Out of the woods? How car dealers will operate after lockdown

From Monday 12 April in England and Wales, and 5 April in Scotland (Northern Ireland has yet to reveal its hand), car dealerships will be allowed to reopen. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), certainly thinks so: “Over the past few months, click and collect has been a lifeline for the sector, but nothing replaces the face-to-face customer experience. Since March 2020, the industry has recorded a £23 billion loss, so the importance of retailers being open for business should not be underestimated.”

Our advice? Get in early. According to a poll of 3000 people by our friends at What Car?, car buyers are emerging from Covid-19 hibernation in their droves. Visits to What Car?’s new car deals pages have grown by nearly a fifth (18.1%) compared with the first 14 days in February, while almost a quarter (22.9%) of those polled plan to buy a car in the next three months. It’s going to be busy.

It’s also the start of a new business quarter, so look out for those generous deposit contributions, low APRs and subsidised servicing packages. Here’s all you need to know for a car-happy 12 April.

WHAT WILL DEALERSHIPS BE LIKE?

Expect to find one-way systems, hygiene stations and limits on customer numbers. Face coverings and social distancing will be enforced. On arrival, your temperature may be taken. Supported by the government furlough scheme, which has been extended to September, dealerships may be limiting staff numbers, so you may have to wait longer to be seen. When you are, handshakes and elbow bumping won’t be allowed.

WHAT ABOUT ACCESS TO CARS AND TEST DRIVES?

Showroom cars will be locked and their interiors wiped down after each viewing. The same will apply to used cars on the forecourt. Test drives will be allowed but will be unaccompanied.

HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?

Arrange your visit in advance and, because sales people’s time is likely to be limited, research the cars you’re interested in before you arrive. If you want a test drive, establish what you will and won’t be able to do. Bring a face mask and wear a coat if it’s a cold day – dealership windows may be open to encourage ventilation.

WHAT DO CAR MAKERS THINK OF REOPENING?

Most believe that click and collect has been so successful that it won’t be like throwing a switch.

“The reopening of Ford showrooms is an important and welcome step,” says Paul Singleton, Ford dealer operations director. “However, online browsing and vehicle selection, fulfilled by ‘click and collect’ and home deliveries from dealerships have been increasingly used by our customers over the past 12 turbulent months.”

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FORD FIESTA 1.0 ECOBOOST ZETEC 5DR 2019/19, 18k miles, £9999 A great-value supermini, but check for casual dings.

VAUXHALL INSIGNIA 2.0 TURBO D SRi VX-LINE NAV 2019/19, 39k miles, £13,000 Don’t fear high mileages as long as the service history is full.

MAZDA MX-5 2.0 SPORT NAV 160 2018/18, 16k miles, £15,950 Look out for tyre wear, kerbed wheels and rear-end scrapes.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R 2017/67, 14k miles, £19,990 Prices seem to be all over the place, so shop around.

KIA SORENTO 2.2 CRDi KX-2 AUTO 2018/67, 50k miles, £18,995 Still with four years’ manufacturer’s warranty remaining.