May 22, 2023
The recent government consultation on ‘the future of the MOT’ has closed for responses. The government are yet to publish their conclusions. The Ministry of Transport last considered changing the first MOT from three to four years in 2018. Reflecting on that decision five years ago, we explore what has changed in the interim period to fully understand the context, and forecast likely outcomes of the 2023 consultation.
The government ran a 12-week consultation starting in January 2017. The consultation sought views on extending the date of the first MOT from 3 to 4 years. The findings published in January 2018 ruled out the proposal deciding instead to retain the first MOT at three years. Jesse Norman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Roads, Local Transport and Devolution, stated:
“After careful consideration, I have decided not to proceed with the changes proposed to the timing of the first MOT test. Great Britain has a comprehensive testing system for vehicles which makes an important contribution to road safety. The changes proposed had potential for both benefits and risks, and after due consideration I do not consider it right to take them forward at this time.”
The foremost concern of respondents to the 2017 consultation was road safety. The MOT test is a crucial safety measure. Having the first inspection at three years ensures that vehicles undergo a comprehensive check early, mitigating potential safety risks.
Concerns over the mileage a vehicle could have covered over four years were raised. Respondents were keen to note the distinction between cars and commercial vehicles. Some respondents argued that the first MOT for commercial vehicles should even be less than three years. Road conditions and driver behaviours have not fundamentally changed, emphasising the continued importance of timely safety assessments.
As vehicles age, wear and tear become increasingly prevalent. By retaining the three-year MOT requirement, vehicles are subjected to regular maintenance and repairs, detecting defects and issues early and addressing them promptly, promoting long-term reliability. Proactive identification of issues helps prevent costly breakdowns and enhances overall vehicle performance. Some responses to the consultation highlighted “a lack of knowledge on the part of vehicle owners and a reluctance to check vehicles between servicing and MOT testing” as part of the justification for this. The benefits of early detection and maintenance practices are still just as relevant now as they were five years ago.
While reducing testing frequency by extending the first MOT to four years may appear cost-effective on the surface, it is essential to consider the potential long-term implications. Addressing emerging problems promptly helps avoid more extensive and expensive repairs down the line. An increase in defective vehicles on the road could lead to a wide range of issues, including road safety and environmental issues. The balance between short-term cost savings, long-term cost-effectiveness, and road safety still favours the existing MOT schedule.
Since 2018, the adoption of electric and electrically assisted vehicles has increased rapidly. Ownership of Plug-in hybrids has risen by 371%, and electric vehicle ownership has increased by 1273%. Vehicle ownership trends have significantly changed since the 2017 consultation.
Statistics for 2018 showed that EV MOT failure rates were 11.51% in year three compared to petrol vehicle failure rates of 10.89%. Electric cars are significantly heavier than ICE cars because of the extra weight of the batteries. However, manufacturers have not necessarily upgraded tyres, brakes, and other components affected by the vehicle’s weight to more robust versions. These components are common reasons to fail the first MOT, even in lighter ICE cars. In light of this changing technology landscape, extending the first MOT to year four at this point seems ill-advised. We need a decent body of data on these new technologies and their inspection needs to make an informed decision.
Regarding accurate data reporting, Testers’ correct use of the PRS system is essential in the effective forecasting required to inform such policy change. If a Tester makes small changes to the vehicle ahead of the MOT test, a new lightbulb fitted, for example, and then not recorded accurately using PRS, then that statistic wrongly supports the argument to extend the first MOT to the fourth year.
As we can see, the reasons cited in the 2018 consultation for not extending the first MOT to year four still stand. Furthermore, the rapid adoption of EVs and hybrids has significantly changed the technology landscape over the last five years. The added weight of the batteries in EVs and hybrids takes a toll on weight-bearing components, and fail rates on the third-year MOT are higher than their petrol equivalents.
The 2017-18 consultation response document has quite a democratic tone and considers that most respondents voted against extending the first MOT. The government received over 4000 responses to the 2023 consultation compared to just 1900 in 2017. With this plethora of expert opinions, combined with all of the factors outlined above, we would be very surprised if the conclusions of the 2023 government consultation on MOTs were different from the result given five years ago.