/ Motoring

Can we still rely on the MOT test?

The MOT test is designed to ensure cars on the road are safe and up to scratch. But two significant changes to the MOT test have me concerned, to the point where I feel its credibility is at risk.

It was announced this week that classic and historic cars, manufactured before 1960, will no longer have to pass an MOT test from 18 November 2012.

It’s all designed to save motorists money, according to the government.

When announcing the change, Roads Minister Mike Penning said:

‘Owners of classic cars and motorbikes tend to be enthusiasts who maintain their vehicles well – they don’t need to be told to look after them, they’re out there in all weathers checking the condition of the engine, tyres and bodywork.

‘Owners of classic vehicles will still be legally required to ensure that they are safe and in a proper condition to be on the road, but scrapping the MOT test for these vehicles will save motorists money.’

Can owners replicate MOT checks?

And while I agree that these vehicles do only make up a very small number of all licensed vehicles in Britain – 0.6% according to reports – I am still cautious about the lengths owners can realistically go to in an attempt to replicate the checks conducted in the MOT test.

For instance, how many classic car owners have access to garage-style ramps to allow for a proper inspection of the underside of the car? Not all of them, for sure.

And with MOTs costing £55 a go, is there really a huge financial benefit for the minority who own these cars?

Warning lights check delayed

And this isn’t the only enforced change to MOT rules for 2012, as we already debated back in January. The Malfunction Indication Lamp check (or MIL check), is a visual examination of whether your car dashboard’s warning lights are illuminated.

The check is conducted to see if the warning lights for electronic stability control, anti-lock braking systems, tyre pressure monitoring systems, brake fluid, electronic power steering, electronic steering lock and electronic power brake are permanently illuminated.

Initially introduced in January, for the first three months of 2012 any of these illuminated warning lights would have resulted in an advisory, and from 1 April an outright fail.

However, this deadline was not met, and if any of these warning lights are illuminated in your car, it will continue to pass as advisories.

When questioned why, VOSA (the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency that oversees the MOT test and regulations) told us it was because the legislation to introduce the new item was not yet in place. VOSA also said an exact date for when this will happen has not been confirmed, but it is expected to be by the end of June.

These changes, and the failure to implement the latter to schedule, have left me a little worried. I’d rather MOT changes were made to maintain the highest level of car and road safety, rather than to save (a minority) of drivers money. Let alone the fact that the new warning lights check could prove expensive to investigate problems that might not even exist…

Should pre-1960 cars be exempt from the MOT test?

No (71%, 402 Votes)

Yes (29%, 167 Votes)

Total Voters: 571

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Thanks for the update, Rob.

Clearly there are quite a few cars in use where an illuminated warning light does not indicate a fault. Unfortunately, the drivers will not know if a genuine fault occurs. I really think it is high time that manufacturers sorted out these problems.

We tend to assume that safety features such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, ETC, ESP, etc, etc will work properly. If so many manufacturers have problems in designing reliable warning light systems, how can be be sure that the safety features will work when needed?

David Hornsby says:
25 May 2012

The warning lights are notoriously unreliable. So often they are repaired at great cost to the motorist only to find the various components they are supposed to warn about are found to be working satisfactorily. Manufacturers need to rectify these problems as part of a recall procedure, perhaps then they would take greater care in the design of these warning lights systems!!

I agree, David.

I would like to see at least a ten year warranty on car electronics, which should be incredibly reliable. They are not subject to wear or abuse, like many components of cars, so I do not think my request is unreasonable. Sensors are inherently less reliable but it is generally easy to diagnose problems and replace faulty sensors.

I agree, personally I think the older the car, the more likely it is to be not roadworthy, especially if it is a “classic” car made by British Leyland 🙂

I saw a nice MGB on the road yesterday whilst out to get lunch, they were travelling really slowly, then on the way back, I saw that they had broken down. So regardless of how well people maintain their cars, many classics were really poorly made and generally, anyone who owns a classic car, can afford an MOT every year like the rest of us.

In the same way, why are most classic cars Road fund licence and congestion charge exempt? Surely their emissions are way more than any modern car

Some classic cars are extremely well maintained and a credit to their owners, but nowadays these cars are often bought by people who know very little about cars. Sadly, it is not easy to determine which will apply for any car and I believe that they should be tested annually, even if there is a discount because there is a lot less to be tested than with a modern car.

I really don’t see an issue with older pre 1960’s cars being exempt from the MOT test.
There can’t seriously be many of them on the road now, and those that are, are highly likely to be well maintained and rarely driven. Certainly no one is going to rely on one of these cars for a daily commute, it will in all likelihood be a hobby car. I think this rule should be extended to pre 1970’s cars to be honest.

