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Coronavirus and motoring FAQs: everything you need to know about driving during COVID-19

Coronavirus and motoring FAQs: everything you need to know about driving during COVID-19

Get information about changes to motoring and car insurance, as the Government continues to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
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Posted 7 SEPTEMBER 2020

How is COVID-19 affecting driving and car insurance?

The pandemic may change the way you drive, insure and maintain your car. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for car insurance if you intend to drive, even during lockdown and as lockdown eases.

Under UK law, all drivers must have at least third-party insurance if they intend to drive a vehicle on public roads.
However, if you intend to drive less or not at all, or if your financial situation has changed, you may need to change the terms of your insurance policy.

Our experts are here to answer common questions and concerns to help you get a fairer deal.

Please note: The information in this article was correct at the time of publication on 15 July 2020, but, because of the impact of COVID-19, things continue to change. We aim to keep this page updated, but check with your insurance provider or potential provider directly to confirm any details.

What changes to my driving habits should I notify my insurance provider about?

In March 2020, as the UK entered its lockdown, members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) made a series of customer pledges in acknowledgement of the unprecedented and uncertain times. These pledges have since been extended to 31 October 2020.

So, if you were formerly working in an office and have switched to working from home, or are still driving to commute, you won’t need to contact your insurance provider to update them of your situation. Your level of cover will remain unchanged.

Please note, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has provided guidance on NHS volunteers and their car insurance. The ABI says NHS Volunteer Responders, and other volunteers helping in the effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak, aren’t required to get in touch with their insurance provider to extend their cover or update their documents.  
The ABI’s advice relates to those who are using their own vehicle for voluntary reasons – delivering medical supplies or groceries to help people affected by COVID-19.  
Not all insurance providers are part of the ABI, so you may want to check. For more information, visit the ABI website 

How do I go about getting an MOT?

The Government has given an MOT exemption lasting six months to owners of cars, motorcycles and vans, whose MOT was due to expire between 30 March and 31 July 2020.

MOT centres are now open to get an MOT. Because of this the government has said that MOT certificates will not be extended if your vehicle’s MOT expires on or after 1 August 2020. If this applies to you, you must book an MOT as usual. You can start to do this now as you can get an MOT up to a month (minus a day) before it runs out and keep the same renewal date.

The reintroduction of MOTs will reassure many drivers, says Dan Hutson, Head of Motor at Compare the Market:

“Our recent research found that drivers are worried about the safety of their own and other peoples’ cars. One in ten (10%) said that they are worried about the safety of their vehicle after this period of little or no car usage, while one in four (25%) are worried about the safety of other cars on the road. Despite drivers’ nervousness about the safety of their vehicle, one in three (33%) people who own or have access to a car have not checked any aspect of their car since lockdown began. Only a quarter (25%) have checked their brakes during this time, 32% have checked the battery and the most commonly checked item on people’s cars were the tyres (51%).”

Don’t take your vehicle for its MOT if either:

  • you’re self-isolating as you or someone you live with has coronavirus symptoms
  • you’re being advised to shield as you are extremely vulnerable from coronavirus – check the most up to date guidance for shielding for England, Scotland and Wales

Some MOT centres will collect your vehicle, carry out an MOT, and return it if you’re being shielded. Contact your local MOT centres to find out if they offer this service if you need it.

If your MOT has been extended for six months the Government says your vehicle must still be maintained in a roadworthy state, and some garages will stay open to carry out critical repair work. People can still be prosecuted if they drive unsafe vehicles.

The six-month MOT exemption means that drivers due an MOT can save the £55 that it costs at a time when money is tight for many in the UK.

Annual tests for buses, lorries and coaches have been suspended for up to three months.

