Government considers MOT frequency reduction

Published:  27 April, 2022

By trying to get to grips with the cost of living crisis, will the government risk a road safety catastrophe by moving MOTs to a biennial frequency? 

The automotive sector has reacted with alarm to suggestions that the government might move the MOT to a biennial frequency in an attempt to help with the cost of living crisis.

The government is considering a number of measures that it believes may help alleviate the impact of rapidly rising bills for households. Among these, the BBC has reported that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested reducing the frequency of the MOT to every other year. While many people face spiralling energy costs, with gas and electricity bills set to soar again into the thousands for many in October, the suggested change to the MOT would save motorists at most £27.43 per year, based on the maximum £54.86 MOT fee.

Moving to a biennial MOT could mean 2.57 million cars and vans are on the roads with dangerous defects. According to DVSA figures, in 2021 30.25 million Class 3 & 4 MOTs were undertaken in the UK, with 30.23% of vehicles failing their MOT first time. 8.49% of vehicles failed the test on at least one dangerous item.

This has been looked at a number of times since 2005. Just to catch everyone up, the frequency of the MOT was reviewed between 2005 and 2008, with competing proposals for either a move to a 4-2-2 or 4-1-1 testing regime. This was seemed too risky in terms of road safety. Later, in 2011, then-Transport Secretary Philip Hammond again suggested moving away from the 3-1-1 system, but this proposal was later overturned by his successor Justine Greening. Between 2015 and 2018, the industry was again united in its opposition to a mooted move to a 4-1-1 pattern, which was ultimately dropped after a sustained cross-industry lobbying campaign.
Having faced down multiple government attempts to reduce the regularity of the test in recent years, many of the representative organisations in the sector are understandably wary of such a move.

Dangerous, unwanted and unreasonable

IGA Chief Executive Stuart James observed: “In our opinion this whole plan is dangerous, unwanted and unreasonable. This proposal has been scrutinised at least four times that I have known of in the last 15 years, and every time it has been deemed detrimental to road safety.

“It is a fact that in times of economic hardship, motorists cut back on servicing their cars and it is the annual MOT that has kept the UK’s road safety at high levels thanks to the vital safety checks it carries out. Saving the cost of an MOT biennially is not worth the price of national road safety.”

Stuart added: “This proposal will also fail to save motorists any money long-term as defects will go unnoticed for longer, which at best will cause more damage to vehicles and increase repair costs, and at worst cause unnecessary breakdowns and accidents.”

Increased safety risk

IMI Head of Business Development Steve Scofield said: "The IMI isn’t convinced that a saving of around £50 per year really justifies the increased safety risk of vehicles not being MOT’d annually. We know that motorists often rely on the MOT to pick up small maintenance issues. If the MOT does not happen annually, some of those issues could become bigger risks and potentially mean a greater cost to fix defeating the object of the cut in the first place. While some car users may be doing less mileage than pre-pandemic, the increased mileage on light commercial vehicles is another factor that the Minister should seriously consider.

Steve added: "Representing the interests of those whose livelihood is to a greater or lesser degree dependent on the annual MOT, we would also want the Minister to fully understand the economic impact to those businesses and individuals."

Monitor and maintain

GEA Chief Executive Julian Woods said: “The GEA are 100% against the government proposal to extend the MOT testing period to 24 months after the first MOT, as this could increase the potential of serious accidents on the roads and increased breakdown of vehicles which could cause traffic delays and further congestion on the already busy road network. We have seen statically when the government extended the MOT period to help with controlling the spread of the Coronavirus that in 2020 that the number of reported faults increased when vehicles were presented for the MOT.

“An MOT is a safety check/inspection to ensure a vehicle is roadworthy we do not believe that in trying to save the average household £54.85 per year by not having a safety check is a logical or sensible approach by the government as the potential increase in NHS workloads, cost and traffic delays caused by accidents and breakdowns will simply outweigh any savings. Currently, the UK have over 23,000 MOT stations. Reducing the MOT period by 50% will also put these businesses and the employee’s livelihoods at risk. That is before you consider the knock-on effect on all the supporting businesses supplying parts and servicing of vehicles.”

He added: “This being said, our main concern over this proposed change is for the safety of the public. The majority of issues picked up on during an MOT are items like worn/damaged tyres, lights not working, window wipers not working braking issues etc. This does not only put the vehicle driver at risk of injury, but also other road users and the public in general. We need the government to monitor and maintain the current MOT scheme, supported by the Police, to ensure vehicles without an MOT are taken off the road as soon as possible.”


Headline-grabbing

According to Karen Rotberg, Co-founder of BookMyGarage.com, there could be a wide knock-on effect that government has not considered: “Research by BookMyGarage.com shows 67% of motorists book a service at the same time as their MOT. This means there is a high chance of many vehicle services being missed out on too, which could also lead to increased costs to motorists due to accelerated engine wear and greater fuel consumption.

“We are very much in favour of ideas which ease the cost of living, and we understand there is genuine hardship at the moment. However, headline-grabbing proposals from the government mask the fact that motorists could end up paying even more than they need to. Shopping around for the best prices locally is genuinely the best way to save money. In the long term, having an annual MOT is vital to the cost of motoring and safety. When it comes to the cost of living, this proposal won’t help at all.”

Ill-advised nonsense

If that was not clear enough, NTDA Chief Executive Stefan Hay was even more blunt: “If this latest alleged ‘innovative thinking’ from Grant Shapps is accurate, it is truly ill-advised, Groundhog Day nonsense. How many times do we have to revisit this same tired subject?

“Time and time again, government ministers, with no consideration for motorist safety, target the MOT frequency as a low hanging fruit ‘crowd pleaser’ in the absence of any genuine, innovative, strategic thinking on how to better improve the cost of living. With the maximum chargeable MOT fee for a car set at £54.85 and with most garages and fast-fit centres charging a lot less, the saving is far less than the cost of fines for faulty lights or tyres, and the repairs that will accumulate due to the lack of servicing and maintenance resulting from the fact the vehicle is not being inspected on an annual basis by a DVLA-qualified, professional MOT Tester.”

Stefan added: “The safety of motorists must be the first and last consideration at all times. The government must learn from history and listen to facts, logic and professional opinion and stop the knee-jerk, shoot-from-the-hip, let’s-float-an-idea-on-social-media approach it seems to have adopted. Governing the United Kingdom via Twitter does not work. Let’s get back to soundly researched, consultative professionalism.”

Major and dangerous

While the proposed move has been characterised as the government looking to do something crowd-pleasing, as AA Head of Roads Policy Jack Cousens pointed out, many motorists value the yearly mandated check-up: “Only recently the government stepped away from switching the MOT to every two years on the grounds of road safety, while AA polling shows overwhelming support from drivers who like the security that an annual health check provides.

“Though well intended, moving the yearly £54.85 spend on a MOT to every two years could make costs worse for drivers with higher repair bills, while putting safety and jobs in the garage industry at risk. The MOT now highlights major and dangerous defects too, showing how important it is to keep cars in a safe condition.”

Jack added: “Rather than fiddling at the edges, drivers would rather see pump price transparency to revive competition on the forecourts or expanding Park and Ride schemes so drivers can avoid higher inner-city driving costs.”

Primary concern

The sector was also caught off-guard by the proposal, which came out of nowhere, as NFDA Chief Executive Sue Robinson noted: “The NFDA is deeply concerned that this proposal has been raised without prior consultation with the industry. Additionally, the change would affect business confidence at a time when dealers and repairers alike are already facing a number of challenges as they recover from the pandemic and adapt to meet the government’s ambitious Net-Zero targets.”

There are other ways to save money for motorists, as Sue pointed out: “The proposal to reduce the frequency of MOT testing is ill-thought out and unsafe. Instead of reducing the frequency of MOT testing, we encourage the government to review current Road Tax rates. This will bring immediate benefits to millions of motorists without hindering road safety.”

Not everyone has been completely against some review of the MOT though. A spokesman from LeaseCar.uk welcomed the proposals, but warned that safety should be paramount: “Motorists have been hit hard by the cost of living crisis with fuel costs and inflation on car ownership currently running very high. However, when it comes to vehicles, safety must always be the primary concern. We feel that a biennial MOT could be a good idea for cars between three and 10 years old. While reducing the burden on drivers is welcome, we would prefer a stepped approach so that older cars, perhaps those over 10 years old, still require an annual MOT."


Apparent

While the MOT exemption granted for six months in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns could be seen as a precedent for the kind of move being purportedly considered by government, Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said that was a unique situation: "The current MOT system means that drivers of older vehicles focus on their safety at least once a year and whilst we backed the deferral of testing during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic that was on the understanding that it would be a temporary measure.

"Whilst many of the faults which cause a vehicle to fail an MOT should be obvious to a driver and should be fixed between annual appointments there will be others that will only become apparent when the vehicle is on a ramp.”

He added: "Whilst extending the period between tests might save drivers a bit of money it risks coming with wider safety costs and also poses an economic threat to small garages which depend on MOT income."

 Significant blow

Apart from the impact on road safety, there would be a negative effect on the garage sector, as IAAF Chief Executive Mark Field observed: “Each time the MOT test frequency has been called into question, it has been proven beyond doubt that extending the test frequency would actually mean an increase in repair costs for drivers, insurance premiums and harmful emissions, as well as reducing road safety as there will be an increase in defective vehicles on UK roads. It would also be a significant blow to thousands of independent garages and the entire automotive supply chain, who were able to remain open throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, ensuring the safe and affordable mobility of essential workers and members of the public.”

Hayley Pells, Owner of Avia Autos and IAAF Garage Section head added: "It is surprising, given the decision to end the six-month extension during the pandemic prematurely, when it was actively demonstrated how important this cost-effective check is to road safety, that this VAT-free inspection is considered as poor value for money. In order to maintain the legal obligation of the motorist for road worthiness, the only option would be a VAT-applied solution. I question if this is of better value to the motorist and have concerns regarding the safety of more vulnerable road users. Approximately one in three presentations for MOT testing in Class 4 fail, and out of those failures, around 30% fail on brakes."

Widespread concern

Summing up, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes concluded: “The industry shares the widespread concern over rising prices and the squeeze on household incomes. Safety, however, must always come first and, while today’s vehicles are more reliable than ever, regular MOTs ensure safety-critical components such as brakes and tyres, which wear out as a result of normal operation, are properly inspected and maintained. Stretching MOT intervals will undermine the safety net at a time when vehicle miles driven are increasing. To ensure the safety of our roads, drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road users, inspections and maintenance must be carried out annually following their first presentation in year three.”

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