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Government tests the water over proposed MOT changes

The Department for Transport is asking for opinions on proposed changes to the annual MOT test – and already there’s been a mixed reaction

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Should a car’s first MOT test be at four years old, instead of the current three? Do we need to test pollutants such as NOX as part of the examination? Should better checks be made on engine noise? What new inspections might be carried out on the UK’s growing number of electric vehicles (EVs)?

These are all questions which the Department for Transport (DfT) has asked for public opinion on, as it launches a major consultation on the country’s compulsory MOT test.

Since the test was introduced in 1960 to improve the roadworthiness of the UK’s then growing number of vehicles, cars have improved dramatically in terms of safety and in technological aids.

More recently, electric and hybrid vehicles have been introduced, which require different types of inspection, including the safety and reliability of their batteries, while the DfT is looking for a balance between keeping our cars safe and ensuring owners can afford to run them.

Public opinion

Now the department is asking for public opinion on where to take the MOT test to help bring it up to date and in line with so many automotive changes. Its consultation document sets out three major goals.

“We are seeking views on whether the first date for a MOT test should be changed,” says the DfT’s website. “We are keen to understand:

  • when people think the first date should be
  • how making a change to this date will affect businesses
  • whether we should introduce any other changes to MOT testing

And it adds: “We will use this evidence to inform updates to policy, guidance, best practice and other policy tools across government.”

Months or miles?

The government wants to ensure MOTs remain fit for the future, which is why this consultation requires views on proposals to change the date at which the first MOT for new light vehicles is required.

As well as the proposed increase for a car’s first MOT test to four years, the consultation asks whether the safety check could be mileage-related rather than time-related. With UK motorists’ annual mileage dropping on average, longer periods between tests could help reduce costs on MOTs that don’t need to be carried out. Equally, it asks if high-usage vehicles should be tested more regularly.

Most cars already have a service schedule that specifies either time or mileage intervals between services, depending on which comes first. It’s entirely reasonable to suggest that MOT testing could follow a similar concept so that cars that are driven less are tested less often, while the cars that are on the roads more often are tested more regularly.

The average MOT costs £40 and the move could save motorists across Britain around £100 million a year in MOT fees, say government experts.

“If the government is looking to improve the MOT, now is the ideal time to take into account how much a vehicle is driven, alongside the number of years it’s been on the road,” said Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC. “While we’re not opposed to delaying a new vehicle’s first MOT, we believe there should be a requirement for particularly high mileage vehicles to be tested sooner.”

“The question of MOT testing frequency is part of the consultation; an important issue that has dominated conversation about testing for some time,” said Hayley Pells, policy manager at the Institute of the Motor Industry professional body. “What is important to ensure is that a focus on cost-saving does not put road users at heightened risk.”

Three or four years?

A major part of the consultation is about whether the date of a car’s first MOT test could be extended from three to four years. The DfT’s own research has shown that around 85% of new vehicles pass their first MOT test at three years. The most common reasons for failure include lights, tyres and brake faults.

“With the number of casualties in car collisions due to vehicle defects remaining low, government analysis shows the change from three to four years for the first MOT should not impact road safety,” says the DfT.

Roadworthiness testing four years after a vehicle’s registration is already standard practice across many European countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

“With one in ten cars failing their first MOT, we strongly discourage the government from extending a car’s first MOT to the fourth anniversary due to road safety concerns,” says Edmund King, president of the AA.

“When this proposal was last considered in 2017-18, the four-year policy did not obtain public support, with many citing concerns over vehicle safety as the main reason for opposing the move. We do not believe this to have changed over time. Safety items like tyres and brakes can often be deficient after three years.”

Kwik-Fit, the UK’s largest MOT testing organisation, agreed on the issue of efficiency of car components such as tyres – although it obviously has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

“We don’t believe that delaying a car’s first test beyond three years is a risk worth taking,” said Eric Smith, Kwik-Fit’s MOT scheme manager. “The reality is that the annual MOT fee is a very small proportion of a driver’s annual expenditure and the test supports drivers with a timely and regular check on important safety components – not least the condition of tyres. 

“Of the vehicle defects listed as contributory factors to accidents, the government data shows that tyres are most common, and tyre condition can be unrelated to vehicle age. Our experience shows that an annual check remains vital in not only improving the safety of our roads but extending vehicle life and reducing drivers’ overall maintenance costs.”

And Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT trade body, added, “Although today’s vehicles are safer and more reliable than ever, safety critical components such as brakes and tyres continue to wear through normal use and lead to millions of MOT failures every year, including at the current first test at year three.

“Stretching MOT intervals will shrink the safety net and jeopardise the UK’s record of having some of the safest roads in the world in exchange for a small saving, which could actually cost consumers more in the long run as complex faults can develop over time.”

Duplication of inspection

What none of these people mentioned is that all of these areas of concern are routinely checked as part of a car’s regular servicing and maintenance. So if your car is being serviced on time, every time, then components like brakes and tyres will be inspected annually (or at regular mileage intervals) anyway. That means there is certainly a level of duplication between your car’s annual service and its annual MOT test.

Industry campaigners will rightly point out that servicing is not a legal requirement, so the MOT test provides a clear obligation for all cars to be inspected for roadworthiness after three years of use. But servicing your car in accordance with the manufacturer’s schedule is a condition of most PCP and leasing contracts, which make up the vast majority of new and near-new consumer car registrations.

Adherence to servicing schedules is also highest on newer cars, with owners tending to pay less heed to keeping their cars serviced on time as they get older. So it makes sense that an MOT inspection remains compulsory for older and higher-mileage cars, but less critical for a car at the three-year-old point.

Technology changes

Modern cars might run on the same basic principles as those from the 1960s, when the MOT test was first introduced, but the way they operate has advanced enormously.

Officials will be studying the current test and looking to see where improvements or additions to its check-list can be made to accommodate the new technology that’s becoming more common in today’s modern cars. Features such as autonomous braking, lane-keeping sensors and parking assist equipment will all be discussed, while EV components like batteries, new noise legislation and emissions controls will also be considered.

Today, most vehicle functions are controlled or overseen by a number of powerful computers built into the vehicle, rather than simple mechanical systems. These computers help to make your car safer and more efficient, by monitoring everything going on in your vehicle using thousands of different sensors.

It also means that your car can recognise a wide range of problems long before you notice anything behind the wheel. A simple example is tyre pressure monitoring, now a common feature on new cars. These systems can usually detect a tyre starting to lose air and flash up a warning on the dashboard long before most drivers would feel anything behind the wheel or spot on a visual inspection.

Systems like this manage almost every aspect of new cars. While they don’t eliminate the need for human inspection, they do reduce that need. An MOT test involves a technician inspecting a car once a year – modern cars will monitor crucial systems dozens of times per second.

A growing number of new cars can also report remotely back to the manufacturer, so the owner can be booked in for any remedial work immediately if there is a problem. That’s a far cry from a potential safety issue going unnoticed for months before a car presents for its annual MOT inspection.

Looking ahead

What is agreed is that the MOT needs to adapt for future-proofing with changes made to the way cars are tested and on the methods used to carry out the variety of necessary checks. Advances in technology, especially in recent years, and the proliferation of EVs will mean big changes are needed to develop the compulsory safety test and make it more relevant to modern motoring.

“The MOT will need to adapt accordingly in the future,” said the RAC’s Nicholas Lyes. “Certainly, moves to check for faulty or removed diesel particulate filters will improve air quality by targeting dirty vehicles.”

The Independent Garage Association (IGA) agreed: “Vehicles are becoming more complex and the environmental impact of road transport plays an ever-increasing role in the government’s commitment to Net Zero,” said chief executive Stuart James.

“While the number of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles on the road relates to less than 2.5% of all vehicles on the road, it is inevitable that the MOT will need to adapt to provide a 21st-century solution to these challenges.”

And Sue Robinson, chief executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) said: “With advancements in technology and testing, cars and commercials are increasingly becoming safer off the production line, particularly with components such as autonomous emergency braking systems becoming more widely adopted.

“It is critical that the MOT system evolves and adapts in tandem with the rapidly developing technology used in automotive vehicles today.”

How to log your view

There are several ways to respond to this consultation.

The DfT website has an online link in which to make comments: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/D7M1RW/

There is also a response form on the DfT’s own site: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-date-of-the-first-mot-test-and-research-into-other-mot-enhancements

Respondents can email points of view via: MOT411consultation@dft.gov.uk

Or they can write to:  MOT Consultation, 3rd Floor, Zone 19, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 4DR

The closing date for consultation is 1 March 2023.

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.