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18 Apr 2020

Driving during the coronavirus lockdown: your questions answered

From keeping on the right side of the law to ensuring your car is safe and roadworthy, we answer your most frequently asked motoring questions

Since the government's COVID-19 lockdown was implemented on March 23, traffic on our roads has fallen to levels not seen in decades - meaning millions of cars languishing on the roadside or in garages across the country.

UPDATE 12 MAY 2020: Some of the rules on driving during the coronavirus emergency has changed since this story was published, following revised government guidance. For up-to-date information on driving during lockdown, visit Can I driving during the coronavirus lockdown.

While you should be avoiding all unnecessary travel, it's important to remember you can still drive if you need to shop for food, to go to work (if you can't work from home) or for medical reasons such as buying medicine or caring for others.

If you are using your car, it's essential that it's in a roadworthy condition, even if your MOT has been delayed as a result of the recent six-month MOT extension. If you're concerned about the health of your car (whether you're using it or not), or unsure when or where you can use it, we've answered your most commonly asked lockdown motoring questions.

Scroll down to browse all of the answers, or use the links below to skip to specific questions.

Keep up to date with all the latest coronavirus news and advice.

Why can't I just go for a drive during lockdown?

Your car may seem like an ideal place to isolate from others, while being able to stay mobile. However, it's essential you limit driving as much as possible, for the following reasons:

  • It's important that roads are kept clear for the emergency services and other key workers.
  • If you break down or are involved in an accident, not only will you be adding to the strain on the emergency services, the risk of being infected or infecting others goes up - especially if an accident means you have to go to hospital.
  • Petrol stations have been identified as a particular problem area for coronavirus transmission, so you should try and limit the number of times you need to visit one.

Unfortunately, driving your car just to keep it ticking over and the battery in good condition isn't an accepted 'essential' use, and you could risk a fine from the police. We explain tactics to keep your car in good order even if you can't drive it below.

Can I drive to exercise or walk my dog?

Whether or not you can drive to exercise during lockdown has been the source of much confusion; new guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council aims to help clear this up in England, including giving specific examples of when it is reasonable to drive for exercise.

While it is sensible to exercise as close to home as possible, the new guidance specifically states that, in England, it is lawful to drive to exercise. Doing so may even be sensible if driving a short distance means that you'll be able to do so in a location with fewer people around.

The rules in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are different, as we explain in 'Can I driving during the coronavirus lockdown'. In Scotland, for example, the advice is still to stay near to your home for exercise where possible.

Even if the rules where you live allow you to drive for exercise, use good judgment and don't drive further than you need to. Drivers have recently been fined and turned away from beauty spots after being found to have driven long distances for exercise or dog walking. The new police guidance for England advises that driving for a long time, with only a brief period of exercise, is unlikely to be deemed a 'reasonable excuse' for leaving the place you live.

If you have an allotment, you're allowed to drive to it (working on an allotment counts as exercise), though you should walk if possible. When out in public, remember to observe social distancing guidelines and regularly wash or sanitise your hands.

How far can I drive?

While there have been no specific distance limits imposed on drivers having a genuine reason to be on the road, the advice is to minimise travel as much as possible.

The police aren't likely to react kindly if you're driving particularly long distances for shopping or exercise. That said, we wouldn't worry if you want to drive to a supermarket or pharmacy that isn't the one that's geographically closest to your house.

Can I be fined by the police for driving?

The police are out enforcing the lockdown to ensure that only essential road journeys are being made. They have the right to stop anyone driving and ask why they are out.

If you're driving for a legitimate reason (such as those outlined above and explained in recently issued police guidance), you should have nothing to fear, even if you are stopped by the police.

If you don't have a genuine reason for travelling, or the police have seen your car on the road previously that day, they may advise you that you're in contravention of coronavirus legislation. They'll ask you to go home - should you ignore this advice a fine may be issued.

Fines start at £60 (reduced to £30 if paid within two weeks), though second-time offenders may risk being fined £120. If you don't pay you risk being taken to court and saddled with an unlimited fine.

Read more detailed advice on driving during the lockdown.

Are driving lessons cancelled?

The DVSA has suspended almost all driving theory and practical tests, so most people won't have any reason to go out for driving lessons in the near future. Emergency driving and theory tests are still available to key workers, however. If you fall into this category you should email the DVSA.

Some professional driving instructors and schools are still offering lessons, but only to key workers.

You should also avoid the temptation to go out for a driving lesson with a member of your household. Not only is this not an essential reason to leave home - risking a fine from the police - but inexperienced drivers are at a higher risk of having an accident, despite the reduced levels of traffic.

