The real cost of MOT exemption


The decision to exempt pre-1960 cars from their annual MOT test sounds terrific. In theory. Roads Minister Mike Penning says that though these cars represent 0.6 per cent of traffic, they account for just 0.03 per cent of casualties and accidents. Further he says owners “tend to be enthusiasts who maintain their vehicles well. They don’t need to be told to look after them…”

The campaign was led by Greg Knight MP who commented, “accidents involving historic vehicles are extremely rare and the majority of owners are meticulous in keeping their vehicles in good condition. Having to have an annual MOT test for a vehicle which may only travel a few hundred miles in a year was costly and absurd.”

Sadly the only thing that is absurd about this sorry story and potentially extremely costly is that neither Minister nor MP appears to have looked at this issue in anything other than the most superficial, statistical detail. They appear to be living in a rose-tinted world where owners of pre-1960 cars are bespectacled retired engineers who elect to spend their time, to use Mr Penning’s precise wording, “out there in all weathers checking the condition of the engine, tyres and bodywork”.

The majority of old cars that are on the road may well be properly maintained, but that still leaves an unquantified minority that is not.

More pertinently, what about those cars that are not on the road? No one knows how many exist because the one thing they all have in common is they can’t get an MOT, which is what has kept them off the road. Until now at least. How many pre-1960s cars that have been SORNed because they are no longer roadworthy will now creep out of their damp lock-ups and back onto the road? How many cars are out there from the pre-SORN era? How many barn finds are going to be tarted up and flogged on to unsuspecting owners without anyone who actually knows what they’re looking for seeing them? One would seem too many.

In short the Government seems to have based its research on cars that are on the road without even thinking about those that are not.

But what really reveals how this MP has failed to understand his own issue is that sentence: “Having to have an annual MOT test for a vehicle which may only travel a few hundred miles in a year was costly and absurd”.

No it wasn’t. An MOT costs £54.85 which given that we old car owners don’t even have to pay for a road fund licence does not strike me as an exorbitant price to pay to carry out safety checks that allowed us to pursue our recreation. Secondly, anyone who’s owned a car that’s over half a century old will tell you the less they’re driven, the more maintenance they tend to require.

More in hope than expectation I contacted Greg Knight for a response and was impressed to get one. He said I was making “heavy weather” of the issue which is perhaps faintly patronising and that “an MOT six months old is no guarantee of road worthiness”. Maybe not, but an inability to get that MOT is what’s kept the rubbish off the road in first place. It appears this is the best he’s got.

I suspect nothing but pure thoughts lie behind this scheme but I’ll not be the first to note that the road to hell is paved with good intention. Knight also told me the barn find wreckage will stay off the road “unless its owner wants to be prosecuted”. He did not specify whether this was the person who’d put it back on the road in the first place or the poor unsuspecting sap to whom it had then been sold. Nor did he elaborate on how this would be policed. It seems to me the first time the authorities will now be alerted to the road-worthiness or otherwise of a pre-1960s car will be after it’s come into violent contact with something else, which I’d argue was rather too late.

One day soon this well-intended but ill-thought-out measure will come up hard against the law of unintended consequences.

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