safe
>> When to travel and how to stay safe
>> What if my car breaks down during a journey?
>> Car sharing: who can I give lifts to?

>> What's happening to fuel prices?
>> Can you declare it off-road and not pay road tax?
>> What to do if you can't make your finance payments
>> What to do if you're leaving it parked for weeks?

>> Buying and selling your car without leaving home

As with everything in these difficult times, though, the most important thing to do is remain careful, and prioritise your own health and that of your loved ones. And under no circumstances should you leave your home at all if you're self-isolating.

>> Read more: Your Coronavirus (COVID-19) motoring questions answered
Read more: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for van and pickup drivers

Car door handle

Is your journey really necessary?

>> Consider your journey carefully
>> Keep your distance, travel when the roads are quietest
>> Travel alone if you can

Even under lockdown, governments recognise the need for people to get out of the house, but the advice is to limit your travel to that which is essential. As well as that, the safety charity Brake advises all people to avoid risky rural roads.

So, unless you're a key worker, you should only drive to the shops to buy food or to a medical appointment. If you still desperately need to drive somewhere, follow the same guidelines as you would in any scenario – keep your distance from other people, avoid large gatherings, and absolutely do not go out if you’re showing any symptoms of the virus.

We also recommend travelling alone unless unavoidable. Cars are enclosed environments, after all - and if you, or a passenger, is carrying the virus, it's likely to spread very easily.

Traffic conditions and time of travel

>> Choose your times
>> Plan your journeys
>> Try to avoid too much contact

The (very slight) silver lining of this outbreak is that the roads in most places are very clear indeed. Especially at peak times when you’d usually have avoided travelling, the number of people working from home have virtually eliminated the ‘rush hour’ in some places.

Regardless, it’s still best to avoid holdups wherever you can – the last thing you want is to be stuck in traffic when you should be at home looking after quarantined loved ones.

What if I break down during my journey?

Remember that you should travel only when necessary. If you're following that advice, you will be covered by the major breakdown recovery companies. In a statement, the RAC has confirmed this by saying, 'We know many of our customers rely on their cars to get food or need to travel to work in critical jobs required to keep the country going. So, rest assured we’re still here for you. We’re also supporting emergency services vehicles, delivery vehicles and critical service providers that break down.'

Car sharing: who can I give lifts to?

The government guidelines on this are clear. You should not share your car with anyone other than a member of your household. This will help massively slow the spread of the virus. So, if you're still working on-site, and your employer is pressuring you to car-share in this situation, you should be clear about this.

However, if there are no other choices (you're a key worker), and there are no viable public transport alternatives, please consider all social distancing rules. At the very least, sit your passenger in the rear of the car, and thoroughly clean all surfaces before and after getting in or out.

What to do if your car runs out of MoT or needs servicing?

>> Read more: MoT rules during the COVID-19 pandemic

Think about your car MoT and servicing

If your car runs out of MoT while it's out of action for any amount of time, there's a six-month exemption to the test from 30 March effective for 12 months, which will help key workers remain mobile. Chris Price, Head of MoT policy at the DVSA, confirmed that requirements relating to vehicle use and testing are currently under review in light of COVID-19.

He said: 'Our priority is helping everyone keep their vehicle safe to drive, but drivers in self-isolation should not take their vehicle to be tested.'

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has confirmed that MoT tests are still going ahead amid the coronavirus lockdown until 30 March. All tests will still take place even though the government is trying to minimise social contact and coronavirus transmission risks.

If it needs servicing, again, some car service centres are still open for business, but are prioritising key workers. As per our earlier advice, please clean the car thoroughly and remain distant from any delivery driver to help prevent the transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

If none of those options are available then you'll need to leave parked off-road or in a garage, and make an application to SORN (below) your vehicle before applying for an MoT test when you are able to. It's legal to drive a car without a valid MoT to a pre-arranged MoT appointment.

Is your warranty still valid if you're late for a service?

Yes. Every car manufacturer we've spoken to so far has confirmed that they will honour any warranty on a car that's been serviced late due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemicas long as you treat it as a delay to service, rather than a reason to skip one. Many carmakers are stipulating a mileage cap or that you need to book a service in their system, though.

>> Read more: Warranty advice during the pandemic

Can you take your car off-road and stop paying car tax?

Yes, you can declare a car SORN, and save money. These days, telling the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency) that you're not going to be using your car and don't need it taxed is easy. You can do it online, which means you don't have to worry about car tax when you're at home.

You can renew your car tax if you're still using it, or tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licence Agency) your car is off-road by declaring a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN) by visiting the DVLA’s Vehicle Licensing website. It's a free service and can be done 24 hours a day.

There's a page to declare your car SORN on the DVLA website, and we recommend using this if you know you are going to have your car off the road for any period of time. It takes seconds, and will mean you avoid paying fines for having an untaxed car.

In addition, drivers stuck at home or self-isolating because of COVID-19, can use Halfords’ garage on wheels services, Halfords Mobile Expert and Tyres On The Drive, where technicians can carry out car repairs and fittings outside their homes or on their drives without coming into contact with anyone.

>> Read more: The Parkers guide to car tax

What is happening to fuel prices?

