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 5 MAY 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 you may need to alter the terms of your insurance policy if you’re: 

  • driving less frequently (or not at all)
  • driving more to avoid public transport or because you’re now out and about again
  • your financial or employment situation has changed 

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 5 May 2021 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, thanks to a series of pledges to customers from  members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) during unprecedented times, if you’d switched to working from home, or were still driving to commute, you didn’t have to contact your insurance provider to update them of your situation. This has now changed, and you will need to speak with your insurer or broker if there are ongoing changes to your working and driving activities since taking out the policy. 
  
As restrictions are gradually removed and travel to workplaces becomes more common again, drivers will have to resume making sure their cover is right for their needs. 

If your driving habits are now different from when you took out your insurance policy, you’ll need to speak to your insurance provider as you would have done before the pandemic. For example: 

  • if you’re no longer going into the office, so aren’t using your car for commuting
  • you’ve swapped the bus or train for your car to commute to work
  • you’re now driving to different places for work purposes
  • your mileage has gone substantially up or down

If you volunteered and are using your own vehicle to do things like transporting medicines or groceries to support people impacted by COVID-19, this will continue to be covered at no extra cost by the vast majority of ABI members. But some insurers will want to be told about this type of use so, if you’re a volunteer driver, you should check your individual policy or directly with your insurance provider if necessary. 

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. 

If you’re driving more or less and know you’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable, you should let your insurance provider know now – under the new ABI guidance. When you come to renew your car insurance, you’ll also have to make sure you give an accurate estimate of your anticipated lower mileage. That way you won’t be paying more than you need to.  

The good news is that because drivers have been keeping their cars at home during lockdown, the number of daily journeys and insurance claims have reduced. Many providers are reflecting this in their premiums, which are down on the previous year. This makes it even more important to compare and make sure you’re being offered a competitive quote. 

How do I go about getting an MOT?

You should be able to get an MOT as usual. MOT garages were classified as an essential business and stayed open during more recent local and national lockdowns in England, Scotland and Wales. 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. This allows you plenty of time for any needed repairs to be done too. 

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 or you’ve had a positive test even if you aren’t showing any 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. 

MOTs in Northern Ireland

The situation in Northern Ireland is a bit different. Most drivers whose MOTs were set to expire during the first lockdown, which started in March 2020, were able to get a Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC) that extended the time needed until their next MOT. 

Now, private cars, light goods vehicles and motorcycles aged four to nine years – with MOTs due to expire between 26 March 2021 and 25 March 2022 – have received a further four-month TEC extension. 

Four-year-old cars and motorcycles and three-year-old light goods vehicles due a first-time test between the above dates will also have a four-month TEC applied. The TEC will be applied from the date your first MOT or Goods Vehicle test is due. 

Vehicles, including all private cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles aged 10 to 39 years old must be tested before their existing TECs expire. You’ll be sent a reminder notification to book your vehicle in for an MOT. Further TEC extensions won’t be applied to these vehicle categories.

It’s always 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 tables here may change depending on levels of infection throughout the country and whether lockdowns and alert levels in the various nations are extended.  

Be warned though, demand for tests is high, so you might find that it’s a while before you can find an available date. You may have to check test sites regularly in the hope of a cancellation slot. According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency DVSA in March 2021, there were 420,000 car tests in the backlog and the national average waiting time for a driving test was, at that point, 17 weeks. This is up from around seven weeks before the pandemic. 

Because of this high demand, the DVSA has told instructors: “It’s important that your pupils take their test only when both you and your pupil are confident they can pass. This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the backlog of tests.” So, your instructor is likely to want to make sure you are really test ready.

Theory Tests
England  Theory tests are taking place in England and can be booked.
Scotland  Theory tests are currently suspended in Scotland. They are due to restart on 26 April 2021 at the earliest. This date could be subject to change. 
Wales  Theory tests are taking place in Wales and can be booked. 
Northern Ireland 

During the closure, instead of cancelling tests, the DVA has rescheduled them for 60 days later, into a temporary placeholder appointment. 

Now more appointments are being released so you can reschedule your temporary placeholder appointment online if you want.

The validity of theory test pass certificates for learner drivers which expired between 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2020 has been extended by eight months.  

In addition, theory test pass certificates which expire between 1 November 2020 and 30 June 2021, and which have not already benefited from an extension, have also had their validity period extended by eight months. 

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 – unlike the NI Executive. 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
Where dates are shown as ‘at the earliest’, they could change. The government will confirm dates near the time.
England  Driving tests for cars and motorcycles have restarted in England.
Scotland The earliest that driving tests are due to restart in Scotland is 6 May, 2021 for both cars and motorcycles 
Wales Driving tests for cars and motorcycles have restarted in Wales
Northern Ireland Driving tests for cars and mortorcycles have restarted in Northern Ireland

For tests for buses, lorries, tractors and specialist vehicles or for the driving-instructor qualification, check the government website for the latest information.

You’ll need to wear a face covering to take your test unless you are exempt. For further information, including how to get your car ready to be used in a test 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 mostly restarted after being affected by coronavirus lockdowns. What’s still possible will depend on where you live, and the calendar for opening up from lockdown.  

Driving lessons   
England   You can take driving lessons or motorcycle training. 
Scotland  Driving lessons resumed in Scotland from 26 April. You can only practise driving with members of your household or support bubble. If you practise driving, you must stay local.  
Wales  You can take driving lessons or motorcycle training. 
Northern Ireland  You can take driving lessons or motorcycle training. 

Are car showrooms still open for business?

Car showrooms and auction houses are considered non-essential businesses and their physical sites re-opened from 12 April in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, non-essential retail will open from 30 April – outdoor retail opened from 12 April. In Scotland, car dealerships were opened on an appointment-only basis from 5 April and reopened fully from 26 April.  

You are likely to have to make an appointment for any showroom, so check before you travel. 

Dealers can also 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 that offered money back and other goodwill gestures to their car insurance customers in 2020. As the pandemic has gone on, other providers are coming up with innovative ideas. For example, with some you can register your mileage and get money back if you drive less than expected. 

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. If you’re renewing your policy, see what is being said around any options for driving less than anticipated and think about how much mileage you are really likely to do over the coming year.  

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?

If a change in your situation means you can’t keep up your repayments, talk to your loan provider as soon as possible to see what arrangements you can agree on. Lenders must treat customers fairly and should help them bridge the crisis and get back to a more stable financial position, where possible. If you had already applied for a payment holiday before 31 March 2021, you can ask to extend it for a further three months, but it can’t extend past 31 July 2021. 
 
Options can include payment holidays and reduced payments. You’ll need to tell your lender about your income and your living costs and other debts so they can understand what’s affordable for you. 

If you’ve been offered a payment freeze, once it’s ended, payments will 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. However, as a last resort, lenders are now allowed to repossess your vehicle. 

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?

Talk to your lender and see what help they can offer you. Providers should help eligible customers with payment deferrals until 31 July 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 before 31 March, you’re eligible for another one lasting up to a maximum of three months. But providers shouldn’t provide deferrals for payments extending beyond 31 July 2021, according to the FCA guidance. 

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 a national or local 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? 

Yes, the usual rules surrounding vehicle tax still apply during lockdown. 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 monthly 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. Remember, you may need to queue for a while and observe social distancing rules while inside the branch, 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?

Yes. When you take out telematics insurance, an engineer could install a black box in your vehicle to measure how, when and where you drive. This can also be installed by yourself in some cases or be accessed via an app on your smartphone. 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. 

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

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. 

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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