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) pandemic.

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

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
10
minute read
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Posted 19 JANUARY 2021

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, whether in or out of local or national lockdown.

Under UK law, all drivers must have at least third-party insurance if they intend to drive a vehicle on public roads.

But if you’re now driving less frequently (or not at all), or if your financial situation has changed, you may need to alter 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 19 January 2020 but, because of the impact of COVID-19, things continue to change.  Always check the government website to find rules and restrictions for the area of the UK you live in.

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?

At the start of the pandemic, 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 19 March 2021.

This means that if you had been 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.

Also, if you were one of the many people who volunteered to help others during the pandemic, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has provided guidance to say that you don’t have to get in touch with your insurance provider to extend your cover or update your 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 directly with your provider to be absolutely certain. For more information, visit the ABI website.

How do I go about getting an MOT?

MOT garages have been classified as an essential business and remain open during the English lockdown that started in January 2021. If your MOT expires, you must sort out a test in time as usual. This also applies to anyone whose MOT expired between 30 March and 31 July 2020 and who were given a six-month extension on their certificate. You’ll need to get your MOT done before your extension expires.

You can get an MOT up to a month (minus one day) before it runs out and keep the same renewal date.

The continuation of MOTs will reassure many drivers, says Dan Hutson, head of motor insurance at Compare the Market.

He says: “Our research found that drivers were worried about the safety of their own and other people’s cars after the first national lockdown. One in 10 (10%) said they were worried about the safety of their vehicle after that first lockdown – a period of little or no car usage - while one in four (25%) were worried about the safety of other cars on the road.”

Don’t take your vehicle for its MOT if:

  • you’re self-isolating because you or someone you live with has coronavirus symptoms
  • you’ve been told by the NHS Test and Trace service that you’ve been in contact with a person who has coronavirus
  • if you’re in quarantine after returning from abroad

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

If your MOT was extended for six months and you’re still in the extension period, the government says your vehicle must still be maintained in a roadworthy state. Garages remain open to carry out critical repair work. If you drive an unsafe vehicle you can still be prosecuted.

MOTs in Northern Ireland

The situation in Northern Ireland was a bit different. Most drivers whose MOTs were set to expire during the first lockdown, which started in March, were able to get a Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC) that extended the time needed until their next MOT.

You should be sent a reminder, and be able to book a vehicle test, if your vehicle falls into one of these categories:

  • four-year-old private cars, including four-year-old cars which were given a six-month Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC) 
  • four-year-old motorcycles
  • three-year-old light goods vehicles
  • all heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) due a test from 1 September 2020 
  • all trailers due a test from 1 September 2020 

But it’s best to check the expiry date of your vehicle’s MOT and not rely on the automatic reminder, as there are some categories where you won’t get one. These include:

  • vehicles that are not registered or tested in Northern Ireland and are due a test
  • vehicles with an MOT that expired more than 12 months ago, including those currently declared SORN
  • buses that are due a first-time test (not for ‘hire and reward’ use)

See more on coronavirus and motoring in Northern Ireland on NIDirect.

Read our guide to the MOT

How is coronavirus affecting driving tests?

What’s happening with both theory and practical driving tests may depend on where you live in the UK. The dates in the table below might change depending on levels of infection throughout the country and whether lockdowns and alert levels in the various nations are extended.

Theory Tests
England  Theory tests are suspended in England because of the national lockdown.
Scotland  Theory tests are suspended in Scotland because of the temporary lockdown.
Wales  Theory tests are suspended in Wales because it is in alert-level 4.
Northern Ireland 

Theory tests are suspended until 5 February.

The DVA will reallocate affected tests to a temporary placeholder appointment and give customers 30 days to reschedule to a preferred post-lockdown date, time and location of your choice.

The validity of theory-test pass certificates for learner drivers that expired between the period of 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2020 was extended by eight months. Now, these will have their validity extended by another four months.

Theory-test pass certificates that run out between 1 November 2020 and 30 June 2021, and which have not already been extended, will be valid for an additional eight months.

The extension has been applied automatically to affected certificates, so you do not need to contact DVA to request an extension.

You need to have passed a theory test in the last two years to be able to take most types of driving tests.

The government has said it won’t extend theory test certificates. This is because you’ll need to be up-to-date on your road safety knowledge and hazard perception skills when you restart driving lessons and take your driving test.