David Hornsby says:
25 May 2012

Modern cars are made to a much higher standard than ‘Classics’, both in terms of safety with crumple zones, brakes, road holding and of course tyres. When an emergency of any sort occurs ‘Classics’ are not only more prone to causing passenger injury but more dangerous to other road users.It is appalling to suggest that these vehicles road worthiness should be entrusted to amateurs, they need to be checked to the very highest standards of the day by experts. An MOT is essential.


I agree that classic cars should be tested but I’m far more worried about the dangers of people driving modern, fast cars that may have had a dangerous fault for months. As Which? surveys have shown, sometimes the professionals don’t manage to identify simple but dangerous faults.

I would like to put this in perspective. I think it is appalling that most people give little thought for the condition of their car until the next MOT is due. Look at the failure rates.

JonoIn says:
27 May 2012

I love older cars, I think my next car will be a pre 1960s, fed up of having to MOT my car all the time!

Never mind about there not being many on the road. It only takes one badly maintained vehicle to cause injury or death. Having said that, I do realise that the majority of road traffic accidents are caused by bad driving habits.

David Hornsby says:
25 May 2012

Splendid idea 10 year warranty on warning systems, sensors and real faults are relatively inexpensive easy to sort. Car manufacturers need to stand up and be counted over this.

JM says:
25 May 2012

I own a classic car (1973). I maintain it very well, but on two occasions the MOT has identified potentially dangerous faults. Firstly, when a brake caliper was not releasing properly – couldn’t easily tell on the road, but is showed up on the MOT brake roller test. Secondly, when a joint on the steering column was coming loose.
I regard the MOT as an essential annual safety check, and it reassures me.

Cars that are infrequently used (which applies to many classic cars) are more prone to binding brakes, though this can occur even with modern cars. Feel the temperature of brake disks occasionally and if one is hot then that suggests that the calliper is sticking. In extreme cases the centre of the wheel will get warm.

I agree about the reassurance provided by passing an MOT.

I was wondering whether it was possible to pay to have an MOT-equivalent test of your own volition even if the vehicle is exempt from the mandatory regulation. Insurance companies might like to incentivise this – after all, every car is required to be roadworthy at all times.

I believe there are some stations / garages that offer what they call a PRE MOT.
It is ridiculous for all the reasons mentioned here to exempt any vehicle from the MOT.

Nicholas Keeble says:
25 May 2012

Can you please stop repeating the false information that an ABS light malfunction is an advisory. It is NOT, as I know to my cost. My trusted Citroen Specialist independent in Hereford says an ABS light not behaving as it should has been marked as a fail for several years in complete accordance with MOT procedure.

Yeap Nicholas, 3 years ago my Volvo failed on ABS light. I tracked it to dry solder joints in the ECU. Cured it myself.

Have I missed something? Will the MOT exemption not apply to the fleets of pre-1960 vehicles that are hired for commercial gain, and on the roads week after week?

Go to any Sunday wedding fair and you will see them, beautifully lined-up and polished – and usually standing on a large sheet of cardboard. Is that oil, or brake fluid I see? Who’s going to be checking?

Two things – Pre 1960 cars are far far easier to maintain – they were not run by computers that have a tendency to fail. I used to be able to maintain my pre 1960 cars without problems – from tyres to big ends and beyond.

The majority of classic cars I know about are maintained by enthusiasts – whereas the majority of recent cars are badly repaired by garages – unless you are very lucky.

That said I think the MOT should be continued to ensure every car is safe to drive at least one day in the year.

Phil says:
27 May 2012

I wonder if there’s another agenda here. Possibly it’s getting to the point that pre-1960 cars won’t pass a modern MoT particularly for emissions. I see that in Ireland any car built pre-1980 is exempt.

Of course not having to have an MoT certificate doesn’t reduce in any way the owners responsibility to keep their vehicle roadworthy any more than having a certificate is proof that the vehicle is roadworthy.

I very much agree with you about the owner’s responsibility, though that should extend to anyone who uses a car.

I believe most motorists think that their only responsibility is to have whatever work is necessary to allow their car tol pass the annual MOT. My evidence comes from speaking to people and seeing cars with faulty lights, illegal tyres and other obvious problems. If these faults are not attended to then it seems unlikely that more serious problems will be dealt with or even looked at.