Are garages and MOT centres open?

Garages are allowed to remain open to provide essential repairs and maintenance, especially for key workers. However, there's no guarantee your local one will still be open.

Six-month MOT extensions have been granted to all private cars, vans and motorcycles whose MOT expired on March 30 or after. If your car's MOT expired before this time, you'll still need to ensure it has one before you can drive legally.

Can I get my car serviced?

If it's essential for you to get your car serviced, you should be able to, though whether this will be possible at a main dealer will depend on the brand.

Kia, for instance, is currently operating a reduced network of dealers offering servicing and maintenance for key workers only. A spokesperson also said that delayed servicing will have no impact on warranty coverage.

Honda has also sought to assure owners who cannot currently get in for repairs for faults not logged with the dealer during their warranty period.

In a statement the manufacturer said: 'Careful consideration will be given to support each claim as long as the vehicle was booked in for the repair at the earliest convenience, the vehicle could not have been repaired prior to the restrictions being put in place, and it was evident the fault was apparent within the warranty period.'

A Renault spokesperson told us that a delayed service wouldn't automatically invalidate an owner's warranty. The brand is granting a one-month extension to owners to get any necessary work carried out, following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Volvo, like the other manufacturers we spoke to, does have service centres open. However to ensure key workers are prioritised, it is offering a three-month extension on service deadlines.

All manufacturers recommend that you take sensible precautions, such as ensuring your engine oil is at the correct level, should you have to use your car. If you urgently need to take your car in to get it serviced for work, we'd recommend contacting your dealer directly.

You're not obliged to have your maintenance work carried out by a main dealer to keep your warranty intact, provided you follow the manufacturer service scheduled and use only genuine or recommended parts and consumables. Find a garage you can rely on through Which? Trusted Traders.

Should I SORN my car if I'm not using it?

If your car is parked on private land and you know you won't be using it for a while, you could save money by making a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).

By legally declaring your car to be off the road, you can claim back any full months of tax left remaining. You'll also no longer be obliged to insure your car, but bear in mind you won't be covered in the event of accident or theft if you cancel any cover you have. Find out more about declaring your car SORN, and whether you need to pay car tax during lockdown.

How much does it cost to SORN a car?

There's currently no fee to declare your car off-road. The easiest way to do it is online, but you can also do it by phone or post. You'll need either the 16-digit reference number from your tax renewal letter (V11) or the 11-digit reference number from your vehicle logbook (V5C).

How should I look after my car if I don't use it for a long time?

Cars are designed to be used regularly. The main issues to consider when leaving yours parked for long periods are the health of your battery and brakes, which are the first things to develop problems through inactivity.

For more tips on keeping your car healthy during lockdown, head to our coronavirus car maintenance guide.

How can I prevent a flat battery?

  • Electrical items in the car draw energy from the battery, even when it's not being used, which can leave it flat and unable to turn over the engine when you next go to start it. Disconnect any that are not essential (such as sat navs and phone charging cables).
  • For petrol and diesel cars it's recommended that you start the engine and leave it running for around 20 minutes, or at least until it's up to temperature, around once a week. This will allow the battery to regain charge.
  • Try to avoid starting the engine and turning it off again before it's got warm, as the battery is unlikely to have regained the charge needed to start the engine.
  • For hybrid models, leave the car in its 'ready' state for at least half an hour. The engine may come on during this time to help regenerate the battery. For electric and plug-in hybrid models, it's best to leave them with a fully-charged battery if possible.

How can I look after my brakes?

  • Brake discs corrode if left unused for extended periods. Left unchecked it can cause the brakes to seize, rendering the car immovable. If possible, you should move your car back and forward a few metres.
  • If your car is parked in a safe place, you should consider leaving it parked In gear ('P' in automatics) and leave the handbrake disengaged. This will prevent it sticking if not used for a while.

How does coronavirus impact car insurance?

Although MOTs have been extended, you'll still need up-to-date, valid insurance cover to drive. Currently there are no special exemptions in place, even for key workers.

However, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has issued guidance stating that key workers needing to drive their cars to for work critical to the national response against coronavirus (who otherwise would not have a policy covering commuting), will be covered without having to inform their insurance company.

This also applies if you're using your own car for voluntary purposes (including NHS Volunteer Responders), for instance to transport medicine supporting those affected by the pandemic. For more information on car insurance, including how to make a claim in the event of an accident, visit our car insurance advice.

Head to our cars hub for all our car maintenance and safety advice, as well as our independent expert new and used car reviews.