They're going down and fast. The supermarkets are in the process of dropping fuel prices, with 12p-per-litre being dropped off the cost of petrol and 8p-per-litre from diesel. According to FairFuel UK, this is the largest ever price cut in history, and it certainly chimes with the drop off in the global crude oil price and the fall in demand.

If you're still reliant on your car for work or business, this is a very small silver lining in the the cloud that we're currently under, but with at least with quieter roads and fuel now stading (23 March) at 104p/litre for petrol and 111p/litre for diesel, this will mean the average fill-up will drop by as much as £10.

The RAC commented: 'The price of oil has fallen so far – down to an 18-year low – that it was inevitable that pump prices would eventually follow suit.' We can expect prices to drop even further in the coming weeks.

Refuelling when socially distancing

Remember that filling-up is a potential virus transmission risk. You should wash your hands before and after touching the fuel filler flap and he petrol pump - for EV drivers, the same goes for public charging points and cables.

Use the disposable gloves provided at the filling stations - put them on before you do anything else. Modern pumps are your friend, as many are pay-at-pump and allow contactless payment up to a certain amount. Obviously, once finished, remove (by hooking your thumb on the inside of the back - avoid touching the outside) and bin the gloves, and use sanitiser on your hands.

Top advice when refuelling and driving – BE SENSIBLE and do not drive at all unless it is absolutely necessary. The Coronavirus outbreak should be taken seriously – it’s the reason that the Parkers team members are all currently working from home. Using common sense and following simple guidelines is your best chance of staying infection-free and spreading it to others.

Keep it clean

>> Clean all touch points in the car before driving
>> Keep antibacterial wipes and sanitiser in the car
>> If refuelling, clean that area and your hands afterwards

By now the hand-washing regime should be drilled into your head – and it applies to driving, too. Before you get into the car and after you’ve got out, you should clean your hands thoroughly with an alcohol hand sanitiser or just plain soap and hot water. That’s 20 seconds, minimum, of deep-cleaning – try singing two rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’ to get the correct timing.

That sanitation regime should extend to your car’s interior surfaces, too. Antibacterial wipes are very useful in these scenarios, and they’ll be safe on the vast majority of hard interior materials – including plastic, wood, and chrome. You can also use a cloth with an alcohol-based cleaner.

Leather or fabric may be damaged by harsh chemical cleaners, but gentler products should keep them in fine fettle. Before you drive, you should be cleaning your car's touch points - that is, the steering wheel, gear lever, grab handles, door handles, touchscreens and climate controls.

Who’s been driving your car? If your vehicle is shared by more than one person, you ought to step up your sanitation regime, cleaning interior surfaces every time you get into the car and every time you step out, to leave it clean for the next driver.

>> Read more: How to sanitise your car

What to do if you can't make your finance payments?

Firstly, don't panic. Talk to your finance company, which will be geared up to assist people finding it difficult to meet their payments. The key is to keep calm and to approach your specific finance company as soon as possible, and talk things through. You'll be able to find your customer services number on the finance company's website or in your documentation.

The situation over payment holidays is still unclear, but we're contacting all the car manufacturers to see where they stand. Click through to see the latest updates on this. We'd also recommend talking to the Citizen's Advice Bureau for expert independent advice on car finance contracts, but clearly they're going to be busy at the moment.

What other checks if you're leaving your car parked up

Firstly, if you're leaving your car parked up in one place for self-isolation, try and find somewhere off-road. Firstly you can declare it SORN (above), and you don't need to worry as much about mounting costs for an idle car. We'd always recommend a driveway or garage, but appreciate not everyone has access.

Firstly, most modern cars will discharge their battery in between two and four weeks, so if you can, when you leave it, either leave a trickle charger attached (effectively a battery charger that keeps it topped up, or if you know your car's immobiliser and alarm will cope with it, just disconnect the battery. If you're unsure, and can't keep it charged, just make sure someone can start it for you and run it 'til it's warm every five days or so.

If you know you're going to leave it for more than two weeks, then don't apply the parking brake (make sure you override an automatic handbrake on an electronically-controlled system), and and leave it first gear (manual) and park (automatic). If you can, choc at least one of the wheels with a piece of wood or similar.

Next, set the type pressures to 40psi. This is so that when it's parked for any length of time you don't get flatspots as the tyres harden through lack of use. If it's in a garage and safe, drop one of the windows slightly to allow some air through the interior of the car - and ideally, if you can, get someone to check on it every week or so while it's laid-up.

When you're ready to drive it again, be sure to follow the steps detailed below:

>> Read more: What to do when driving car that's been parked a long time

Buying and selling your car without leaving home

These are challenging times, but you might still need to change your car, especially if you're coming to the end of your finance agreement. And with that in mind, you might want to look at buying online and delaying delivery until it's safe to do so.

You can certainly choose a new car to lease via Parkers and plenty of car manufacturers will sell and deliver your a car in the comfort of your own home. You can choose and configure your car online with several manufacturers and then even get a part-exchange valuation for your current car and strike a deal at the same time. Everything including signing the deal is done online.

Most car manufacturers are offering test drives where they deliver the car to your home, and subject to the usual safety measures around sanitisation and social distancing spelled out above, you can try before you buy. However, how long that remains in place is not yet clear as the Coronavirus situation changes day by day.

>> Read more: How to buy a new car online
>> Read more: How to lease a new car online