I really see no problem with classics being exempt from the MOT. These cars comparatively very few in number are mostly owned and driven by very mechanically competent enthusiasts. Enthusiasts who very often actually restored said car, will know far more about the detail and the condition than most MOT testers use to modern cars, and the anual mileage of these cars is seldom more than a few hundred miles. The very low anual insurance rates for these cars is testiment to them being of comparatively low risk relative to safety.

What I find a concern is the faith people seem to put in the MOT test relative to cars of any age. It is absolutely no guarentee of safety because the test is a 30 minute inspection, a snap shot picture once a year. Sure It will highlight obvious serious faults but in the main these are faults any driver will or should know are there. And remember the road worthiness is the drivers responsibility all the time. Being non-technical or pleading ignorance is no defence and niether is having a current MOT. Things like lights giving out, brakes wearing or steering not operating as it should can happen any time and must be immediately addressed. No good waiting for the next MOT, you could be dead by then or worse still have killed someone else.

Having said all that I can see the point of an MOT for more modern everyday cars. Many drivers just drive, they never check the condition of tyres and will put up with poor brakes or even structural rust and just keep going. They need something to protect them from themselves (and others) and an MOT is the best we have.
But enthusiasts driving classics tend to better maintain their cars, they cover low mileage, they have very few accidents and all in all that’s safer for everyone. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

I agree that most classic cars are owned by enthusiasts who are competent and look after their vehicles very carefully. The problem is that an increasing number of these cars are owned by people without these skills, either to drive or to exhibit at shows.

I know a chap who bought one of these old cars to drive during the summer months. He knew nothing about cars. His brakes failed, and he and his wife had a narrow escape. His wife refused to travel in the car again and he drove the car little more, admitting that old vehicles were probably better in the hands of those who know how to look after them. Eventually he sold it to the person he had bought it from.

David Hornsby says:
28 May 2012

I agree with all that has been said, that classic cars are often looked after very well by their enthusiastic minders. However, there is no substitute for proper inspection by professionals with access to the appropriate testing equipment. If the owners of these vehicles cannot afford the fees then they should not be able to keep these vehicles at all.
Without doubt, some owners would say that say a worn king pin or some other component out of safety limits,will go a bit longer because they only go slowly or not very far!!! Say that to the child who dies because the classic ‘only went down the road’ and was ‘OK’ One accident is too many.
I would like to know the name of the fool who allowed this change, that person will be responsible for any accident occurring as a result of the lack of knowledge and skill of a well meaning amateur.

“proper inspection by professionals with access to the appropriate testing equipment” ???
And what appropriate testing equipment would that be then? These classics don’t have ABS, ESP or any of the other fancy gizmos that people in modern cars depend upon sometimes for their lives (and the life of that child you mention).
The only equipment you need to check for a wore kingpin is a jack, and that applies to just about all suspension and/or steering joints. Test centres do have equipment to check braking efficiency and balance but really that is so the tester doesn’t have to actually road test the car. Brakes either work or they don’t and uneven braking makes the car pull to one side, it’s not rocket science. Test centres also have emmission level testing equipment but these classics are already exempt unless they issue clouds of smoke, so no need for that. Corrosion is a visible (or probe with a screwdriver) type of test, so again no special equipment needed there either.
So as I said what “appropriate testing equipment”??

Remember the roadworthiness of the vehicle is the drivers responsibility regardless of their technical knowledge, and for that matter regardless of the age of the vehicle, so people who know nothing about cars who buy and drive classics are very irresponsible.

I have a couple of classics that I rebuilt I’m happy to carry the responsibility of road worthiness for these cars because they are road worthy and they are kept road worthy, otherwise they most certainly will not be venturing out onto the road. MOT testing them once a year changes nothing and achieves nothing.
It seems that in a very uncharacteristic move someone in government has employed a bit of joined up thinking and has realised this. Perhaps there is hope after all. Now perhaps this will continue and the VED “tax” exempt status for historic vehicle class can move forward from 1972 to say 1982 and annually there after?

I respect your ability but I take issue with a couple of points that you make. You say that brakes either work or they don’t. That’s obviously not true because they can operate with reduced efficiency, which is one of the reasons for measuring brake efficiency in the MOT test. A weak rear brake may not make a car pull to one side. I have had a two year old car where the main dealer found a problem with a rear brake binding during a service. That was fault was not apparent or I would have attended to it. That is one reason why garages use a rolling road for brake efficiency tests.

I agree that looking after an old car is not rocket science but it does require judgement on certain matters, for example the degree of wear and the extent of corrosion.

With the exception of the emissions test, a competent DIY mechanic can equally well carry out most tests to ensure that a modern car will pass its MOT, but again there may be some judgement needed if wear is detected.

