/ Motoring

Why I’m glad about the u-turn to keep yearly MOTs

Checking car tyres

Great news! I’ve just heard the government is to do a u-turn on its idea of requiring MOTs every two years. To me, yearly MOTS are an essential part of maintaining car safety – are you with me?

As I’ve previously opined here on Which? Conversation, I think yearly MOTs are more sensible and the two-yearly proposal would certainly have lead to a reduction in the safety of UK cars.

Many of you joined the debate to say you agreed with my scepticism for reducing the regularity of MOTs. Phil pointed out that a car can easily deteriorate from a pass to being dangerous in a year:

‘Extend the MOT to two years and the number of dangerous vehicles on the road is bound to increase. Currently the number of accidents caused by mechanical failure is small, which suggests the system is working, let’s leave it that way.’

Two-yearly MOTs – the argument for

Servicing cars less regularly is the current trend – and a welcome recognition that a) cars need less routine maintenance and b) modern synthetic engine oils can last a lot longer (typically 18,000 miles).

In itself this trend is no bad thing, and things like fixed-price servicing bundles also help make sure that basic routine maintenance will be carried out – the garage will usually remind you. Plus, lots of people – like commenter Chris – take personal responsibility for getting basic safety checks done:

‘The current annual MOT is simply a single snapshot of the road safety qualities of a vehicle. I’m a qualified engineer and every year I hate having a car I personally maintain “checked over” by someone simply following a generic check list and who is often not particularly able or qualified.’

But not everyone is this willing – or able – to keep their car properly maintained and without the annual MOT inspection, it could also mean faults would go undetected for twice as long before being found.

Servicing standards need to improve

Our undercover investigations have revealed poor practice across the sector, even from garages that are members of a code of practice. So beyond extending the codes, I would dearly like to see operators of any approved code of practice carrying out serious mystery shopping on its members, to sort out the rogue traders.

Poor industry standards are nothing new – again, this was a popular topic on our previous Conversation. But as Simon commented, ‘the argument that garages may charge for unnecessary work is not a valid reason for not testing the safety of a car’.

I’ve investigated the industry several times over the years and it has always been found wanting. In my view the introduction of properly policed enforceable standards, potentially offered by a good code of practice (but as yet not witnessed during our investigations) could turn the industry around.

I would really love to see improvements, but as things stand, our best recommendation is to check out our guide for finding a good garage, ask a friend or better still, look for the recommendations on Which? Local (if you’re a Which? member) where there are over 10,000 garages recommended by Which? members.

Do you agree with the plan to keep yearly MOTs?

Yes (69%, 248 Votes)

No (23%, 82 Votes)

Not sure (9%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 366

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Yes but let’s have the car companies taking responsibility and making sure that the electronic systems in our cars truly show a problem when a symbol lights up on the dashboard. Why should we by paying again and again for these computer tests just to be told that there is nothing wrong with the car? The MOT will now fail these cars. If you have had your car serviced by the dealer immediately before the MOT you deserve better. This is as useless as the teaching to the test our children get at school. Computer says…

Colin Newall says:
3 February 2012

Could not agree more! I have a car in which some warning lights come on intermittantly there is nothing wrong! Another european directive no doubt!

I’m in favour of the annual MOT.

I get my car MOT’d by the main dealer at the time of the service. Never had a problem in thirty years.

Teaching to the test is very useful if the purpose of the passing is to maintain or improve your position in the Tories stupid League Tables That is why they are called League Tables.

However the children are taught something during that teaching to the test. How to past the test.and some content of the subject.

Most people have an MOT test done when their car is serviced. I expect that the failure rate would be considerably higher if the test was carried out before the service.

I generally service my car after the MOT and do my best to ensure that it is safe to be on the road 365 days a year. I cannot understand why so many people pay so little attention to their cars. I have pointed out faulty lights and soft tyres to drivers and in many cases the driver has been aware of the problem for some time.

Yes, in teaching to the test the children learn enough to pass the test but haven’t learnt it well enough to remember it the following the week. The same with the computer diagnostics. The car passes the MOT and then the following week the rogue dashboard light lights up again. It just seems like a moneymaking wheeze.

Yes, a car can have a fault immediately after passing the MoT test, but NO, it doesn’t mean that the test is invalid. To begin with, we need to separate engine and electronics servicing from the safety items which are tested in the MoT. OK, there is an overlap, but your service engineer is generally looking for different things than the tester. Secondly, while some points for test failure are gradual – like rust – and there’s a judgement element in the test in such cases, a lot of test items are pass/fail obvious, like a broken spring. Thing like this can – rarely – break immediately they go back on the road after checking.

Because the standard and honesty of servicing are so variable, it make good sense to have an annual test of safety-critical points so that owners( and everyone else where owners are idiots) can be more confident that their car is safe.

And if anyone can show that the private garage testing regime is untrustworthy or corruptible, so much more will it be worth having government testing stations for all vehicles, not just commercials. I know from experience how stringent yet fair the official MoT stations are. I was also pleased to pay out nearly £1000 to get my car through its last test – all the parts replaced were near failure.