If you attend a theory test, you’ll need to make sure you follow coronavirus safety guidelines, like hand sanitising and wearing a face covering. You can change your theory-test appointment for free if you suddenly need to self-isolate.

Practical tests
England  All types of driving tests are suspended in England because of the national lockdown.
Scotland All types of driving tests are suspended in Scotland because of the temporary lockdown.
Wales All types of driving tests are suspended in Wales, as it is in alert-level 4.
Northern Ireland All practical driving tests scheduled between 28 December to 6 February 2021 inclusive have been cancelled. See the latest updates on NIDirect

See the government guidance on taking your test in England, Scotland and Wales

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.

How is coronavirus affecting driving lessons?

Driving lessons have also been affected by recent rule changes. Approved Driving Instructors must follow local restrictions for their country.

Driving lessons  
England  You must not provide driving lessons or motorcycle training in England unless it’s with someone from your household during an essential journey because of the national lockdown.
Scotland You must not provide driving lessons or motorcycle training in Scotland unless it’s with someone from your household during an essential journey because of the temporary lockdown.
Wales You must not provide driving lessons or motorcycle training in Wales unless it’s with someone from your household during an essential journey because it’s in alert level 4.
Northern Ireland All driving tests in Northern Ireland have been cancelled until 6 February and lessons are likely to follow suit. See NIDirect for further updates.

Are car showrooms still open for business?

Car showrooms and auction houses are considered non-essential businesses and their physical sites must remain closed.

However, dealers can sell vehicles through click-and-collect and delivery services.

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 or closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and have been replaced by digital virtual classrooms instead. 

If you’ve 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. If they are offering this, they will get in touch with you directly.

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.

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 immediately – they may be able to help you.

You should do this as soon as possible because if you miss a payment and 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.

To see if you’re eligible for financial 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?

You can apply for a car finance payment holiday until 31 March 2021.

The payment freeze lasts a maximum of six months. So, if you’ve already taken a payment holiday for three months, you’ll only be able to ask for a further extension of three months.

If you’ve already taken a six-month holiday you won’t be able to apply for another pay freeze. If you’re still having payment difficulties, you should speak to your lender and ask for tailored support.

Once a freeze has ended, payments automatically start again. Don’t worry though, your finance provider will contact you before this point to discuss your options.

You’ll be charged interest for the holiday months, so you might see your payments increase when you start repaying at the end of the holiday. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says that if you can afford to continue making payments, you should do so.

It has also said that 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 in paying because of coronavirus and you need your car, the FCA says your finance provider shouldn’t repossess it or end the agreement.

In some circumstances you may be able to return your car and cancel the contract. See how to do this the right way on the Money Advice Service website if you think this is the best option for you.

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?

Anyone on a leasing agreement or a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) can apply for a payment holiday up until 31 March 2021.

If you haven’t yet had a payment holiday, you could get two payment deferrals of up to six months in total.

If you already have a payment deferral, you’re eligible for another one lasting up to a maximum of three months.

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.

You won’t be able to use the vehicle once the agreement has come to an end. If you’re the registered keeper of the vehicle and can take it off the public road, you can make a statutory off road notification (SORN), so you’ll no longer need to tax and insure it.

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're 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. 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'll need the reference number from your vehicle tax reminder form (V11), or the vehicle code from your V5C or green ‘new keeper’ slip.

Don’t forget that, if money is tight, you can pay for just six months’ tax or make Direct Debit payments. This will cost a little more than the annual fee (5%), but could help you spread the cost over a longer period of time.

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 the section ‘Should I consider declaring my car SORN?’ (above) for more information.

Could your vehicle be exempt from vehicle tax? Want to know how vehicle tax is 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 for example, 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 are distributing 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 contacting 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 are still aiming 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 can also consider temporary insurance for someone else to drive your car or for you to drive theirs. You can get temporary insurance for as little as one hour.

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 and without the owner’s permission, you could face strict penalties, including six-eight 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 since 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. But of course, you’ll need to social distance and wear a face covering if you go inside to pay.

What about driving abroad?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is currently advising against travel abroad except in limited circumstances. Many other countries are also closing their borders to travel.

However, some countries may have specific policies regarding driving as a whole, including limiting traffic on roads to only essential journeys depending on their own lockdown rules which may apply locally or nationally.

Because of the crisis, rules can change at very short notice about entering or travelling in particular places.

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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