If I set you an exam I would not want you to mark your own paper. 🙂

Rosemary says:
28 May 2012

I wonder how many pre 1960 cars would pass a Euro Ncap test – none I would think. You won’t find Side impact beams, energy absorbing crumple zones, or head impact protection structure roof, side and pillar in one of these pre 1960s cars.

These old cars they are missing so many other safety features such as ESC, airbags, whip lash injury lessening seats. Modern seatbelts have electronic sensing, pre-tensioner and force limiter, not to be found in the pre 1960 cars. Modern cars have brakes with de-coupling brake pedal mechanism, ABS electronically controlled with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist system, and electronic brake force distribution with cornering stability – none of which can be found in an old car. So how exactly are pre 1960 cars ‘safer’ on the road?

Give me a modern car any day with all the safety kit, rather than an old car that’s not going to offer me any protection in an accident.

Owners of pre 1960 cars taking better care of their cars? Well a lot of people with modern cars do actually look after them. I look after my tyres, etc and get my car serviced every year by the main dealer.

I hope your main dealer is a bit more thorough than ones I have used. On one occasion the Service Manager denied that a job was part of a service so I showed him the manufacturer’s booklet. If you secretly mark components you can get a good idea of which jobs have been missed. Which? investigations regularly show deficiencies in servicing.

My own investigations were not to discredit garages but because my safety and the reliability/durability of my car depend on servicing being done correctly.

David Hornsby says:
28 May 2012

Thank you for your comments clearly demonstrating the core of the problem. I have no doubt that you and many other enthusiastic classic owners lavish much love and attention upon their vehicles. ABS, ESP, air bags and the other modern developments such as ‘crumple’ zones that have saved countless lives since their introduction are of course not ‘fancy gizmos’
The simple fact is that these old classics are nothing like so safe as modern vehicles and that they should be checked by professionals not by well meaning amateurs. Just one essential check is the rolling road to check for brake imbalance, certainly not by stamping on the brake, to see if the vehicle pulls one way or another!! Just one other check is the amount of wear in various components, best judged by a professional.
We simply cannot afford to allow well meaning amateurs to be trusted with the lives of road users, whether themselves or others, the roads are dangerous enough without adding to the risks!

I keep reading the term “well meaning amateurs” which having spent 30 years in automotive manufacture I find somewhat irritating, as you might imagine.

The vast majority of classic care owner I know of would be equally irritated by the reference “well meaning amateurs”. Many have restored these vehicle to pristine condition starting from a point that would see less interesting modern cars ripe for the crusher.

But my argument comes back to personal responsibility and anyone not capabile of identifying potential safety issues should not drive a classic, or any other car for that matter. The MOT is as I said a snapshot once a year. What about the other 364 days? If we drive we are responsible not only for how we drive but also the roadworthiness of what we drive no good hiding behind a current MOT ticket or pleading technical ignorance in the event of an obvious safety fault. And if that means that many people currently driving shouldn’t be then yes so be it.

Perhaps I should re phrase to “brakes either stop the car efficiently when applied or they don’t”.
If a driver cannot detect that from the driving seat on one of the 364 days a year of the car is not being tested whether that driver should be sat there or not must be questionable.
As regards “judgement” regarding the condition of any given system or component who might be best positioned the person that restored or built it or a mechanic, capable no doubt, but just following a generic set of MOT test guidelines?
But as I’ve said it’s down to personal responsibility and I feel safer deciding whats safe and what isn’t with my classic car condition on a regular ongoing basis than any reliance or reassurance (or lack of) that might come from a once a year snapshot MOT.


I am not questioning your personal abilities but we need to have a system that can be applied across the board, and not just to you and your vehicles.

I have spent many years in university teaching and know that an individual’s view of their own abilities is of limited use. Independent assessment is essential, and ensuring that the assessors are up to standard is also vital.

I found it a bit irritating having colleagues checking on my abilities to do my job, but I realise why this was necessary.

Peter says:
29 May 2012

The warning light requirement should only be brought in when the car systems have been made 100% reliable. The seat belt not fastened warning light came on in my car, though we were all belted up. Garage (main dealer) conducted diagnostic tests that indicated fault on the front passenger seat – seat belt sensor changed but light still illuminated, though a diagnostic now said there was no fault. So, in an MOT test would it be a pass or a fail – does the engineer take the diagnostic result as gospel, or believe the evidence of their own eyes.

