Is it really safe to visit a car showroom?
The industry, led by the SMMT (the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders), has partnered with the NFDA (the National Franchised Retailers Association) to publish best practice guidance for showrooms to ensure for social distancing and a safe buying process. Not that many garages needed too much guidance. Many of them were well prepared with measures to reassure customers.
All of this is helped by the fact that car showrooms are typically large, spacious areas in which it’s far easier to keep to the 2-metre distancing rule. Visit one and you’ll typically find that the cars will be locked (as are those on the forecourt), so there’ll be no need to worry about whether the interiors of the models on show have been sanitised. If you want to see inside a vehicle, simply ask and once you’re done it will be sanitised afterwards.
You’ll find that dealerships will have gone to great lengths to make their showrooms meet Covid-19 regulations; seating areas will have been revised and spaced out, desks will be at least 2 metres apart, magazines will have been removed – even pens sanitised. You’ll find that many complimentary services like children’s play areas and free refreshments will be removed for the time being.
Some dealerships have installed – or, on request, will happily install – a Perspex clear panel at service receptions and/or on sales desks that separate the customer’s space from the staff member liaising with them; the kind of thing you’ve probably seen used over the last few weeks in supermarkets. And there’ll be a greater use of electronic payment services and the option of digital signatures.
Bear in mind that though dealerships have re-opened, they won’t typically be back up to full staffing strength – not on the sales side anyway. Just as the government is easing lockdown in stages, garage businesses are only gradually bringing all their sales staff back from furlough. It’s worth pointing out that dealership re-opening only applies to England and Wales. No decision has yet been taken as to when garages will re-open in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Remember to contact the dealership before you arrive as many are working on an appointment-only basis to reduce and control the number of customers visiting the showroom at the same time.
Can I take a test drive?
Yes, you can. For absolute safety, you’ll be taking the test drive on your own – and you can do so with the peace of mind of knowing that you’ll be fully insured whilst on the road. The law has recently been changed to allow customers to take a test drive using the dealership’s trade plates and to be fully covered whilst doing so. Just make sure that you bring your driving licence: you’ll need to show it before you’ll be allowed to leave the dealership with the car. Before you get into the vehicle, you’ll be issued with protective gloves and a disposable face mask.
The garage can suggest some local routes you might take that will allow you to fully experience the vehicle. There are usually no real restrictions on time and mileage, but most test drives cover local distances and are between 20 minutes and an hour in duration, which should be quite sufficient to give you a real feel for the car. As soon as you return, the vehicle will be completely sanitised, with all touch areas (steering wheel, gearstick, door handles, major controls etc) wiped and disinfected.
Can I cover much of the sales process before visiting the showroom?
Absolutely. With a view to implement what’s now being called ‘Distance Selling’, many dealerships’ websites have explanatory videos that will walk you around the cars they have in the showroom and on the forecourt, so you can get a real feeling of what they’re like before you leave home. If the car you’re interested in hasn’t been filmed and posted in that way, most dealerships will be happy to put together a quick walk-around film and send it to you. Remember, at Exchange and Mart/s1cars we have stock from the best and most trusted car dealers in the UK, so you can browse thousands of cars from the comfort of your own home before you decide to visit a showroom.
When you do visit the showroom, you should find that a lot of work has gone in to simplify the sales process so that there’s as little physical paperwork as possible.
Can I get my car serviced in the normal way? And how can I be confident that it’ll be completely safe when it’s returned to me?
Certainly. Many dealerships’ servicing departments have been functioning almost normally for some weeks now. You’ll typically need to have pre-booked an appointment – which means that the garage will be able to arrange spaced-out customer appointments, which in turn means that there won’t be a queue at the service reception when you arrive. There’ll usually be one door to come in and another one to go out so that people won’t be crossing each other when entering and exiting. And you’ll find clear directional arrows and signage requesting visitors to stay two metres apart. You’ll even sign any required forms with a sanitised pen.
Make sure that when you bring your car in to the dealership, you only bring one key for it. That might sound obvious, but people often have their car key on a key ring with a whole bunch of other keys – which of course is potentially unsanitary.
When your car is in the workshop, the mechanics working on it will be wearing full PPE equipment – face masks and sanitised gloves. Plus, there’ll be seat covers and covers applied to the steering wheel and gear stick. While the mechanics are working on your vehicle, the windows will be retracted fully down so that the interior will be ventilated. Many dealerships now offer video messaging systems that will allow them to send you video footage of things that need looking at so that approval can be requested from you before any major servicing work being undertaken. After everything’s completed, the car will be fully cleaned and sanitised in all the areas a user might touch or interact with.
What if I haven’t been able to service my car to the required manufacturer service schedule during the pandemic? Will my warranty be invalidated?
No. All the manufacturers have taken a sensible approach to this issue and none of them will penalise you if you’re two or three months behind on your servicing visit.
What if my MOT has expired and I haven’t been able to renew it because of the pandemic?
Don’t worry. Right at the beginning of the Covid crisis, the government directed that MOTs that came up for renewal during the lockdown period could automatically be extended for a further six months.
What about my finance agreement? Is there extra flexibility on payment terms?
Generally, yes there ought to be. The FCA (the Financial Conduct Authority) has directed all finance companies to be sensible and not penalise customers affected by Covid-19. Your finance company should have allowed you to delay payments by up to three months. There should be extra flexibility for those who were due to make a final PCP payment on a date that fell within the lockdown – again, by up to three months. If you’re not finding the finance company that you’re making payments to helpful in this situation, then you can complain to the FCA about them directly – just go to www.fca.org.uk/consumers/how-complain
Are people still interested in buying cars?
All the current evidence suggests that they are. Industry analysts expect the used car market to bounce back more quickly than the new (used car values held encouragingly firm in April). As manufacturer deals kick in and interest re-awakens amongst consumers, you can expect things to move quite quickly with concerning new model sales.