Legal experts have confirmed that car dealers can offer test drives legitimately during the third lockdown – as long as a deposit has been taken first.
Legal firm Lawgistics is advising members they can offer test drives following confirmation from Trading Standards and the Office of Product Safety & Standards that they are allowed.
Customers must, however, have placed a deposit first online or over the phone before taking the car for a test drive.
The deposit is crucial, says Lawgistics, and car showrooms and forecourts must still remain closed.
But the news does pave the way for cars to be dropped off at customers’ homes or for the test drive to take place off site, near the dealership.
This now means car dealers can take a deposit – of say £100 – and then offer the customer a test drive legitimately. Previously, it was thought the whole deal had to be concluded before the car was delivered.
Solicitor Nona Bowkis said she had fought on behalf of clients who had been pulled up by authorities on a test drive – but proof a deposit had been taken was enough to satisfy them.
She said: ‘We have always advised that we would be more than happy to defend any dealer who received a fine for test drives as offering a test drive on a vehicle ordered remotely, is not against the law.
‘We were pleased to see in writing that local authorities, based on central government advice, are on the same page.
‘This will no doubt be why we are yet to see any evidence of a single fine being issued in regard to Click & Collect test drives.’
Up until this point there was confusion around the legalities of a test drive and the confirmation from official bodies is the first that has been received.
Bowkis said the ‘moral decision’ will have to remain with the dealer as to whether they feel it is ‘right’ to offer a test drive during the lockdown.
She added: ‘It is, of course, up to dealers where they sit morally on this issue, but we are pleased to report that we have now seen our legal view confirmed by the Office of Product Safety and Standards who provide advice to your local councils and Trading Standards based on responses from central government.
‘Despite claims otherwise, we have not heard of a single dealer being fined for offering test drives.
‘Conversely, we have dealt with cases where dealers have been questioned by the police and Trading Standards, but on producing evidence of a deposit being taken remotely prior to any test drive, they have been allowed to carry on without issue.’
Test drives must be offered in a Covid Secure way, she said, be unaccompanied and a risk assessment should be drawn up and documented.
Bowkis added: ‘Of course, your test drives should be covered in your Covid-19 risk assessments, you will need to have adequate insurance in place for unaccompanied test drives and you need to make sure you are covered if the consumer has an accident or picks up a fine.’
Up until now, the advice on test drives has been mixed with many dealers refusing to offer them during the third lockdown.
Lawgistics has argued from the start that test drives are part and parcel of a sale, and should have always been safe to offer once a customer had placed a deposit.
By offering test drives to customers this way, Bowkis said they are more likely to have confidence in the deal and be happy to buy remotely.
She added: ‘The deal will still be a click and collect sale with the requisite 14 days return period, but it will give the customer more confidence to put down a deposit and reduce the chances of them returning the vehicle within the return period, which is, after all, no more than an extended test drive.
‘The legislation talks about orders received, but says nothing about payment in full.
‘Dealers do have to understand though that it is still a distance sale as the deposit has been put down before the customer has seen the vehicle and no deals can be done on the premises right now.
‘In normal times, a refundable reservation fee will avoid the distance selling 14 day period as the customer hasn’t committed to buy until they visit and see the car but for the next seven weeks, it’s still all distance sales.’
Earlier this month, Daksh Gupta, CEO of Marshall Motor Group, said his group was not offering test drives and that he does not feel it’s the right thing to do either.
He said: ‘I appreciate retailers are resourceful and entrepreneurial but offering test drives is pushing the boundaries in my view and is something we would not do.
‘I will not put my colleagues at risk for an extra car sale – to me lives and reputation are far more important.’