After a lengthy consultation that included consulting with motoring organisations and examining current standards, the Government has decided to retain the current frequency of the annual MOT test.
It puts to an end the suggestion of switching to a biennial test, originally mentioned as 'reducing the burden on the motorist', yet it was this very idea that had industry experts voicing their concerns. The reality is that, as a car-owning nation, we have become considerably more lax when it comes to car maintenance. 20 or 30 years ago when the typical family car needed plenty of regular attention just to make early-morning starts possible, it was essential to have a decent socket set and a few spares lurking in the back of the garage. But the increasing technical complexity of modern cars combined with the all-knowing diagnostic tool even taking some of the responsibility from the mechanics leaves most of us in the dark when it comes to understanding our own machines. The net result is arguably a poorer overall standard of maintenance.
The idea that poorly-maintained cars would spend more time on the road was confirmed by the Government's own research; data supplied by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency indicated that 27.7% of vehicles tested in 2010-2011 had one or more defects that were missed or incorrectly assessed. One in eight cars also had their roadworthiness incorrectly judged; meaning either a safe car was declared unsafe or worse still an illegal car was sent away with a fresh MOT.
The RAC's Technical Head of Patrols Frank Flynn is clear about the Government's decision: “Vehicle safety checks should not be compromised and it's also worth remembering that over the last few years, there has been an increasing emphasis on emissions tests which are now quite rigourous, so from an ecological point of view there is a risk that 'polluting' vehicles could go unchecked for longer.
Also, Government comment suggests that vehicle technology 'has come along way since the 1960's' as one of the reasons to look at the frequency of the test, but there is still a large number of older vehicles on the road. The improvements in reliability and build etc. really only started coming through in the late '80s and early '90s in my opinion and even then the reliability improvements were really around engine management,economy and comfort. The majority continue to use the same technology for steering and suspension systems and whilst braking systems have improved, friction materials still wear out, as do tyres.”
What should come as good news for the consumer is the Government's pledge of improved standards and tightened regulation. One of the key elements is the promises of further consulation with motoring organisations such as the RAC to get greater feedback from customers regarding problems they have encountered but also examples of good service. MOT centres will be encouraged to join the industry codes of practice (Motor Codes as an example) and increase their reach to specifically incorporate MOT testing. That will certainly help consumers make informed choices about the services they choose and give much-needed comeback for those unhappy with the service. These changes could have a significant impact on road safety; tightening the net around unroadworthy cars and also saving unlucky car owners from paying out on unnecessary remedial work.
There's even better news for used car buyers and sellers too. The new proposals include a change to the MOT certificate so that it includes three years of mileage data for the given vehicle, plus the mileage on the actual date of the test. Buyers would be able to interrogate the online database and verify mileages with previous MOTs, which should give buyers a lot more confidence when it comes to spending their own money. It will make the illegal practice of clocking much more difficult to achieve – any buyer with suspicions about a car's mileage can walk away at the first sign of a discrepancy.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening was clear about the Government's intentions in her statement:
“Our garages are crucial to ensuring that Britain’s roads continue to be among the safest in the world. Most are doing good work but the latest data shows that there is room for improvement.
"I want each motorist to be confident that a visit to the garage ends with their car repaired to a high standard by reputable mechanics rather than uncertainty about cost and the quality of service.
“Giving drivers the very best information about garage performance is absolutely key to achieving this goal. It means that responsible garages will be well placed to reap the commercial benefits of transparency. Garages where performance is not up to scratch will find themselves under pressure to do more for their customers.”
The road map for these changes are something of a relief; rather than the proposed biennial MOT inspection that could have had a profound effect on the roadworthiness of cars and a detrimental effect to the garages that service them, the proposals should ensure a higher standards, more peace of mind for service users and the bonus of improved buyer confidence. At a difficult time economically these are all valid reasons to look positively to the future.