Buying a new or used car during lockdown - here's what you need to know

The coronavirus lockdown has put many aspects of day-to-day life on hold, including the buying and selling of cars.

With people urged to stay at home and car dealerships ordered to close at the end of March, it’s no wonder the new car market has just seen its worst month since 1946, with registrations down 97 per cent.

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However, online data from retailers has shown that there is still a strong interest in new cars from customers and the industry’s main bodies have recently issued guidance to dealers on returning to business.

And there is no explicit ban on the buying and selling of cars.

How do I buy a car during lockdown?

The biggest obstacle to buying a new or used car during lockdown is that car showrooms are closed. They were ordered to shut in March as a non-essential retail service and under government regulations will not be able to reopen until June 1 at the earliest.

That means no test drives and no browsing stock in person.

However, you can buy a car online. Dealers in England are now allowed to operate click-and-collect services and thanks to the internet it’s possible to view and order a car remotely then arrange a contactless handover.

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Can I car share during lockdown?

Most new and used car dealers now offer online descriptions of their stock, with plenty of images and all the relevant data. Many also now offer video “tours” of vehicles and in recent weeks some dealer product experts from brands such as Seat and Skoda have been live streaming model guides from their driveways.

Car showrooms have been shut since March and will not reopen until June at the earliest (Photo: Shutterstock)Car showrooms have been shut since March and will not reopen until June at the earliest (Photo: Shutterstock)
Car showrooms have been shut since March and will not reopen until June at the earliest (Photo: Shutterstock)

Dealers are allowed to take orders and payments via the phone or internet, so if you spot a model you want you can still order and buy it or arrange finance without visiting the showroom.

Most have also been developing contactless handover processes, where either the car is delivered to your door or, with the relaxing of travel restrictions, you can collect it from an outdoor location without coming into contact with anyone else. Any dealer operating like this has to confirm that it is following the latest guidance on cleanliness and safety.

Some brands, such as Tesla, Peugeot, Volvo and Vauxhall also have purpose-made online retail services where every aspect of choosing and buying a car is handled online. And there are other web-based services offering end-to-end online buying of new and used models, including Heycar, Carwow, Buyacar and Cazoo.

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What about private sales?

Private sales, such as those arranged via classified adverts and websites such as eBay, Autotrader or Gumtree, are more complicated.

Firstly, it is debatable whether collecting a new car counts as essential travel and some people have been fined by police for travelling to buy a car during lockdown. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, all non-essential travel is still banned and even in England, where the restrictions have been relaxed, people are being urged to stay at home unless their journey is absolutely necessary.

There is also the issue of handover. Car dealers have to prove that they are adhering to the social distancing guidelines and cleaning all cars correctly to avoid the spread of the virus. Private buyers don’t have these protections or guarantees, increasing the risk of catching or spreading the virus.

This article first appeared on the Yorkshire Post