Amid the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, an increasing number of jurisdictions are ordering residents to stay home except for a core group of activities. As we write this very article, in fact, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is issuing a shelter-in-place order for Cars.com’s home state of Illinois. Countless areas, including Illinois, have ordered nonessential businesses, from restaurants to movie theaters, to close. Many drivers, no doubt, might wonder if this means you can’t get essential repairs for your car.
In short, it does not. By government mandate, facilities that repair or maintain vehicles are considered essential services, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. But they could be running on shorter hours or a skeleton staff — and some may close temporarily — so your service appointment might look a little different.
Does a Shelter-in-Place Order Mean I Can’t Take My Car In?
As we noted in our report on whether you can buy a car during COVID-19, that’s a thorny subject. Three days after San Francisco issued orders to shelter in place, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered residents statewide to stay home except to work in “critical infrastructure sectors.”
Clarifying that residents “must have access to such necessities as food, prescriptions and health care,” Newsom’s order notes that people will still need to leave “to obtain or perform the functions above, or to otherwise facilitate authorized necessary activities,” albeit with social distancing.
It would seem that critical car repairs and recall work — without which your vehicle might be unsafe or undrivable — would constitute a necessary activity, but that isn’t entirely clear. Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to Cars.com’s requests for clarification.
We looked at two coronavirus-related orders issued this week to shelter in place: one for San Miguel County in western Colorado, and the other for Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Both have identical language that allows residents to leave home “to engage in activities or perform tasks essential to their health and safety,” among other reasons, including to “obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members … [including] products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.”
Both orders go on to name examples of such activities to include obtaining medical care or buying groceries, but both also note those aren’t the only such examples. It’s unclear whether a car repair constitutes a task essential to your health and safety or the operation of your residence — a case could certainly be made that it does — so it’s best to consult your local jurisdiction before leaving home if you’re under a shelter-in-place order or the equivalent.
Are Repair Facilities Even Open?
Generally, yes. California’s order, and likely others that proliferate in the near future, points to a list of more than a dozen sectors identified as “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security. Residents working in such sectors are authorized to continue doing so, the order says, due to their importance to statewide health. In a March 19 memo, the DHS included “automotive repair and maintenance facilities” among such critical infrastructure, so these facilities can remain open — even if they’re part of a dealership of which the sales floor isn’t deemed critical. (The San Miguel and Oak Park orders have similar language, deeming that “essential businesses” may remain open; both listed auto repair facilities among such businesses.)
The exemption carries to states that have merely closed nonessential businesses. Pennsylvania ordered such businesses to close, with enforcement beginning March 21. The Pennsylvania Automotive Association, a dealer group, advised March 19 that service facilities may continue operations but showrooms may not. Representatives at three Pennsylvania dealerships we called today said their service departments remained open even as their sales departments were, or would soon be, empty.
It appears that third-party repair shops are reading from the same playbook. Jennifer Friedmann, a spokeswoman for Shell Oil, told Cars.com today that branches for the company’s Jiffy Lube subsidiary were still open in Pennsylvania. San Francisco has been under a shelter-in-place order since March 16, but Friedmann said Jiffy Lube branches in the city were also open. We called three Pep Boys locations across California, and all three said they remained open.
Of course, policies around COVID-19 for repair shops — whether attached to a dealership or not — will vary based on individual facility. Some closed, no doubt.
More From Cars.com:
- Coronavirus and Car Buying: What You Should Know
- Ride-Sharing Drops, Online Car Shopping Increases in Coronavirus’ Wake
- Coronavirus Car-Buying Pro Tip: Use Home Car Delivery
- Amid Coronavirus Pandemic Uncertainty, Automakers Offer Peace of Mind Via Payment Relief
- Social Distancing? You Can Still Buy a Car Online From Your Couch and Have It Delivered
Should I Put Off Repairs or Maintenance Until the Risk of Getting COVID-19 Subsides?
That depends on the nature of the work. You may be able to delay routine maintenance if you’re stuck at home adding minimal mileage to your car. A long-overdue replacement for a Takata airbag inflator, by contrast, is a matter of urgent safety. Talk to your mechanic to see what he or she recommends.
If you must take your car in, we suggest a few steps amid the pandemic:
- Ask when the business is least busy, and schedule your appointment then.
- Maintain social distancing whenever possible (at least 6 feet between you and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends) while you’re there. Consider going when the weather is nice, or at least nice enough, so you can stand outdoors if necessary to avoid proximity to others.
- Upon receiving your car back, it’s a good idea to wipe down door handles, keys and interior surfaces with a disinfectant approved by the EPA for use against the coronavirus. That said, avoid harsher items on the EPA’s list — bleach, for example — which can harm interior surfaces.
- It should go without saying at this point, but wash your hands frequently and thoroughly throughout the process, and avoid touching your face. Don’t go if you’re feeling sick, have a diagnosis of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has it.
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