More cars exempt from MoT

Posted on September 27th, 2017 by Rob Marshall

VHI

The 14th of September heralded a worrying road safety development. The Department of Transport announced that Vehicles of Historical Interest (VHI), defined as being aged over 40 years and not modified substantially, would be exempt from the mandatory roadworthiness testing (MoT) from next May. The introduction of an alternative basic roadworthy assessment was also rejected.

The full consultation can be read here.

Like historical tax exemption, the movable MoT exemption date would roll-on every January. The decision involving pre-1978 cars extends earlier legislation that exempted pre-1960s cars from the inspection. While you would have thought that many classic car owners would support this move, many of them were against it.

Government rationale cites two reasons for going against the will of the respondents to the earlier consultation, over 50% of whom rejected the proposal. Firstly, the DfT believes that “these cars are usually maintained in good condition and used on few occasions”. Secondly, it concluded that the current MoT Test is less relevant to cars of this age. Thirdly, in 2015, ‘only’ 215 people were either killed, or received serious injuries in incidents involving vehicles registered from 1961 – 1977, far fewer than cars registered after 1987. This was one reason why the government did not exempt cars older than thirty years.

Are older cars maintained in better condition than conventional vehicles?

…only if they are maintained by a competent enthusiast. Yet, even passionate amateurs get things wrong. Being the owner of several vehicles aged over forty years, I perform most of my own maintenance tasks but I view the MoT Test as a useful fall-back to ensure that my work, performed mostly lying on my back beneath a raised car, has not missed anything. From the luxury of a four post ramp, my MoT Tester has spotted things over the years that I had missed – consequently, any extra work was performed before the car’s safety was compromised.

My further concern is that the VHIs boast technology from forty years ago, which itself, is over forty years old. The historic car movement, overall, also has a problem with spare parts quality of safety critical items – I have written on this issue at length for the classic car press. Such examples include steering joints that fall apart in service.

I fear also that the move would make it possible for cars that have been laid-up for many years in a barn, or field, to be insured and then driven on the Highway legally, instead of being trailered to their destinations.

The MoT Test

The DfT’s view that the MoT is less relevant to older cars is debateable. Admittedly, VHIs do not boast airbags, anti-lock brakes, or tyre pressure warning systems, all of which are examined on most modern motors, but they do benefit from independent anti-corrosion inspections, steering wear checks, headlight alignment and braking performance tests, all of which are difficult for a sole DIY owner to assess at home. According to the DfT, however, VHIs have substantially lower MoT failure rates, compared to more modern vehicles.

While the MoT Test has never been a full guarantee of a vehicle’s roadworthiness, it does provide an old car buyer with some reassurance that the vehicle is not a death trap. A further issue is that the online MoT history service will not record the vehicle’s mileage, which, potentially, will increase the risk of a classic’s mileage being falsified and not spotted.

Yet, there are safeguards. For example, a driver can be prosecuted under other legislation for driving an unroadworthy car. However, this puts more pressure on Road Traffic Officers to stop and inspect old cars at the roadside.

Ironing the wrinkles

While I admit that very few road incidents are identified as being caused by a mechanical failure (A TRL report stated it at 3%), this is no reason to try and tempt those figures to rise. I think that, if implemented, it is likely that we will see a greater proportion of historic cars being driven in a condition below the current minimum legal standard.

Nonetheless, the DfT comments that classic car owners can still have their VHIs MoT Tested, it just will not be a legal requirement any longer. There will also be a number of clarifications required, before the implementation date, including defining if a VHI had been ‘substantially changed’ in order to qualify for MoT exemption. For modified cars, this document outlines the current thinking. The legislation will be introduced on the 20th May 2018.