THISISMONEY.CO.UK – 14th May 2020
Major UK motor bodies have today called on the Government to axe the six-month MOT exemption for vehicles put in place due to Covid-19 over fears of a rapid rise in the number of dangerous cars on the road now that the lockdown has been eased.
New measures announced by the Prime Minister this week have allowed employees who cannot work from home to go back to their jobs from Wednesday, though they are urged to avoid public transport and instead use their cars or – preferably – cycle or walk if possible.
Driving restrictions have also been lifted in England for those who want to travel to beaches or parks to exercise from this week, meaning a sharp increase in traffic volumes.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Independent Garage Association (IGA) and Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) have warned that many of the cars being used again from this week will not be in safe condition, given that many have barely been used for two months and some will be overdue an MOT test.
All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MOT test have been exempted from needing a test from 30 March under measures introduced by Transport Minister Grant Shapps shortly after the UK went into lockdown.
Garages and MOT testing stations have remained open since restrictions were put in place, though only to provide a service to NHS frontline staff and other keyworkers who were reliant on their vehicles while the general public was ordered to stay home.
With the easing restriction this week and millions of people being told they can go back to work but avoid public transport if at all possible, there are mounting fears over the condition of vehicles going back on the road from this week.
Announcing the publication of new coronavirus guidelines for garages, test centres and other aftermarket businesses restarting operations under easing lockdown rules, SMMT boss Mike Hawes said: ‘With government advice stating that workers should avoid public transport when returning to work, the use of private cars is likely to rise more sharply than it already has over recent weeks.
‘Given many of these vehicles have been idle for weeks, a reconsideration of the six-month MOT extension needs to be made as soon as possible.
‘It is timely that the aftermarket can assure customers and colleagues that it is ready to re-open safely to ensure workers’ vehicles remain roadworthy. This is essential, not just for the sector, but for the restart of the wider UK economy.’
When the Department for Transport confirmed the six-month MOT exemption at the end of March, it added the caveat: ‘Vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition, and garages will remain open for essential repair work. Drivers can be prosecuted if driving unsafe vehicles.’
Checks to ensure cars are roadworthy during MOT exemption (DfT)
Every time you drive you should check:
– the windscreen, windows and mirrors are clean
– all lights work
– the brakes work
Your vehicle’s handbook will tell you how often to check the:
– engine oil
– water level in the radiator or expansion tank
– brake fluid level
– windscreen and rear window washer bottles – top up with windscreen washer fluid if necessary
– tyres: they must have the correct tread depth and be free of cuts and defects
The handbook will also tell you when your vehicle needs to be serviced.
Tread must be a certain depth depending on the type of vehicle:
Cars, light vans and light trailers – 1.6 millimetres (mm)
Motorcycles, large vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles – 1mm
Mopeds only need to have visible tread.
There must be tread across the middle three-quarters and around the entire tyre.
Anyone caught by police at the controls of an unsafe car can be prosecuted and fined up to £2,500.
Earlier this week, This is Money exclusively revealed that the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency had processed over half a million vehicle SORN requests in the first four weeks of lockdown – a 116 per cent increase.
With some of these cars returning to the road from Wednesday, so will have been unused and not turned a wheel for over seven weeks – which is plenty of time for tyre, brakes and other problems to occur.
The IGA says the six-month MOT exemption puts motorists at a greater risk of prosecution through no fault of their own, especially as many drivers lack the knowledge required to maintain their own cars.
Stuart James, chief executive of the Independent Garage Association, added that motorists could face much bigger bills once they do have their cars MOT tested, due to the deterioration of parts over a period of up to 18 months without having a mechanic check the roadworthy condition of vehicles.
‘Whilst we support the government’s efforts to control Covid-19, now is the time to stop the MOT extension,’ he told This is Money.
‘One in three vehicles fails its MOT test, and with the number of cars on the road sharply on the rise as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, the question of road safety needs to be addressed.
‘Delaying the MOT increases increases repair costs, and leaves motorists vulnerable for prosecution for worn out components that are not replaced when they need to be.
‘It is standard practice to protect vehicles with seat covers, floor mats and steering wheel covers in the workshop, and independent garages have fully implemented social distancing controls.’
The calls from motor industry bodies comes after the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere, explained to the House of Lords on Wednesday that the MOT exemption is under review.
‘The duration of the changes remains under review and, if no longer required, this instrument will be amended to bring forward the last day on which a six-month exclusion can begin’.
She also stated the need for vehicles to remain roadworthy: ‘Furthermore, the DVSA has issued guidance to drivers on what to do to keep a car safe and roadworthy.’
The UK automotive aftermarket sector has signalled its readiness to cope with increased demand for MOT tests, service, maintenance and repair with the publication of new sector-specific guidance drawn up collaboratively by motor bodies.
The sector provides more than 370,000 UK jobs and has a turnover of around £21.6 billion and contributes £12.5 billion to the UK economy.
The best-practice guidelines are for workshops, warehouses, mobile operations and parts distributors and covers all aspect of their operations, from clear communications with customers and colleagues to social distancing, sanitisation and hygiene, and collection or delivery of vehicles from vulnerable owners.
It is designed to complement government advice and help the aftermarket sector demonstrate safe practices for employees and customers across all points of interaction.
The SMMT has also created separate guidance for motor manufacturers – despite some car makers already having restarted production a fortnight ago.
Among the bodies involved in creating the guidelines for the aftermarket vehicle sector was the IMI, which has fully endorsed the call for the government to scrap the six-month MOT exemption.
Steve Nash, ceo of the IMI, said: ‘Whilst the motives for the exemption were sound at that time, there are serious risks in the extension remaining in place now.
‘First and foremost, if vehicles are coming back onto the roads in volume it is vital for all road users’ safety that they are roadworthy.
‘The other issue is that if all motorists wait up to six months from when their MOT expired to get their vehicle tested there is going to be a big backlog of tests in the autumn and winter which could significantly overwhelm the sector.
‘And that’s without taking into account the likelihood of the market shrinking simply because many businesses are unlikely to be able to survive without work coming in in the meantime.’
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