Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice: driving, buying, selling and using your car

Empty roads will become a rarer site as lockdown lifts

Are you confused about what you can and can't do in your car as the lockdown surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic begins to loosen? You can use your car for pleasure as well as essential journeys, as long as you follow the government's advice.

At the start of lockdown, the official advice was that 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.

Following a parliamentary update in mid-May, there has been a degree of easing of those rules. People are being encouraged to return to work, where possible, but avoid public transport. This may mean there will be an increase in the number of people on the roads, many of whom will not have driven since mid-March.

Additionally, people in England are now allowed to drive, irrespective of distance, in order to take exercise once they've reached their destination, but the government is urging a common sense approach to this. Different rules are in operation for Scoland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Just be responsible about where you go, and keep contact with others to a minimum, while maintaining social distancing of at least two metres.

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 a car 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

As with everything in these difficult times, though, the most important thing to do is remain careful, and prioritise not only your own health, but that of everyone else as well. 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

Think about where and why you're driving

>> Consider your route carefully
>> Try to travel when the roads are quieter
>> Only travel with people from your household

Even under lockdown, governments recognise the need for people to get out of the house, but there has been some relaxation of these rules following the Prime Minister's announcement on 10 May 2020. 

Residents in England - not presently in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, so be careful not to drive across borders - can now drive to open, outdoor spaces for exercise however far that is from home. Various bodies, including the government, have urged a common sense approach to this. Clearly, enormous numbers of people visiting coastal resorts or other attractions such as the Lake District would make it difficult to maintain a two-metre social distance once out of the car.

Additionally, the safety charity Brake advises all people to avoid risky rural roads.

The government is also encouraging people to return to work, where possible, but to try and avoid using public transport. Inevitably, for people with longer commutes, this will mean an increase in traffic, so be extra vigilant as it could be the first time in two months some people have driven.

We also recommend, where possible travelling alone - certainly with nobody else present other than members of your household. If you, or a passenger, is carrying the virus, it's likely to spread very easily in that confined environment.

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 has been that the roads in most places have been very clear indeed. Even as people return to work, the number of people working from home have virtually eliminated the ‘rush hour’ in some places. Car use in general is still running at less than 80% of that before the pandemic took hold in early March.

Regardless, it’s still best to avoid holdups wherever you can.

What if I break down during my journey?

If you have paid for the service you will continue to 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 can share your car with people other than those in your household if you take precautions, which will help slow the spread of the virus. These include driving with the windows open, using front and rear seats, and wearing face masks in the car when sharing with people not from your households.

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 during lockdown, there's currently a six-month exemption to the test which has been in place since 30 March effective for 12 months, should you wish to use this option. Chris Price, Head of MoT policy at the DVSA, confirmed that requirements relating to vehicle use and testing have been reviewed 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 (DVSA) has confirmed that MoT tests are still going at some garages, so you can still have your MoT as normal if you want to. 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, car service centres are open for business, but continue to prioritise key workers. If none of those options are available then you'll need to make an application to SORN your vehicle, explained in more detail below. 

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 declare your car as not in use and stop paying car tax?

Yes, you can declare a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN), and save money. These days, telling the DVSA 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.

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.

Remember that when you intend to begin driving, you will need to start paying the tax again before you head out onto a public road - this is something the police will be looking out for.

>> Read more: The Parkers guide to car tax

What is happening to fuel prices?

They're going down and fast, with supermarket chain Morrisons cutting petrol to less than £1 per litre in May 2020. Prices are still variable, though, and researching prices local to you will certainly pay dividends. According to FairFuel UK, these recent fuel price drops are the largest ever in history, and it certainly chimes with the drop off in the global crude oil price and the fall in demand.

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.' Huge drops have yet to happen – and are unlikely to now as the demand for oil is already picking up again – but they remain lower than we've been used to in recent years.

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 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.

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 should be safe on the vast majority of hard interior materials – including plastic, wood, and chrome - but check in an area that's ordinarily out of sight before you do the whole cabin of your car. 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?

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 clear, and we have contacted 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

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.

Most modern cars will discharge their battery in two to 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 until 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, chock 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

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. Car dealers open from 1 June and have installed measures to ensure social distancing and hygiene – these are similar to arrangements already seen in supermarkets. As for private buying and selling, our advice is to take care – try to arrange a solo test drive, maintain distance, and sanitise your hands before and after looking at the car.

You can certainly choose a new car to lease via Parkers and plenty of car manufacturers will allow you to buy online with several carmakers even supplying a part-exchange valuation for your current car and strike a deal at the same time. Everything including signing the deal can be 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.

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