Personally think much/older cars ought to be tested more
frequently particularly as to their safety-critical components or
functions but newer cars less so: as to original proposal set

Graham says:
3 February 2012

Test should be based on mileage. I have two motorcycles, one does less than 500 miles per year, the other two thousand. I’m just lining the MOT centres pockets. My car only does about six thousand miles per year, and my wife’s three thousand, both bought new. We are paying at least £120 per year for vehicles that are regularly serviced and cared for, many will be paying more. Plus, what about the rip off merchants who charge for non faults, not to mention the testers who don’t know the correct procedures. Two years is plenty soon in my book, and don’t forget it started as a ten year test when vehicles were far less reliable and safe.

Arch sceptic says:
3 February 2012

When MOTs were introduced it might have been possible to claim they had some effect on accident rates. Then the testing was confined to ‘the big three’, lights, brakes and steering (from memory which may be playing tricks, surely tyres were in there from the start?). Now the range of possible fail points is enormous and the link with accidents is ever more tenuous. MOTs perpetuate the daft notion that the car is responsible for accidents, when we all know that the most of the risk lies with the driver. Those with longer memories may recall drving home with dodgy brakes; how did they do it? Answer, very carefully indeed.

I would love to know what work has been done to justify this ever-increasing imposition. The main effect is obvious to every driver, the cost of the test itself and all the minor repair work to get through it, not to mention premature retirement of countless vehicles, At a conservative estimate this must be worth about £1 billion ot the motor trade, small wonder they want to keep it the way it is. Road deaths have come down hugely since I was a young driver (about 75% in 50 years), but claims this is even partly due to MOTs seem to me to be mere assertion, unless someone can point to genuine research..

This isn’t sour grapes, my car has just passed with no problems, but I still don’t think this is a good use of scarce cash

Replying to Graham and Archsceptic:

Graham, you’re right about mileage as well as time on the road being key factors in safety-related deterioration. But it’s hard to measure these. You are at one end of the spectrum; at the other end are 100k-a-year always-on-the-road people, who leave the vehicle out in all weathers and neglect servicing and safety checks because they’ll trade in once trouble begins to show . Until we have a reliable measure of deterioration, we have to go for the most safety-conscious option.

Archsceptic: you sound more cynical than sceptical. Maybe, just maybe, vehicle failure could be rare in crashes because all cars have to have an annual MoT? It certainly contrasts with countries which are lax on such checks. Or maybe you also doubt that the sun might rise tomorrow? I do agree with you that the government has to beware making the test even tougher just because it can. But every improvement in testing rigour has shown a reduction in related safety problems showing up later at service. Accident stats aren’t reliable in this case, because the failure rate IS low. As I said before, every new part I’ve just had to fork out over £800 for was genuinely in need of replacement on safety grounds – I inspected each one myself. To me, that means that the MoT test is working.

Arch sceptic says:
4 February 2012


Thanks for the comment – I see you agree that just because something, in this case more extensive checking, can be done, it doesn’t follow that it should. So some sort of value judgement is being applied, call it a Cost/Benefit Analysis if you like. My question was, just what CBA has been done on vehicle testing regulations? I was hoping somone, you perhaps, could supply the answer. All I see is mere assertion, which doesn’t inpsire confidence.

For a much more authoritative opinion, please read Professor John Adams at UCL on his blog at http://www.john-adams.co.uk. You will see that even the most ‘obvious’ safety improvment, seat belts, isn’t nearly so obvious when you look at the statistics. Fatality rates tend to fall nearly everywhere over time as societies get used to the new technology, and the introduction of new restrictions has little discernable effect on the long term trend (I think he says somewhere in his blog that you can’t tell from looking at each nation’s road casualty statistics when the seat belt laws were introduced). I strongly suspect the same is true for vehicle testing but would appreciate real evidence on the issue one way or the other.

sicarius says:
4 February 2012

Surely a more pressing matter is the need to enforce a uniform standard for the MOT in Britain. The test in Northern Ireland has always been carried out through one of a number of government-run MOT centres thus ensuring a uniform standard – which I might add is very high. Motorists in NI are always advised to have their car tested on the mainland if they want an ‘easy’ pass.

i think every two years is quite often enough for an mot, i only did less than three thousand miles last year and my car is serviced regularlly, which by the way is another point to ponder, my car has to be serviced every 12500 miles or 12 months to comply with the warranty. and as i only did less than 3k miles last year it means dumping perfectly good oil etc.

Response Diagnostics says:
28 February 2012

A 2 yearly MOT would probably be adequate for you vehicle, if you keep it garaged. But the Government has to set the standard for the lowest common denominator, not the highest.
Many drivers do in excess of the 12K a year average, do not have any pride in their vehicle, believe they are a motoring god and can tell if anything is wrong with their car just by driving it. The test is for these people so that an experienced eye goes over the car, just once a year, as a means of showing them something is wrong with their car, which they will immediately interpret as the garage using it as an excuse to rip them off.