You are quite correct. The more complex electronic safety features become the more potential there is for failure of these systems. Perhaps warning lights should be taken as saying “there might be a problem”? But in the event a system, like seat belt fastening, is proven through obvious physical evidence to be working ok how can a vehicle be classed as a safety hazard and therefore an MOT failure?
I like I suspect you are concerned about our reliance on these modern safety features. Although I’m sure when working correctly they can be beneficial there is an element of giving people a false sense of security about them I cannot seem to shake.
Having said that this conversation is about classic car MOT’s. Classics don’t have many of these features so at least there will be no false sense of security so we classic car drivers tend to careful and focused in our driving (hence the lower insurance premiums). Something modern car drivers might also benefit from practicing more.

No MOT for pre 1960 cars is NOT a good idea. Although most owners are responsible and tech savvy, some are not and could then drive around in an unsafe car without knowing it–eg rusted brake pipe hidden under the car. It also opens up the door to dodgy dealers selling cars without independent checks. AND it may allow our dear government to follow the lead of France and other countries in restricting the use of old cars in ” exchange” for rescinding the need for annual MOTs.

Roger Holmes says:
28 June 2012

Comment on News in Brief,Page 11 July 2012 Magazine.

Thanks for the news item, unfortunately you have chosen to illustate this clipping with a picture of V12 E Type Jaguar built between 1971 and 1974, not a pre 1960 classic.

Rick Horvath says:
16 July 2012

I have owned many classics but none pre 1960. I would prefer the MOT to remain for ALL cars no matter the age.
However i have to laugh at the some comments about modern cars being better with the numerous ‘safety’ features such as ABS, ESP etc etc. Personally i prefer cars WITHOUT such devices as they give a false sense of security. I have driven modern Audi, Ford, BMW etc and find them dangerous in that they make me feel as if i have been injected with Novocain whereas an older car keeps my attention as to what is going on both inside the car AND upon the road. I have driven 20+ year old cars across Europe with no trouble or fear for my safety. WHY? Because i assume everyone else on the road is an idiot and drive accordingly.
What we do need is the Driving test to be taken every 2 or 3 years by all drivers. In 30 years of driving i have been rear ended by drivers 4 times whilst waiting at a T junction. I will leave it to readers to guess what gender and hair colour said drivers were.

after reading most of the comments about pre 1960 cars being MOT free I think that maybe a simple test should be made for these elderly cars. and as for the safety, these cars were made when metal was not restricted in the manufacture, its only modern cars that need extra bracing in the doors cos they are made from baco foil. crumple zones write off modern cars, older cars bounce off. who in their right mind wants plastic bumpers, give me chrome blades backed up with a huge chunk of iron. a true driver does not need all these gismos and gadgets to control the car, he uses skill and judgement. maybe all these gismos account for the appalling driving skills shown by so many drivers?

stephen says:
1 September 2012

as a owner of a 1938 hillman i find the rule to withdraw the mot for classic cars common sense but why the mot guys picked on 1960 is a mystery i recently had a lady with a volvodrive into me her faultminor dents on my part and three thousand pounds worth damage to her car caused by a good well maintained pre war car would it not be better if this rule was for pre war cars as so much of the current mot is exempt and a simpler rule for cars up to 1960

Chris Mills says:
10 September 2012

Rosemary’s comments about all these modern systems making her feel safe says exactly what is wrong with drivers at the moment.

Cars are not safer because of these devices.

In fact they are potentially more dangerous because the driver relies on them and consequently drives too fast or violently for the conditions under the illusion that they are safe because the systems will either prevent them having an accident or will stop them getting hurt if they have one.

The primary systems (ABS Brakes/ESP/ESC etc) seem to be relied on in everyday driving when they should only be called on in an emergency situation. When they fail (as they occasionally do), then the secondary systems are often activated (airbags/pretensioners etc) because the driver is then unable to control the vehicle due to:-

a) a lack of skill because learner drivers are taught in cars with all the safety devices
b) driving at a speed or manner not appropriate to the conditions (again because of reliance of the safety systems) and a feeling of detachment from the road.
or c) a combination of a and b.

Perhaps the ultimate safety device for drivers is one proposed by the late great LJK Setright A large metal spike in the centre of the steering wheel.

You certainly would see more drivers actually driving with respect for the conditions of the roads.

Personally though I would still like to see an MoT test for classic cars to catch the few irresponsible owners who bodge repair their classics. Responsible owners would have nothing to fear except perhaps a bulb that had blown on the way to the test station.

I drive a modern car with all the safety systems, but drove a mini shortly after passing my test. It had drum brakes all round (they were servo assisted), a steering wheel, pedals, a gear lever and lights. They were the only safety systems apart from the nut behind the wheel. I learned a lot about car control from that car (and I still wouldn’t call myself a good driver).