The inevitable has come to pass: despite the vast majority of classic car owners being against it, and the Government’s own consultation also finding against it, the Department for Transport has decided to introduce a rolling 40 year MOT exemption for classic cars.
Forget about the chance to save £54 every year. It’s not good news.
What’s Happening From May 2018 all classic cars registered over 40 years ago will be exempt from the annual MOT test. Currently only cars built pre-1960s are exempted, itself a relatively new rule. Owners still have a duty to maintain their cars to a roadworthy standard, but the requirement to have them independently tested is removed.
Why It’s Happening Roll back a year or so to when we were sailing merrily on the good ship European Union. The EU wanted to introduce a 30 year exemption to the annual roadworthiness test for older cars. This was driven by the admittedly yawning gulf between old cars and new, which was making a single test for all vehicles virtually impossible to maintain. With new cars becoming more complex a solution needed to be found – exempting older cars, which cover relative few miles and are therefore less risky, seemed on the face of it a solid idea.
The UK went along with this, driven by the Commons classic car group and its bedfellow the Federation of British Historic Vehicles Clubs (FBHVC), which claims to represent the largest group of classic car owners in the UK. These two feared the removal of classic cars from our roads unless a pragmatic solution was found – excluding classics, for them, made sense when faced with the alternative.
To justify their position, the FBHVC and DfT argued that classic car owners are more fastidious than most car drivers and don’t use their cars much anyway. What It Means
The removal of the MOT test does not remove the owner’s obligation to keep their vehicle roadworthy and safe. The police still have the right to stop cars they deem unroadworthy and issue penalties – similarly, in an accident the vehicle’s roadworthiness would be assessed.
This is critical stuff for owners. The advantage of a MOT is that it provided an annual ‘heads up’ on your car’s condition. Although only a moment in time, it did indicate the general state and possibly deterioration of the car over the previous 12 months. It also provided information on what might become unroadworthy in the future. Whether you are a mechanically dexterous owner or clueless, the MOT test provided that crucial piece of independent assessment to wave in the event of problems. It demonstrated reasonable care and attention.
Owners can still choose to have their cars tested to a MOT type of standard if their local test station will oblige. Or they can check their cars themselves. Either way, the onus is on you to show you’ve checked your car is roadworthy.
Why The Exemption Is Silly For as long as the MOT has existed the Government and DVLA has drummed into us that every car needs a MOT. Hefty fines and penalties have been exacted. Now, apparently, no more. George Orwell called it Doublethink – the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at once. This is that.
Removal of the MOT puts more pressure on classic car owners to maintain their cars to a roadworthy standard, not less. In the event of an accident or police check, without a MOT it will be harder to show that reasonable steps have been taken to maintain this standard.
The justification for exempting classic cars – that owners are fastidious and don’t use them much – doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Like the great mass of people generally, classic car owners are not Of One Type – they’re all sorts of people with all sorts of skills and economic means. And many do use their cars a lot – at Great Escape Cars our hire vehicles typically cover several hundred miles a week.
The exemption is also a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There would be a sort of logic to it if it was accompanied by a programme of education or a parallel system of informal checks, perhaps managed by the FBHVC via the network of classic car specialists. But that hasn’t happened.
It’s also bad news for classic car garages, something that the FBHVC and Commons committee seem to have entirely missed. The MOT drives owners to arrange annual servicing and maintenance. Undoubtedly some enterprising specialists will develop their own pseudo-MOT annual package for owners – but not all will have the time or resources to do this.
Ultimately, the MOT is a proven, sound method of checking and maintaining older cars. If we didn’t have it, we’d need to invent it. So taking it away feels like a retrograde step.
What’s The Answer? Last year, when the exemption was first discussed, we proposed an alternative solution – which you can read about here. We believe the classic car sector needs to devise it’s own historic vehicle test exclusively for older vehicles. Devised by classic car specialists and backed by insurers, this scheme would provide a uniform standard for owners and the confidence provided by an independent assessment.
Without this approach we risk a highly fragmented system of checks devised by individual garages. While better than nothing, these would inevitably rely on the knowledge and equipment available to each business. And also their willingness to take on some of the liability of proving roadworthiness.
At Great Escape Cars we’re developing an independent test for our workshop customers in conjunction with our local MOT station. This will give owners an independent test similar to the MOT but tailored to classic cars. Until one of the industry’s representative bodies develops something better, we feel we need to help our customers.
Great Escape Cars www.wefixclassiccars.co.uk 01527 893733