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Coronavirus and your car: Your questions answered

Updated guidance related to coronavirus, provided by The Motor Ombudsman and The Car Expert

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through every aspect of our lives, it’s inevitable that it will affect your car. Whether it’s finance, servicing, warranty or even buying and selling a car, thousands of car owners are trying to find out what they need to do.

The Motor Ombudsman, which is the automotive industry’s dispute resolution body, has provided some updated guidance on several car-related topics to address coronavirus questions. It’s an impartial organisation that provides codes of practice for companies to allow the industry to regulate itself, and gives consumers the ability to hold these companies to account when things go wrong.

The coronavirus is providing unprecedented problems for the industry to overcome, and the situation is changing day by day. The advice below is current as of 1 April 2020, but we will keep you updated as anything changes. Got a dispute that might need resolving? These answers might help.

It’s important to remember that The Motor Ombudsman does not make the rules and laws surrounding anything related to your car. It simply offers an interpretation of them to help resolve disputes between customer and companies. If a company is signed up to The Motor Ombudsman programme, that company agrees to honour the Ombudsman’s decision. However, customers are not bound to agree with any decision and can always proceed to court to pursue a matter further.

We’ve also provided useful advice from the editor here at The Car Expert, Stuart Masson.

Car finance and redundancies

Stuart says: “At this point, there has been no directive from government to car finance companies regarding deferring or reducing your car finance payments. So you have to assume that your car payments are still due as normal, regardless of whether or not you’re currently allowed to drive your vehicle.

“Most of the major car finance lenders are members of the Finance and Leasing Association, whose code of conduct obliges the lender to treate customers fairly at all times and especially sensitively in times of hardship. So although there are no standard offers to assist you if you are struggling with your car finance payments, there is every chance that your lender can offer you some sort of assistance. This may be in the form of a payment holiday or accepting reduced payments for a period of time.”

If you have lost your job and you can’t afford your monthly repayments, you should contact your car finance provider immediately (not the dealer where you bought the car, as all they will do is give you the phone number for the finance company). Do this sooner rather than later, so that you can keep your finances under control.

Although The Motor Ombudsman cannot directly help with providing redundancy support, it can point you to organisations that can.

You may also like: Coronavirus – can I cancel my car finance?

Can I test drive a car before I buy it?

It is advised that while dealers will be taking all the necessary precautions to avoid transmission of the virus, consumers are advised to act in accordance with government advice. At the time of writing, that advice is to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Accordingly, most car dealerships are now closed for car sales, although many are keeping their workshops open for servicing appointments.

Some dealers and manufacturers might offer the ability to buy the car online and have it delivered, rather than going to the dealership to buy the car.

Stuart says that buying online or over the phone is something you should be looking at anyway, not just during the coronavirus lockdown: “Unlike buying a car in person, buying a car online gives you the right to return it for up to 14 days for a full refund – for any reason. You don’t get that right if you buy a car in person – once you sign the contract, it’s yours and that’s the end of it.”

You may also like: I bought a car but now I’ve changed my mind

My car needs a service but my garage is closed

Although workshops are allowed to stay open under government lockdown rules, many dealer groups have shut their doors and cannot currently accept vehicles for servicing.

The Motor Ombudsman recommends contacting the garage by phone or email to rearrange a date, and advises that while your service plan should not be invalidated if you miss an appointment through closure, you should check with your provider.

Stuart also points out: “Bear in mind that many other people will have similar questions and will be trying to contact their service provider as well, so waiting times may be longer than usual.

“Fortunately, you’re stuck at home and can’t go anywhere anyway, so you can afford to wait a bit longer for your call to be answered…”

Will my warranty be invalidated if I can’t service my car because I’m self-isolating?

Under the New Car Code, your warranty cannot be invalidated because you missed a service – only if your lack of care caused a fault on the car.

Furthermore, most manufacturers have grace periods of around one month or 1,000 miles, so unless you have to self-isolate or remain at home beyond that you should be fine. Either way, if you’re concerned about missing a service you should contact the dealership or the manufacturer to find out if they have a solution.

An important reminder from Stuart: “One thing to bear in mind is that your car finance agreement may have servicing requirements included in the contract, and you can be penalised if you don’t have the car serviced on time.

“Check your paperwork and get in touch with the finance company if you can’t get your car serviced on time. Don’t assume that everything will be OK and that you’ll be exempted in a couple of years’ time when you want to hand the car back.”

My car MOT ran out before the March 30 deadline but I couldn’t get it done in time

The government has announced that MOTs that run out after March 30 are now exempt from requiring a renewal for six months. However, if your MOT ran out before then but you were self-isolating and couldn’t get a new one, unfortunately it is recommended that you declare your car SORN (statutory off road notice), which means you can’t drive it. You can, however, apply for an MOT once your self-isolation period is over.

Is The Motor Ombudsman still accepting cases?

If you have a motor industry issue that you haven’t been able to resolve yourself, you can still submit your case to the ombudsman. Its staff are all working from home but can still be reached on the phone during normal office hours.

For the full list of questions and answers, search for ‘The Motor Ombudsman Knowledge Base’ and select ‘Coronavirus / Covid-19’.

Additional reporting by Stuart Masson

Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.
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