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Car dealers’ provision of test drives in England a ‘purely moral’ decision

Car retailers' decision over whether to offer car buyers test drives during COVID-19 'Lockdown 3' has been rendered “purely moral” after clarification of the law in England, it has been claimed.

Lawgistics legal advisor Nona Bowkis has obtained documentation stating that the UK Government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) which clarifies COVID-19 ‘Lockdown 3’ test drive legislation with Trading Standards authorities across England and determines that the service is allowed.

Bowkis told AM that the correspondence – provided in connection to a car retailer’s successfully contested case – served to back-up Lawgistics’ ongoing assertion that test drives have been legal throughout ‘Lockdown 3’.

“The question now is whether some dealers may reinterpret their moral stance in light of this new documentation,” Bowkis told AM.

“Our advice from the start is that test drives have been legal and this new evidence backs that up.

“We always advised car retailers against promoting test drives in their marketing and we fully understand that there are moral considerations for some businesses, but it’s our role to ascertain the law and in this case it’s quite clear.”

Bowkis said that OPSS guidance clearly relates to unaccompanied test drives in England. Separate legislation is applied in other devolved countries across the UK.

In order to adhere to the law car retailers must take a deposit from a customer in order to determine an intention to buy ahead of a test drive.

Bowkis advised that a deposit upwards of £100 – depending on the value of the car – be taken to demonstrate that the customer is actively engaged in a purchase process.

Bowkis argued that, while customers benefitting from distance selling regulation effectively have a 14-day test drive at their disposal, a properly managed and COVID-safe unaccompanied test drive represents a safer alternative.

She said: “Transmission is bound to be less likely in a situation where one person takes a car for an unaccompanied test drive than in a situation where a car is returned to a dealership after having the customers kids and dogs and what else travelling in it for a fortnight.

“I have a client who operates test drives via a key safe system. It’s completely contactless.

“Managed as part of a COVID risk assessment policy test drives are extremely safe and completing them could be the difference between making sales or not being able to put food on the table for some businesses.”

Earlier this month car buying research website Parkers found that the loss of a test drive offering could be hampering sales during lockdown, with 64% of respondents stating that they would not buy a car without one.

While Lawgistics maintains that the law has always allowed test drives in England, most car retail businesses have chosen to discontinue their provision in ‘Lockdown 3’.

Speaking to AM yesterday (February 23) both Cambria Automobiles chief executive Mark Lavery and Mazda UK MD Jeremy Thomson expressed their desire to see the return of test drives.

Lavery said: “We’re moving through a once in a lifetime change of powertrain in the industry and, for people to make that switch, most will want to drive before they buy.

“I think Government need to be mindful of that pressure, and the VAT revenues it’s currently missing out on.”

Thomson is about to launch the new MX-30 – Mazda’s first fully electric vehicle (EV) – into the UK, said: “We have marketing running right to the end of March as its stands and our online engagement is strong. People are showing great interest in the car before it’s even reached the road, but we really do need to get people behind the wheel and show them what they can expect to experience, where our years of development has gone, to help them make a purchase decision.”

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