Coronavirus (Covid-19): advice for drivers during third lockdown

Published: 05 January 2021

► How to stay safe driving during the Covid-19 pandemic
► Your motoring questions answered
► Should you be driving at all?

New year, new me - and new Covid-19 restrictions. Thanks to the worrying spread of a mutated and far more transmissable variant of the virus, the UK has gone into its third lockdown - with rules likely to stay in place in England from January 6, 2021 until at least the end of February.

With schools and colleges shut, non-essential businesses closed and pubs and restaurants limited to takeaway only, we're back to a very similar set of rules as we had during the first lockdown back in March. Vulnerable people and the elderly have once again been asked to shield.

This new lockdown overrides the previous Tier system and regulations are stricter even than those of Tier 4, with Brits encouraged to leave their home only when absolutely necessary.

UK car sales fall 97% in coronavirus pandemic

The main difference this time is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though it's looking rather distant at this point. With two vaccines now approved for use in the UK, vulnerable people such as care home residents, the elderly and frontline health workers will all be offered at least one dose by mid-February.

With this in mind, the best thing any of us can do at this point is to stay at home where possible and relieve as much pressure as we can from the NHS to allow it to concentrate on administering this life-saving vaccine.

We have the answers - as many of them as we can give at the present time - to all of your motoring questions below. We'll update this page with more information as soon as it becomes available.

As always, though, the first question you should ask yourself is:

Is this journey really necessary?

While the previous Tier system offered some areas of England more freedom than others, this lockdown unites us under the same strict rules. Staying at home is the order of the day, with only a few exceptions, including buying food and daily exercise.

It's therefore advised that you limit driving to the following purposes:

  • Buying essential goods
  • Attending a medical appointment
  • Taking goods or providing care to a vulnerable or self-isolating person
  • Commuting – if you’re unable to work from home
  • Escaping domestic violence

Schools and colleges are open for the children of key workers or vulnerable children, and early years settings and preschools also remain open - so you may drive your children to these if needed.

Driving for pleasure is, unfortunately, once again out. As with the first lockdown, it's advised that you take exercise only in your immediate area - no driving long-distance for a nice walk along the beach or a bike ride in the hills, unfortunately.

The issue isn’t that you’ll infect anybody – there’s very low risk of that happening from an enclosed car – but that any collisions or accidents could tie up desperately needed NHS resources. And remember, if you do end up in hospital for whatever reason, there's a very real risk you could contract the virus yourself.

Put simply, staying at home wherever possible will slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus – in doing so, the chances of the lockdown ending sooner are increased. If you're self-isolating or showing any symptoms of the virus, you must not leave your home at all.

Further reading: coronavirus and the car world

Cleaning tips

You shouldn’t be sharing your car with anybody but your immediate family – however it’s still good practice to ensure your car is as clean as it can be.

Coronavirus - advice for drivers cleaning

That means, of course, cleaning your hands well before you drive with soap and hot water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

You should also clean the touch points in your car – everywhere your hands go before, during or after you drive. That’s more surfaces than you may think:

  • Door handles (interior and exterior)
  • Steering wheel
  • Gear lever
  • Column stalks
  • Dashboard surface
  • Infotainment screen
  • Armrests
  • Fuel filler flap and cap
  • Seat controls
  • Window switches
  • Air vents

Most surfaces can easily be sanitised with antibacterial wipes – these are gentle enough for most plastic and leather, though fabric seats or Alcantara might require specialist cleaners.

It's still the law to wear a face covering if you're using public transport or taking a private hire vehicle or taxi. You don't need to wear a face mask in your own car, however.

What if I break down?

Most major breakdown recovery services are continuing to operate, although they may take longer to get to you than normal.

What do I do if my car needs servicing or is due an MOT?

While new vehicle showrooms are being closed as non-essential businesses during the third lockdown, there's currently no specific additional guidance surrounding garages and repair centres, but they are generally open, subject to festival holidays. That means that garages, service departments and MOT centres will be allowed to continue with repairs, service work and MOT tests during the third lockdown.

> Coronavirus - how the car industry is reacting

We'd recommend calling ahead well in advance to make sure you're able to get your MOT or service carried out before it's due. And do tell your garage if you're classed as a key worker - they may be able to squeeze you in sooner.

Coronavirus - advice for drivers servicing

What about servicing? Most car manufacturers relaxed their servicing guidelines earlier in 2020, meaning that services due to maintain service history and warranty were allowed to be left until lockdown was over and businesses re-opened. This has the added benefit of keeping servicing bays free for key workers to have their cars maintained and fixed with the minimum of hassle.

It's likely that a similarly sympathetic approach will be taken if you're unable to get it serviced due to closures, especially for the vulnerable who may be shielding. Different manufacturers have different policies on these extensions, so check with your manufacturer what the policy is on your car.

> More information on suspended MOTs here 

What about road tax and insurance?

Road tax and insurance have not been relaxed. This means that, as ever, if your car is on a public highway it needs to be taxed and insured. Insurance companies have warned those due for renewal that their cover should be based on their normal mileage, not their lockdown-induced essential mileage.

Of course, if you’re able to park your vehicle off-road and you know you won’t be using it, you can declare it SORN on the DVLA website.

I’m having financial trouble and can’t make my car finance payments

First of all, you’re not alone. Car finance companies are well geared up to assist people during these times – with many people on reduced pay or awaiting bailout payments, there are plenty struggling.

Your specific circumstances may vary but you’re likely to find your finance company is willing to discuss various options, including payment holidays.

> Get more info on car finance payment holidays here

By Tom Wiltshire

Bauer Automotive staff writer; Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist