The DfT’s proposal to extend the first MOT test from three to four years has raised safety and financial concerns from the garage sector.
Curtis Hutchinson reports
The government’s proposal
The current MOT regime has been in place since 1967 when the requirement for the first test after registration was brought forward from 10 to three years.
Since 1988 the government has been empowered to change the date of the first test if Parliament agrees. In 2016 the Department for Transport (DfT) consulted on extending the first test from three to four years for all light vehicles – cars, motorbikes and vans.
After reviewing the benefits and risks covered by the consultation the DfT decided not to proceed, adding that further research would be conducted to ensure the MOT test remains “robust and appropriate to the evolving needs of the transport sector.”
In January 2023, DfT launched its latest consultation, titled Changes to the date of the first MOT test and research into other MOT enhancements, and invited views on options to update and improve MOT testing.
This time around the government cited a need for change in light of advances in vehicle safety technology and the growing popularity of hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs), which it said are “rapidly changing the nature of vehicles on our roads”.
In addition to exploring moving the first test from 3-1-1 to 4-1-1, it also called for discussion on the frequency of subsequent testing.
The consultation also called for a boost to emissions monitoring to tackle pollution, bolstering the environmental efficiency of vehicles.
Previous consultations about extending the date of the first test have ended up being kicked into the long grass, following lobbying from the automotive industry, arguing the potential safety hazards of factoring in an additional unchecked 12 months of wear and tear.
Another concern for the sector has been the commercial impact the move would have on businesses, especially independent garages. The sector is already facing the challenge of reduced workshop throughput as a result of 2.1 million fewer new cars being registered between 2020 and 2022 as the global pandemic hit sales, production and supply.
However, this time around the consultation offered some compelling arguments, saying: “Ensuring that the UK maintains its world-class record on road safety is at the heart of the proposals. Data shows that most new vehicles pass the first MOT test at three years. With the number of casualties in car collisions due to vehicle defects remaining low, government analysis shows the change from three to four years for the first MOT should not impact road safety.”
It also pointed to how roadworthiness testing four years after registration is already standard practice across many European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The consultation ended on 22 March and the DfT is analysing the results.
The industry’s response
The current three-year threshold for the first MOT test has been in force since the late 1960s and while there’s always room to update what’s covered by the test, factoring in changing usage patterns, vehicle types and emission controls, automotive professionals have never backed delaying the first test.
Indeed, the Independent Garage Association (IGA) responded swiftly to the consultation by joining forces with the National Tyres Distributors Association (NTDA), the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) and Garage Equipment Association (GEA) to post a petition on the government’s website, inviting interested parties to sign it in support of their objection to the extension.
At the time of writing, the petition had attracted over 10,600 signatures, a significant milestone, with the IGA pointing out that fewer than 2% of all petitions hit the 10,000 threshold required to trigger a formal government response.
The petition is running until 23 July 2023 and if it reaches 100,000 signatures it will be considered for a debate in Parliament.
The DfT responded to the petition on 16 May pointing to the significant length of time the current MOT regime has been in place; how new types of vehicles, such as hybrids and EVs, have become more prevalent; and how advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) have contributed to road safety.
It concluded that: “We believe that it is therefore appropriate to consider whether any changes are needed to ensure that MOT testing remains fit for purpose and proportionate.”
However, Stuart James, chief executive of the IGA, felt this fell short of allaying the concerns of garages or the motoring public.
“The government response does not say anything to change our view that delaying the first MOT would be expensive, dangerous, damaging and unnecessary,” he said.
“We will continue to lobby, alongside our industry partners, to make the road safety case for the period of time to the first MOT to stay at three years.
“Other areas of the consultation have the potential to impact both garages and consumers. We stand ready to review the government’s decisions as and when they are announced to ensure that public safety and the needs of the industry have been properly considered,” said James.
The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), the professional association for individuals working across the UK’s automotive sector, also stepped into the debate with a data-based response, detailing what it views as the negative impact an extension would have.
Talking to TPS Insider, Hayley Pells, policy manager of the IMI–herself an owner of an independent garage business in Bridgend – says data provides clear evidence that any increase in the gap before the first MOT is conducted would be seriously detrimental to all road users.
“By examining the root causes in current patterns of MOT failure by age and powertrain, we were able to provide clear evidence that extending the date for the first MOT will significantly increase road user risk. In particular, the risks surrounding EVs, which are heavier than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and deliver torque differently and so suffer heavier wear to their tyres – this will be heightened if the first MOT date is extended.
“Evidence drawn from publicly available MOT testing records showed that comparative to petrol engine vehicles, EVs are much more likely to fail their first MOT test. Through data driven analysis the message about the risks was very clear and particularly in relation to emerging technologies such as high voltage powertrains. Through deep analysis of modern vehicles, rather than top-line data of the entire car parc, precise recommendations and accurate models could be forecasted,” she said.
The IMI believes another important factor in road safety is the way motorists schedule their MOTs alongside annual servicing, with its research showing this is the preferred choice of over three-quarters of car owners.
“If the first MOT is extended by a year and the frequency of MOTs is also reduced, as proposed by the DfT Consultation, this could leave important maintenance issues unchecked,” says Pells.
“The economic consequences of changing the frequency of the MOT could also heighten road safety risk. 88% of IMI members we surveyed believe that extending the date of the first MOT will have an impact on garage income. And 60% believe a potential fall in MOT business will negatively impact the volume of service work to their garage. This risk is going to be greater for independent garages.
“Unfortunately, the logical conclusion is that if MOT and service volumes reduce, some businesses may simply choose to shut up shop. Less garages operating puts greater pressure on those remaining, with motorists having to wait longer for repairs. With many motorists relying on their vehicle to support their family and get to work, this could tempt some to drive in what could be an unsafe vehicle.
“The IMI’s response to the MOT Consultation therefore strongly advised that increasing the time before a periodic inspection of cars is detrimental for road safety. With overwhelming evidence highlighting the potential dangers and economic consequences, it's imperative for the DfT to heed these concerns and prioritise the safety of all road users,” said Pells.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) also entered the debate by commissioning independent research to find out what owners thought about a possible extension.
Over two-thirds (67%) of those polled supported keeping the three-year test, citing concerns that an extension would put lives in danger, with nearly three-quarters (74%) saying the typical cost of an MOT was a price worth paying for peace of mind.
Garages now face a waiting game. The DfT said it will announce its decision on the consultation in “the near future”. Until then it is business as usual for garages, although some will be looking at ways of mitigating the impact a MOT delay would have on their business. This could prompt many operators to look at how to embrace an area of the industry that is experiencing growth: the servicing and maintenance of EVs, a subject previously covered by The Insider.
Meanwhile, the independent garage repair sector is bracing itself for the outcome of the DfT’s deliberations. A change would have far-reaching ramifications for all repairers. Reduced throughput would seriously compound the challenges currently presented by spiralling energy bills and the cost of living crisis, while also putting motorists at an increased level of risk.
What the public thinks
In launching its consultation the DfT sought public support by highlighting the potential benefits to motorists, estimating that moving to a fourth year would generate savings across Great Britain of £100 million, based on an average discounted MOT charge of £40.
However, an independent poll commissioned by SMMT found motorists strongly support keeping the first MOT at three years. Two-thirds were concerned the extension would put lives in danger with three-quarters agreeing that the typical £35-£45 cost of a test is a price worth paying for the peace of mind it provides that their car is safe and roadworthy.
Curtis Hutchinson is a B2B automotive editor and co-presenter of the Motor Trade Radio Podcast.
Umesh Samani, the owner of the Harris Motor Company, Stoke-on-Trent, is a vocal opponent of extending the date of the first MOT to four years, citing the concerns about the roadworthiness of some of the vehicles he sees on his ramps.
The independent’s view
“Changing to a four year test is a poor idea and shouldn't even have been considered. It’s a waste of time even discussing it,” he said.
“As it is we see vehicles coming in with bald tyres that owners are not even aware of; imagine the issues affecting cars that have not been MOT’d until they are four years old.
“Safety must come first but if cars are left longer before their first test, then in the long term those little jobs requiring attention will turn into big jobs and cost more, so there’s no real benefit to the customer. The cost of an annual MOT is £54.85 and that buys peace of mind,” said Samani.
1. Department for Transport, 16 February 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-date-of-the-first-mot-test-and-research-into-other-mot-enhancements/changes-to-the-date-of-the-first-mot-test-and-research-into-other-mot-enhancements
2. The Institute of the Motor Industry, April 2023: https://tide.theimi.org.uk/sites/default/files/2023-05/MOT%20Consultation%20reduced%20file%20size.pdf
3. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trader, 22 March 2023: https://www.smmt.co.uk/2023/03/motorists-back-safety-and-year-three-mot-over-23p-a-week-saving/