In Northern Ireland, most drivers whose MOTs were set to expire during lockdown were able to get a Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC) which will extend the time needed until their next MOT. Eligible vehicles include all cars and motorcycles that are four years old or more, goods vehicles and trailers. See more about vehicles eligible for TECs

However, there are now plans for vehicle testing to resume on a phased basis from 20 July. The DVA has said it will prioritise those categories of vehicles which are currently not able to get a Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC).
You can book a vehicle test appointment from 1 July if your vehicle is in one of these categories:

  • taxis due a first-time test
  • buses due a first-time test
  • vehicles not registered in Northern Ireland and due a test
  • vehicles with MOT expired by more than 12 months

You’ll need to ring the booking line on 0345 247 2471 to arrange an appointment – no reminders will be sent so you’ll need to check and be proactive.

Vehicle testing for all other vehicles will remain suspended and owners of these vehicles should not attempt to book an appointment.

The Northern Irish government website says: “It remains the responsibility of the vehicle owner to make sure their car is in a roadworthy condition to be used on a public road.”
Read our guide to the MOT

How is coronavirus affecting driving tests?

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has suspended all car driving tests until 22 July 2020 in England. Driving tests are still suspended in Scotland and Wales.
Other tests have different start dates:

When driving tests restart  
Type Date
Car Wednesday 22 July 2020
Motorcycle module 1 and 2 Monday 13 July 2020
Lorry, bus and coach Monday 13 July 2020
Tractor and specialist vehicle Monday 6 July 2020
Approved driving instructor (ADI) part 2 test (driving ability) Wednesday 22 July 2020
ADI part 3 test (instructional ability) To be confirmed
ADI standards check To be confirmed

Some key workers can still apply to take an emergency driving test during the suspension period. People who may be eligible to book an emergency test include workers in:

  • health and social care
  • education and childcare
  • key public services
  • local and national government
  • food and other necessary goods
  • public safety and national security
  • transport
  • utilities, communication and financial services

If you had a test booked which has been cancelled at short notice (less than three days), you can claim back expenses using the GOV.UK website.

The DVSA, which handles driver testing in England, Scotland and Wales, has promised to contact everyone affected and rebook all cancelled tests at the earliest opportunity.

“Those who have tests cancelled will have priority when testing resumes,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland has also suspended all driving tests, including those for cars, motorcycles, lorries, buses and specialist vehicles.

But from 6 July the DVA plans to resume off-road and on-road motorcycle tests with tests for drivers in the following additional categories:

  • bus;
  • tractor

Module 4 DCPC tests for lorry, bus and coach drivers are planned from 20 July.

In Northern Ireland from 1 July, to book a practical test is in one of these categories, you’ll need to ring 0345 247 2471 to arrange an appointment. Bookings will be available by phone only.

Should I consider declaring my car SORN?

If the pandemic means you’re not going to drive your car at all, you might want to take it off the road altogether. Getting a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) for your car means you won’t have to pay tax or car insurance. But you mustn’t drive or even park your car on a public road while it is in place.

Find out more about SORN and your car

What about attending driving courses, like speed awareness courses?

Speed awareness classroom courses have been cancelled until Monday 3 August 2020 by UK Road Offender Education (who run the scheme for the Police Service), due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’d already booked and paid for a course, digital courses are now being offered as an alternative. If your original course provider has not yet offered you a digital course, please contact them to arrange this. You may need to arrange a refund for your classroom course and then book and pay for your digital course.

You can book a digital course regardless of which police force in the UK offered you a course – you can just choose a provider and book online.

Is it true some insurance companies are offering goodwill gestures to their customers?

We’ve seen a few insurance providers offering money back and other goodwill gestures to their car insurance customers.

Some providers are giving all customers a flat discount or money back. Others are providing money back only for customers who have been affected in certain ways by the coronavirus pandemic, such as those who are self-employed, unemployed or who have been put on a government furlough scheme by their employer.

Other examples include free add-ons, such as breakdown cover, or the waiver of any admin fees.

Some insurance providers who have introduced these schemes have already written to customers via post or email to tell them about their discount or money-back offer.

