Our government is currently mulling over the idea of moving to an EU-style 4-2-2 system for car MOTs – that means the first test is at four years old followed by tests every second year. I recently published an article opposing this change and calling for the current 3-1-1 system to be left unchanged.
The logic seems simple – at present, 21.6% of three year old cars in the UK fail their first MOT test. Extending this period would seem likely to increase the number of unroadworthy cars on the road. What’s more, in a recent survey of 1,500 drivers recently carried out by this website, we found that a depressing 43% of them only check the condition of their car’s tyres before it goes for its MOT test.
It seemed that the link between regular testing and vehicle roadworthiness was solid – until I discovered that in some other European countries, the situation is quite different.
European Countries Test Less & Fail Less – Why?
Until now, I thought that the case for keeping our MOT system was watertight. I still do, but there is now some doubt in my mind as to why we need such frequent testing.
The problem is that the Institute of Advanced Motorists has recently published figures which show that first-time MOT failure rates in many other European countries are much lower than in the UK – despite the fact that these countries already operate a 4-2-2 system, meaning that cars don’t get their first MOT test until they are four years old.
Here are the first-time failure rates for private cars in a number of other European countries, including the UK. I have indicated in brackets whether the country firsts tests its cars at three or four years old:
- Germany (3y): 4.8%
- France (4y): 5.61%
- Austria (3y): 10%
- Switzerland (4y): 17.5%
- Norway (4y): 19.9%
- UK (3y): 21.6%
- Spain (4y) 32%
EU law requires at least a 4-2-2 roadworthiness testing system in all countries and as you would expect, most EU member states operate a system that meets the minimum testing requirements only. Britain and a few other states choose to operate a vehicle testing system that requires more frequent testing. In the case of the UK, our MOT system predates the relevant EU law.
Why Do UK Cars Fail More Often?
Why do cars fail their first MOT four times more often in the UK than in France or Germany? The cars themselves are broadly the same in all countries, as are the way they are used and the conditions they are used in.
The list of the most common MOT failure faults in first-time tests (published by VOSA in 2007), provides us with some clues. In 2007, 580,754 three-year old cars failed their first MOT test, with a total of 836,646 individual failure faults.
The top three failure faults were:
- Lighting and signalling: 271,567 (32.5%)
- Tyres and wheels: 155,489 (18.6%)
- Driver’s view of the road (chipped/cracked windscreens and other obstructions): 120,095 (14.4%)
Remember, ‘lighting and signalling’ usually just means a blown bulb. Similarly, tyres and wheels most often means tyres with illegal wear.
In total, these three faults accounted for 65% of first-time failures – and they all have one thing in common: In most cases, a cursory visual inspection by a driver would have been enough to spot the fault.
It seems fair to assume that German and French cars will have just as many blown bulbs, cracked windscreens and worn tyres as British cars – and that these problems will also result in a test failure in those countries. So why is there such a difference in failure rates?
I can see only two possibilities:
- Motorists in France and Germany take much better care of their cars than British motorists, spotting and fixing minor faults as they appear.
- Cars are properly prepared for test before they are tested in France and Germany – but not in the UK.
My experience is that if you book your car in for a service and MOT at a garage, any decent garage/mechanic will carry out the service before the MOT – which should virtually guarantee a MOT pass.
However, it seems that this may not be universal practice, especially at main dealers, where most three-year old cars will have been serviced during their warranty period.
Neil Greg, IAM Director of Policy and Research, says that the high first-time failure rate makes him wonder if “garages do the MoT test before the three-year warranty service instead of after it, which fuels motorists’ suspicion that the MoT is being used to show that the service has been done properly?”
Greg also highlights an interesting and surprising problem: “Manufacturers’ service schedules do not cover all the points needed to pass a MoT test – why not?”
Who’s To Blame? British Motorists or British Garages?
In my opinion, British motorists must shoulder part of the blame. Checking your car’s lights, tyres and windscreen for faults should be a routine part of car ownership and should certainly take place much more often than once per year.
At the same time, garages who take a car for a service and test should ensure that the car has all MOT failure faults fixed before it goes to test. They should then simply notify the car’s owner that it had a number of MOT failure faults present that were picked up during the service but should probably have been fixed previously.
It seems that reducing the failure rate for first-time MOT tests in the UK would require a significant cultural change, with motorists willing to take better care of their cars and garages developing a pre-test check routine or servicing before testing.
I don’t know quite why it is so different in France and Germany – I know that both countries have greater separation between testing authorities and garages but I still don’t know why they have such excellent pass rates.
What do you think? If anyone has an opinion on the UK MOT system or has first-hand experience of the testing system in France and Germany, leave a comment below with your thoughts.