Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Nine days after being allowed to return to work under the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, motor dealers have finally been told the rules under which they may operate.

Crucially, despite originally stating that only “car dealers” could do business, the government has clarified this to include the sale of new and used bakkies, trucks, buses, motorcycles, caravans, trailers and even agricultural equipment.

The regulations, gazetted on Tuesday evening, also allow vehicle owners to take their cars in for routine warranty servicing, in addition to emergency repairs.

National Automobile Dealers Association chair Mark Dommisse said on Wednesday morning: “This is a big relief. There are still big challenges ahead but by making these changes now, government has given us the chance to limit the employment effects of this lockdown. There will still be job losses but they could have reached devastating proportions if restrictions had continued much longer.”

Though dealers had begun opening their doors on Monday last week, he said a lack of clarity on what they could and could not do had severely limited their operations.  

The new regulations will be introduced in three stages. From Wednesday, no more than 30% of employees at dealerships and used-car lots are allowed on site, subject to strict distancing controls. Face-to-face customer interaction is discouraged. Most sales must be online, dealership visits and test drives are by appointment only and sold vehicles must be sanitised and delivered to customers.

From May 25, up to 60% of staff will be allowed on site and customers will be allowed to collect their vehicles from dealers — though online sales and home delivery are still advised.

From June 8 until the level 4 lockdown is lifted, all staff will be allowed to work and customers will be subject to the same restrictions as from May 25.

Similar restrictions will apply to those who buy vehicles at auctions: fully online at first, then limited (but discouraged) personal attendance.

Dealerships have previously been carrying out repairs on emergency vehicles and the vehicles of people performing essential services. Now, they may also conduct routine servicing of vehicles governed by manufacturer warranties. However, minor scratches and dents, as well as “cosmetic enhancements”, are off-limits.

Dommisse estimates about 30% of warrantied vehicles on SA roads are currently overdue for routine services.

Automotive after-sales providers are also now allowed to reopen. These include auto electricians, tyre and glass fitment centres, and panelbeaters.

Sisa Mbangxa, founder and chair of the African Panel Beaters and Motor Mechanics Association, which represents mostly informal backyard mechanics and repairers, said they were also returning to work.

“We want to provide members with vehicle sanitiser and are educating them on the provisions of the new rules,” he said Wednesday.

The regulations also allow motor companies more freedom to import and export vehicles through SA ports.

Tim Abbott, president of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA, which represents manufacturers and importers, said: “We all support the directives as outlined.”