However, not every insurance provider is offering a goodwill gesture, so if you haven’t heard from them, you should check your provider’s website or contact them directly to see if you could receive a discount or money back too.

What should I do if I can’t make my monthly/annual insurance payments?

The first thing you should do is contact your insurance provider as soon as possible – they may be able to help you.

You should do this as soon as possible because, if you miss a payment and you don’t notify your insurance provider, they may cancel your policy, leaving you without valid insurance.

Driving a vehicle without at least valid third-party insurance is against the law and could land you a fixed penalty of £300 and six points on your licence.

If the case goes to court, you could receive an unlimited fine and be disqualified from driving. The police also have the power to seize, and in some cases, destroy the vehicle that’s being driven uninsured.

The Government has not so far issued official advice on what drivers should do if they can’t pay their car insurance premium. But they’ve made a number of pledges to help people experiencing financial hardship.

To see if you’re eligible for support, visit GOV.UK for detailed financial support information.

If you have immediate debt problems, get in touch with the Money Advice Service for free debt advice as soon as possible.

Find out what to do if you miss a car insurance payment.

What if I can't keep up my vehicle repayments?

If you can’t keep up with your car finance or leasing payments because of COVID-19, you can apply for a three-month payment freeze. You’ll need to contact your lender to apply. If your application for a payment holiday is accepted, it won’t affect your credit record. But you’ll still be charged interest for the holiday months.

The Financial Conduct Authority has also said firms shouldn’t change your personal contract purchase (PCP) or personal contract hire (PCH) deal in a way that’s unfair. If you’re having temporary difficulties paying because of coronavirus, and you need your car, the FCA says your finance provider shouldn’t repossess it or end the agreement.

If you need immediate help with debt, contact the Money Advice Service for free debt advice.

What should I do if I’m on a car leasing or PCP agreement?

You can apply for a three-month payment freeze if you can’t meet the repayments on your PCP or PCH deal. If your PCP agreement comes to an end and you want to keep your car but don’t have the money to make the final payment because of the coronavirus crisis, the FCA says your provider should work with you to find a solution.

Find out more about motor finance support on the FCA website.

If you’re self-isolating when your vehicle lease comes to an end and are therefore unable to return the vehicle to your provider, you should contact them as soon as possible.

They may be able to help you by extending the terms of your lease or by arranging to collect the vehicle themselves.

What should I do if I need to submit an insurance claim during lockdown?

We hope you won’t need to submit an insurance claim at this difficult time, but if you do, it’s reassuring to know that most insurance providers are continuing to operate as normal during the coronavirus pandemic.

So, if you need to submit a claim you should be able to do it in the normal way.

The best ways to submit a claim are to contact your insurance provider via email, using a claims portal on their website, or phone.

Be aware that some insurance providers may be running a slower service, especially if their claims handlers are working from home. However, you can count on receiving the level of cover you are entitled to.

If you have problems when making a claim, you can refer your case to the Association of British Insurers.

Do I still need to pay my vehicle tax during lockdown, and how can I pay?

The usual rules surrounding vehicle tax still apply during quarantine. So, if you intend to use your vehicle on public roads during lockdown (even if it’s just to park on a public road), you still need to pay vehicle tax.

The safest and easiest way to pay your vehicle tax is via the government’s online portal. For this, you will need the reference number from your vehicle tax reminder form (V11), or the vehicle code from your V5C or green ‘new keeper’ slip.

Alternatively, you can pay your vehicle tax over the phone by calling 0300 123 4321 (local rates apply).

You can also pay your vehicle tax in person at the Post Office. Many local Post Offices are still open at this time, however, your nearest Post Office may still be closed, so you should check in advance before heading out.

Remember, you may need to queue for a while and observe social distancing rules while inside the store, so you should only use this option if you have no other choice.

If you’re not going to be using your vehicle at this time, you could save money by making a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN). See Should I consider declaring my car SORN? (above) for more information.

