Are car dealers open in Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3? And can you buy a car in Tier 3 areas? Your questions answered

Time 3:56 pm, October 23, 2020

With all parts of the country experiencing differing infection levels and restrictions, knowing what you can and can’t do has suddenly become a lot more complicated.

The government has now issued new advice about the tier system, which comes into place from December 2.

Update: Are car dealers open in Tier 4? Full details here

However, this is causing fresh confusion for customers wanting to buy a car, get their car serviced or MOT’d, and even more so for car dealers.

Can showrooms remain open if they’re in Tier 3, for instance? Are test drives allowed?

Here, we’ve tried to answer those questions in this handy guide.

What are the different tier levels across the UK?

Are you sitting comfortably? In England there’s a three-tier structure – Medium, High and Very High.

  • Medium means a 11pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants but last orders must be at 10pm; six people can meet indoors and outdoors.
  • High means the mixing of different households indoors is banned; the rule of six applies to outdoor spaces and private gardens with social distancing, while different households cannot mix inside pubs and restaurants. The 11pm curfew remains but alcohol can only be ordered with a substantial meal.
  • Very High is far more restrictive. Mixing of households indoors and outdoors is banned in private gardens; no non-essential travel; hospitality must close except for takeaways.

In Scotland, a five-tier structure came into effect on November 2. Level zero is as close to normal as possible without a vaccine, while levels one to three are broadly the same as England’s structure. Level four is the most extreme and is close to a full lockdown.

Meanwhile, car dealers in Northern Ireland will have to shut their doors to customers again after Stormont announced a circuit-breaker lockdown to help the NHS after a rise in coronavirus infections. All non-essential retail – which includes showrooms – must close from November 27 to December 11.

Ireland re-entered national lockdown on October 21 – the first EU country to do so – with the population facing the highest level of restrictions for six weeks.

The Irish government has put the nation on a Level 5 footing, meaning all non-essential retail has had to close and people aren’t allowed to travel further than three miles.

Dealerships are classed as non-essential retail. However, the website says ‘outlets providing for the repair and maintenance of mechanically propelled vehicles … and any related facilities (including tyre sales and repairs)’ can remain open.

In addition, anywhere that rents or leases ‘mechanically propelled vehicles’ have been deemed essential too.

Do the rules on how car dealers can operate change depending on location and tier?

Generally speaking, no.

At the moment car dealers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain open and it’s business as usual, providing all Covid-secure protocols (such as face masks, sneeze screens, etc) are in place.

Car dealers who have gone into Level 4 lockdown can still operate but aren’t allowed to let customers in their showroom to shop.

Can car dealers still open their doors?

Yes, for the time being if a dealer is located in England, Wales or lower than Level 4 in Scotland, then their doors can open and customers can visit, providing all coronavirus measures such as PPE and social distancing are adhered to.

The exception is Northern Ireland, where car dealers will have to close their doors from Friday, November 27.

Can car dealers offer test drives?

Again, like above, where businesses can be open as normal so test drives are allowed.

Face masks will be mandatory and if customers are concerned about the procedure, dealers will explain how the test drive will take place.

Are there any changes to Covid restrictions in showrooms such as more PPE and increased social distancing?

Apart from Wales where showrooms will close, there are no changes to the way a car showroom has been operating since they reopened during the summer.

Social distancing must be abided by, and features such as sneeze screens and hand sanitiser units must be fitted. Face masks must be worn by customers and dealership staff.

Can I get my car serviced and MOT’d in local lockdown areas?

It depends on which part of the country you’re in. Businesses in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland carry on just like they have done since they reopened in the summer, so if your car needs servicing or is due its MOT then you can get those booked.

In Wales, customers are being advised to postpone services if necessary but not to postpone MOTs if they’re due during the two-week lockdown.

Is advice available?

Part of the confusion felt by customers and dealers has been due to supposedly different guidance for different areas of the country.

Government guidance is being updated all the time but the best place for customers and dealers to keep an eye on are the national websites.

So, for England:

For Scotland:

For Wales:

For Northern Ireland:

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Any need to panic?

Obviously, the answer is no.

For most dealers it’s business as usual and for those businesses in Wales it will be a return to how they operated during the first national lockdown.

For customers, dealerships are some of the safest retail places thanks to space for social distancing and rigorous measures in place for safety.

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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