How can car dealers safely reopen their showrooms now it has been confirmed by the PM that they will be allowed to on June 1?
With advice scattered across the internet and a glut of resources to help dealers, we’ve attempted to pull together the most frequently asked questions to help you plan for the restart.
In this guide we explain how dealers can reopen next week following the latest safety guidelines.
What is the most important thing to think about when reopening?
You need to make sure you have a full health and safety written assessment to ensure your business is Covid-19-secure.
All car dealerships will have to complete an online HSE inspection to prove that they are safe to reopen – and face random spot checks in the future to ensure they are continuing to comply.
Using the HSE’s online tools, car dealers will need to display a certificate, like the one below, that confirms the business has complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of Covid-19.
When do we let customers know?
Communication of the work you have done to reopen is critical, so consider producing a video, like the Wessex Garages one below, and other marketing materials to let customers know what you’ve done to keep them safe.
Plenty of signs explaining the rules should be put up.
It is also worth calling customers ahead of them arriving so they can plan their visit. Let them know the rules and what they can and can’t expect. Make appointments where you can so you can manage customer arrivals.
How do we communicate the dealership reopening plan to staff?
Clearly communicate to staff your plans for returning to work well in advance of reopening – that work probably needs to start now. Give training to all members of the team where needed so everyone is up to speed with the plans.
What are the key points dealers need to consider when setting up their dealership to reopen?
The guidance is plentiful and detailed – and you’ll need to consider a mix of advice from the government and industry trade bodies.
Car dealers will need to follow advice for retail businesses and offices.
The key important points to consider are:
- Those who can still work from home should continue to do so
- Assess risks in consultation with workers
- Where possible, two-metre social distancing should be maintained
- Manage the risk of transmission if two-metre distancing is impossible, eg, with shift patterns
What about PPE?
PPE guidance states it should only be used if Covid-19 transmission risk is very high.
It reads that unless you’re in a situation where the risk of transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited.
Regular handwashing for 20 seconds is seen as the best preventative measure in a standard work environment.
What about setting up showrooms to reopen – what are the key points to remember?
There are a number of key points to think about when setting up your showroom, the key points of which are listed here:
- Maintain two-metre social distancing at all times – put up signs to remind staff and customers about it
- Mark out walkways to maintain social distancing
- One-way systems should be introduced, with an entry and exit
- Handshakes and elbow bumping to be avoided
- All vehicles in the showroom and the forecourt should remain locked
- Screens to protect staff should be considered in customer interaction points
- Desks should be placed two metres apart
- Refreshments should not be served to customers
- Magazines, brochures and vending machines should be removed
- Halt other complimentary services such as children’s play areas
- Hand sanitisation points should be implemented
- Cars need to be disinfected regularly
- Set up protocols for deliveries
- Recommend appointments for sales and aftersales (with flexibility for emergencies)
- Use electronic payments and digital signatures
What about in the office section of my car dealership – what should I do there?
As car dealers are a hybrid of retail and offices, you need to consider the guidance for both areas when reopening your car dealership.
- All staff who can work from home should continue to do so
- Rotas should be put in place to reduce numbers of staff and create teams to limit interaction
- Toilets and other areas need clear signs about social distancing
- Use liquid soap and disposable paper towels instead of solid soap and hand dryers
- Maximum ventilation of premises and vehicles
- Desks should be two metres apart
- Consider the layout to ensure social distancing can be maintained
- Hold virtual meetings, not face-to-face ones
- Avoid touching the same office items
- Clean any surfaces touched by many people as often as you can
How do I deal with part-exchange vehicles?
The guidance says you should use all digital methods available to you and follow social distancing guidelines. Some dealers are leaving part-exchanges untouched for 72 hours – a time thought to allow the virus to die off, but this hasn’t been confirmed anywhere.
With regards to paperwork, replace it with digital methods where possible so it can be carried out remotely. Use DVLA online processes and, where possible, avoid sharing pens and hard-copy documents.
Are you allowed to do test drives?
These will be permitted when dealerships reopen but they must be unaccompanied. Trade plates should be used, after the DVLA offered dispensation for this.
Dealers must have the correct insurance cover for solo test drives. It’s unlikely to be standard so speak to your broker about it. The car will also need to be sanitised before a customer takes it out.
That means cleaning touch points inside and out, such as door handles, seats, the steering wheel, gear stick, handbrake and rear-view mirror, or use disposable protective sets as appropriate.
What about in the workshop?
As many car dealers have already been operating their workshops, guidance has previously been laid out on how to do this. However, be mindful of the points raised above and ensure that it’s as hands-off as possible.
For example, have a drop box for keys, restricted access and flexible hours for staff.
What about negative publicity?
Some consumers might react negatively to car dealers reopening – we are already seeing a little of this online. It’s worth reminding customers just how important the automotive sector is to the UK.
Car dealers provide employment to more than 590,000 people and, with an annual turnover of around £200bn, represent one of the key sectors of the UK economy. There are more than 40m vehicles licensed in the UK, many of which may need servicing or replacing too.
What about getting staff back from furlough who might not want to come back?
The law is quite clear about this. If the workplace is safe and staff aren’t having to isolate or aren’t having to look after someone who is extremely vulnerable, they must return. They can’t simply decide that it’s too dangerous for them.
There has to be a specific reason that would rightly prevent them from coming back to work, and mere anxiety isn’t one of them. As such, if they don’t come back it will be a case of an unauthorised absence and can be treated as a disciplinary matter.
It would also be a breach of the duty – implied or express – to obey a lawful and reasonable instruction to return to work.
However, the employer must follow the government’s published guidance on workplace procedures, because if the guidance isn’t followed, it could become a health and safety matter and might give the employee a valid excuse to refuse to work in the most serious cases.
How does a click-and-collect service work?
The government gave the go-ahead for this to take place in England, ending the moral wrangling over it two weeks ago. As a retail business, you are allowed to offer a click-and-collect service but customers can’t enter the premises, although staff can be present. Maintain social distancing at all times. This will need to continue until June 1.
Again, ensure that the vehicle has been sanitised, along with the keys, and make it a contactless handover.
It’s yet to be confirmed if click-and collect is being allowed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More reading: Industry bodies’ guide on how to do it, drafted in part by SMMT, PDF can be found here.
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