Could your vehicle be exempt from vehicle tax and how is vehicle tax calculated? Read our guide to vehicle tax to find out.

Can I still get telematics (black box) insurance?

When you take out telematics insurance, an engineer will install a black box in your vehicle to measure how, when and where you drive.

This data will help your insurance provider determine how much you should pay for insurance. If you drive safely, it could help to lower your premium.

The rules of the road haven’t changed during lockdown, so if you obey the speed limit and avoid driving during more dangerous times, such as at night, telematics insurance could offer you a better deal.

But with social distancing in place, it’s harder for an engineer to install a black box in your car.

Some telematics insurance providers have started to distribute install-it-yourself black boxes to new customers, while others are able to install devices while observing social distancing requirements.

Before taking out a new telematics insurance policy, you should read your provider’s website carefully, or speak to a customer service assistant over the phone, to understand how they will install the black box.

What should I do if my warranty expires during lockdown?

Your vehicle warranty is provided at the discretion of your manufacturer, retailer or third-party provider.

If your warranty is set to expire during lockdown, you should contact your warranty provider to see if they can help.

Many vehicle manufacturers have stated that they are extending some customer’s warranties. However, this is not true of all manufacturers and warranty providers, so you should not assume your warranty has already been extended.

The best way to check if your warranty could be extended is to visit your manufacturer’s or warranty provider’s website, or by contact them directly.

What if my car breaks down?

If you have breakdown cover included in your car insurance policy or as standalone cover, you could still call your breakdown service during this time for home start or emergency roadside assistance.

If you’ve come into contact with the virus, are self-isolating or experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus, you should let your breakdown service know when you call them, so the mechanics can take appropriate action when they reach you.

Both the AA and RAC have confirmed they still aim to attend every breakdown they are called out to. However, they have asked customers to maintain a distance of two metres from their mechanics at all times while they’re on the scene.

Can someone else drive my vehicle – for instance if they are picking up shopping, or if it’s an emergency?

The rules around driving other people’s vehicles haven’t changed. If you’re not listed as a named driver on someone else’s policy, you can only drive their vehicle if you have their permission. You’ll also need a comprehensive insurance policy which includes ‘driving other cars’ (DOC), giving you the minimum legal standard of insurance (third party cover) in emergency situations only.

You won’t be exempt from the rules if you’re caught driving another person’s car without insurance – even if you’re making an essential journey.

If you’re caught using another person’s vehicle without insurance or the owner’s permission, you could face strict penalties, including 6–8 penalty points on your licence, and an unlimited fine and a disqualification from driving if the case goes to court.

If you’re in an emergency and aren’t insured to drive another person’s vehicle, your first port of call should be to call 999.

Should I change the way I fill up my tank?

As far as we’re aware, the way people can use petrol station forecourts hasn’t changed.

However, individual fuel retailers are free to enforce their own rules on their forecourts, so be on the look-out for news on TV and signs at petrol stations.

There’s no evidence that petrol pumps pose any greater risk of harbouring coronavirus than any other surface. However, it’s wise to wear gloves and wash your hands after using them.

You can also pay by contactless (for up to £45, as of 1 April 2020) at many pumps around the country, meaning you can observe social distancing guidelines by avoiding going into the store and you won’t have to touch a keypad either.

What about driving abroad?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is currently advising against non-essential travel abroad. Many other countries are also closing their borders to travel.

To the best of our knowledge, no countries have changed the rules specifically regarding foreign drivers or foreign vehicles.

However, many countries have started to implement specific policies regarding driving as a whole, including limiting traffic on roads to only essential journeys.

In light of the crisis, many countries have stopped allowing foreign travellers into their countries altogether. If it is essential you travel abroad and drive, you may need to be aware of this if you intend to drive across any national borders, including within the Schengen Area, or across state borders in places like the United States, as you may be forbidden from entering.

Check the Foreign Travel Advice section of the gov.uk website for specific information about the countries you need to drive in.

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