The MoT – Lies, damn lies and statistics

Posted on May 29th, 2012 by Rob Marshall

Recent publication of MoT Test result files, by make and model, has led some commentators to blame failure rates on vehicle manufacturers but Rob Marshall feels that the results are more telling about the cavalier attitude of some car owners, rather than the quality of their cars.

When the Coalition Government abandoned the idea of reducing the MoT Test frequency from one to two years, I was elated. While modern cars of all makes have improved in the last few decades, our expectation of them to be faster, safer, less polluting and requiring far less maintenance has seen a worrying number of three year-old cars failing their first legal examination of roadworthiness.

While some commentators might use the MoT Test results to dissuade buyers from purchasing certain makes and models, I feel strongly that doing so is to mislead the public. Obviously, exotic, high-value and cherished vehicles of any age are more likely to pass the minimum safety standard than hard-worked vans, cheap-to-run and ageing small cars, family people carriers and high-mileage business vehicles.

For example, in order, Lexus, Suzuki, Honda, Saab and Toyota rank in the best performers but these are all manufacturers that tend not to have a big corporate fleet presence in the UK, at least, when compared to the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and BMW. Thus, it would be a reasonable assumption to surmise that most of those examples registered tended to be in the hands of individuals that cover lower annual mileages. Even when the results are evaluated by age, the low annual mileage and cherished examples stand out further, the Lotus Esprit being the best performer out of vehicles registered in the 1980s, despite its dubious build quality when new, and the Rolls Royce Silver Seraph heading-up the 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, French cars have received a drubbing. Renault was the worst performer of the entire survey, with Citroen and Peugeot following closely. Supporters of French cars have commented that this is not necessarily due to bad vehicle quality. Some people have surmised that the massive depreciation of French vehicles enables less financially-secure owners to buy the more recent models and drive them into the ground. This argument might hold water, especially as most cars from the three main French companies were popular (and still are, in some cases) company car choices and tend to sell cheaply at auction, once they hit three years of age.

With approximately one fifth of cars failing their MoT Tests, between October 2010 and November 2011, issues with lighting, tyres, headlamp aim and problems associated with the ‘driver’s view of the road’ were the most common occurrences, many of which could have been spotted by the owner before the inspector. In my experience, I know of car owners that submit their vehicles for an MoT Test, while admitting to the tester beforehand that a headlamp was blown or that the tyres were almost bald. The figures also bear out that owners are either not aware or are simply unprepared to deal with blown bulbs, badly-worn tyres and chipped windscreens. However, the MINI One was one of the worse performers in the statistics but the main reason for failure was due to ‘driver’s view of the road’, which is normally a chipped or cracked windscreen. Any car, whether a MINI or a Maserati can be unfortunate enough for a stone to damage its windshield and not to recommend a MINI based on this evidence alone is hardly good advice.

The MoT – Lies, damn lies and statistics

However, I have to sympathise with some owners though, because recent car designs have made some DIY operations, such as replacing the headlamp bulbs, virtually impossible. Removing the bumper to change a blown lamp is not practical at the roadside and makes a mockery of the European law that every driver should carry a spare bulb kit in the cockpit.

Even so, the recent MoT Test evidence points out more about the owner’s attitude and less about the car. If more drivers performed basic and regular checks, especially prior to an MoT Test, the most common reasons for test failure could be avoided completely. Although this might affect road safety positively, there appears to be little incentive to do so, especially as so many garages offer free MoT retests.