Keep annual MOT test — but not for the reasons you think, says road safety expert

Keep annual MOT test — but not for the reasons you think

MOTs are about more than safety, says expert

A REPORT from an independent think tank created headlines last week after recommending that the MOT test is “outdated” and should be scrapped.

The Adam Smith Institute study said:

“As vehicle technology increases, annual safety inspections are rendered more and more useless. While the MOT has remained essentially unchanged for half a century, improvements in vehicle safety technology mean traffic fatalities have dropped to just 57% of what they were a decade ago.”

It claimed that over 65% of accidents in the UK are due to “driver specific behaviours”, such as driving with excessive speed, driving under the influence of alcohol, or forgoing the use of a seat belt while travelling — “none of which an annual MOT test can prevent”.

The ASI also pointed to a recent study performed in the United States that “shows discontinuing these inspections has no effect on either the rate or severity of accidents due to mechanical failure.”

The ASI report concluded that the annual MOT should be scrapped or at least overhauled substantially to place emphasis on driver-specific behaviours, rather than vehicle-specific ones.

At a minimum, said the report, the age of testable cars ought to be increased and the frequency of inspections reduced. contacted Sunday Times Driving’s long-time expert on such matters for his thoughts on the report. Tim Shallcross, who used to train AA patrols to fix cars and now advises IAM Roadsmart (formerly the Institute of Advanced Motorists), told us that there are two good — and often overlooked — reasons not to scrap the annual MOT.

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Tim Shallcross, IAM RoadsmartTHERE IS certainly an argument for reducing the frequency of MOTs as a safety check.

This was suggested twice over the past decade or so, as an outcome of the Davidson review of “Gold Plating EU Regs” (2005).

Each time, the garage trade has predicted woe and destruction if this idea is implemented, but the fact is, there are very few accidents related to mechanical defects. It doesn’t even feature in the top ten contributory factors.

Few mechanical defects would actually contribute to a crash anyway, and those that would – such as brake failure — have built in secondary systems to prevent catastrophic consequences of failure — i.e. dual circuit brakes.

The government proposal [following the Davidson review] was that we move to a first test after four years [currently, the first test is after three years], then a re-test every two years, as is the practice in several EU countries.

It could save motorists £55 every other year which doesn’t seem much, but when the government constantly lectures us on changing energy suppliers to save about the same, and smart meters turn out to save customers about £25 a year, it stacks up against them as an “important” saving.

The garage trade (with a vested interest in keeping the MOT as it is) always points to the large number of three-year-old cars that fail the MOT first time around as evidence that disaster would ensue.

However this is simply a result of British garages carrying out the MOT test first, then fixing anything found to be wrong and re-testing. The test is carried out on-site, so it’s the easiest way to do it.

“A condition of a new car’s warranty is annual servicing, which includes a visual inspection of safety-related items. That’s exactly what the MOT is, so at year three a garage can get an extra £55 for doing the checks twice”

Contrast countries like Germany where cars have to be taken to a separate testing centre for their equivalent of the MOT: the overwhelming majority of cars pass first time because the garage checks them first, fixes anything likely to be a fail, then takes the car to the centre. It saves two trips and it’s the easiest way for the German garages to operate.

So, large numbers of first time fails are not evidence of dangerous cars, just a consequence of MOTs being carried out in ordinary garages rather than an official test centre.

I have pointed out in the past that all new cars have at least a three-year warranty and a condition of that warranty is servicing on time. These days a service consists of oil and filter changes, brake fluid change after two or three years and visual inspection of other safety related items.

A visual inspection of safety related items is exactly what the MOT is, so you might argue that the garage inspects the car at year one and year two, but at year three gets an extra £55 for doing exactly the same checks.

In response the trade has claimed that the service doesn’t cover everything the MOT does. I find that astonishing and I believe the public would as well; the trade is arguing that the very expensive official service doesn’t check the basic safety items covered by the MOT – why are we paying so much for the service then?


There are two good reasons why the MOT should probably stay as it is, and these have barely been mentioned by the AA, RAC etc.

First of all, it increasingly covers environmental factors such as tampering with Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF), emissions checks and so on. When we are seriously concerned about urban air quality and the premature deaths resulting from pollution, these checks are vital.

For example, as of this year anything with a DPF will fail if the tester sees smoke of any colour from the exhaust. DPFs were introduced in 2009, but I see lots of post ’09 cars belching out black smoke, especially on hard acceleration. That means the DPF isn’t doing what it should and it’ll be interesting to see how many fail under the new rules.

“The MOT as an environmental safeguard is actually much more important than as a safety check”

Cars will also fail if any emissions equipment shows signs of being tampered with – hopefully this should put the illegal DPF removal oiks out of business, along with the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR — an emission control device designed to reduce NOx emissions) removal “specialists” and all the other reprobates making a living out of increasing pollution.

We all criticised VW for dieselgate, quite rightly, but how many van drivers have the DPF removed because it’s a pain? The MOT as an environmental safeguard is actually much more important than as a safety check.

The second good reason is cultural. We are used to letting the MOT tell us when we need things doing – according to Edmund King, President of the AA, 46% of drivers rely on the garage at the MOT to tell them their tyres are bald – they never check them themselves.

The IAM surveyed its members when the last government consultation was out – about four or five years ago. A large majority wanted it left as it is, even though a similar majority believed that garages find extra faults at the MOT just to make more money. Never expect the public to be rational.

So, on environmental grounds and because it’s part of our British culture, we might as well keep the MOT as it is.

Tim Shallcross
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