An accident waiting to happen – MoT test exemption

Posted on June 19th, 2012 by Rob Marshall

When the news broke last month, of pre-1960 cars being exempt from the compulsory annual safety inspection, the MoT Test, I buried my head in my hands. While the idea had been mooted since 2010, I never envisaged that it would become a reality. Yet, I cannot be accused of being anti-old car. I own seven of them and find the classic car arena to be one of the most friendly, enjoyable, sociable and helpful movements that I have been involved with. In many ways, classic cars have a wider social benefit too. Take a look around most village and county shows this summer and the chances are that classic car displays will be playing a major role. Older vehicles are also involved in countless charity events but, despite my support, I perceive that removing the legal obligation for an independent annual safety inspection for vehicles over half a century-old is an unwise decision.

The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) commissioned a survey that revealed 74% of respondents, most of whom owned a classic, supported an exemption for older cars. Had the wider public been aware of the survey, maybe the results would have differed somewhat…

The main reason cited for relieving pre-1960 vehicles of an MoT Test is that they tended to be owned by enthusiasts and are, therefore, cherished. Yet, I cannot see this as justifiable. Just because a vehicle is owned by an enthusiast does not mean that it is well maintained. Judging from my trip to Cornwall last year, when I counted four stranded pre-1960 Volkswagen Camper vans during my week-long holiday, one of which blocked an entire one-way system and caused complete mayhem for the locals and tourists alike, it proves that DIY enthusiasts lying on their backs on their driveways may miss something that could be critical to either reliability or safety (or both), whereas an MoT inspector might spot a perished or corroded brake line from the comfort of a 4-post ramp.

Last week, I viewed a 1935 Austin Ruby that had been rewired so badly, by a so-called enthusiast, that certain parts of its wiring loom had smouldered away. Damaged and dangling wiring, let alone inoperative lamps, is an MoT failure point but, by this November, when the legislation comes into force, that particular shorting and melting death-trap could have been allowed to drive legally on the road.

According to the FBHVC, the other justification was that pre-1960s cars tended to be slower and cover a lower annual mileage, when compared to a modern car. This might be true but such vehicles also tend to have inferior brakes, suspension and steering. Also, many older vehicles can be stored over the winter, which can cause certain parts to seize. Interestingly, only 10% of respondents to the survey cited the £54.85 official test fee as being too expensive. In fact, I think that this figure is inaccurate and that cost is one of the biggest attractions and I have spoken to two people already that have cited MoT Test Exemption as an incentive to buy a pre-1960 car.

My suspicion is confirmed by Mike Penning, the Roads Minister, who stating that the coalition is “…committed to cutting out red tape which costs motorists money without providing significant overall benefits”, I see the exercise being more about saving the owners of approximately 162,000 cars a few quid at the expense of safety. More importantly, the entire move could be viewed as one to appease the classic car movement that feels it has been neglected badly by New Labour, especially with the introduction of policies that included the banning of leaded petrol and the rolling historic vehicle tax exemption being curtailed by the Iron Chancellor.

Yet, even though the MoT failure rate is lower for classic and pre-1960 cars, all it will take is one incident that results in death or serious injury, which could adversely affect the positive image of the entire classic car movement. If the Government really wanted to contribute to the good work of the classic car scene, it should consider doing so via VED (the tax disc), not by removing an important road safety inspection.


An accident waiting to happen – MoT test exemption

Exempting older vehicles on the grounds that they are cherished by their owners is not a rational argument on road safety grounds