The signs for an end to lockdown are encouraging although, for the moment, confusion reigns as to the true spirit of the PM’s roadmap back to normality.
At the moment it seems that private car use is still discouraged unless it is needed to get to work. Leisure and pleasure use, such as visiting friends and relatives, remains discouraged although you can drive unspecified distances in order to take exercise.
For many people, however, most importantly key workers, a car remains vital – whether it’s to get to work or be able to buy food.
Yet few will have been thinking about the state of their car in times of pandemic although while the restrictions continue there are many questions involving seemingly mundane car-related tasks.
Here we’ve included the latest advice from the Department for Transport (DfT), along with some some practical tips to help you maintain your car, along with the answers to other common questions.
Given that the situation is constantly changing, however, we strongly advise you to keep abreast of the latest Government advice.
Should I still get my car MoT tested or serviced?
As of March 30, the Government has exempted vehicles from MoT tests for up to six months – although it insists that vehicles must still be kept in a roadworthy condition.
All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MoT test will be exempted. Garages will remain open for essential repair work, according to the DfT, although the Government guidance on the reasons for leaving one’s home and social distancing still apply.
The requisite legislation was introduced on March 30 and came into immediate effect for 12 months. Practical driving tests and annual roadworthiness testing for lorries, buses and coaches were suspended for only three months, however, subject to review.
You won’t need to complete any paperwork – the extension will be added automatically.
How is the new test date calculated?
The new due date for your car’s annual MoT will be exactly six months after its original expiration. The exemption also applies to three-year-old cars that are due their first MoT test.
What about insurance and road tax?
Because the DfT is extending MoT certificates by six months, they remain valid for insurance purposes. If your road fund licence (car tax) expires during the six-month extension you will still be able to renew it in the usual way thanks to the MoT details being updated.
How do I know that my vehicle is safe?
Although the DfT has extended MoT certificates, the onus is on drivers to make sure their vehicles are roadworthy. If you know of a significant fault that would be likely to cause an MoT test failure, the advice remains that it shouldn’t be used in any circumstance.
The minimum penalty for using an unsafe vehicle during this period is a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points on your licence.
The basic safety checks
Clearly it is impractical for the majority of owners to replicate the exhaustive nature of the MoT test, but checking your battery, tyres, lights, windows and mirrors are the basic prerequisites.
These are all simple checks you can carry out without putting yourself or anyone else in danger. Firstly, the tyres. You can check this using a gauge designed for the purpose – the legal minimum is 1.6mm but it’s best to make regular checks and change any tyre before it’s worn to the legal minimum – or with the aid of a 20p coin. Insert the coin into the grooves in the tread, end-on, and if the band around the outside of the coin is visible, your tyres are nearing the legal limit.
You can also check them at home if you have a pressure gauge or a foot pump. If you’re a key worker and use a coin-operated compressed air pump at a petrol station, make sure you sanitise or wash your hands immediately afterwards.
Don’t forget to check the spare, if one is fitted – or if not, make sure your car’s tyre inflation kit is complete and in good order. It’s likely to be located where you’d normally find the spare wheel, or in a locker to one side of the boot.
Check your lights by switching them all on and walk around the car inspecting them one by one. For headlights, include both dipped and full beams, as well as rear fog lights.
You can also check the brake lights and reversing lights without requiring help. During the day you can use the reflection of a window; at night, back your car near a wall, garage door or similar flat surface, in both instances checking the operation of your lights via the rear-view mirror.
What about non-safety checks?
Checking the oil level is an important part of car maintenance, pandemic or not. Find the dipstick in the engine bay, pull it out, use a clean rag or a piece of kitchen towel to clean it, put it back in, then check it again.
The oil level needs to be between the minimum and maximum marks on the dipstick. If you need to top it up, you can order fresh oil online.
While you’re under the bonnet, check the levels of other fluids – refer to your car’s owner’s manual to tell you how to check the coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid. And don’t forget to top up your screenwash – if you aren’t able to buy some, use tap water as a short-term measure, but be sure to add some screenwash fluid at the earliest possible opportunity.
Should I keep my current car instead of buying a new one?
Given the tough times ahead, that might not be a bad idea. If your current car has given you little cause for concern, keeping it longer than you’d planned probably won’t cost as much as you think. That’s because if you were to buy a newer car, it would probably shed value more quickly than your old one. And even if the older car were to incur a couple of repair bills, they would probably cost you less than the drop in value that you’ll experience with the newer car.
- Read more: Can I buy a new car in lockdown?
There are other good reasons for holding on to your old car for longer. For one thing, maintenance or repair work will help to keep local businesses going – and if you need to replace parts, you’ll be helping to keep businesses going all the way back along the supply chain.
What if my car is likely to let me down?
Although the industry fervently hopes that car dealers will re-open soon, possibly in early June, trying times economically might restrict the free flow of finance deals we’ve enjoyed recently and, of course, the pinch on household incomes could mean you no longer feel confident enough about the future to buy a new car.
Many manufacturers now provide long warranties of up to seven years, so buying used is not the risk it once was. A two- or three-year-old car could still have a warranty that’s as long as – or even longer than – a brand new car with a three-year warranty, giving you similar peace of mind but with a significant cost saving.
Failing that many franchised dealers offer used cars sold under used car schemes that come with one, or even two years’ warranty, depending on the manufacturer.
If you need to stay on the road during these unprecedented times we’re here to help, so stay safe wherever you are.
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