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To MOT or not MOT, the question is are you aware of and prepared to accept the risks?

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

By Tony Batchelor

You often hear classic car owners enthuse about the advantages of owning a classic car. Forgetting the likely increase in value of the vehicle, the advantages of owning a classic car over 40 years old include exemption from paying road tax, no requirement for an MOT and there is low cost classic car insurance. With the latter, maybe I am with the wrong insurance company as both of our daily run-arounds cost the same per year to insure as the classic, and the former are not restricted on mileage.

Coming back to the MOT, I was very interested to read an article in the publication Car Buyers Weekly, dated 15th May 2019. The article was entitled “MOT Exemption: Stay Safe”, and advised the number of historic vehicles submitted for an MOT had fallen by half since the law was amended in May of 2018.

The reasons stated for the change in the law include Testers being unfamiliar with the quirks of older vehicles, owners of classic vehicles spending more time and money maintaining them and the limited mileage travelled by such vehicles, meaning less wear and tear on moving parts.

Although the law states there is no requirement for the vehicle to be tested, there is however a compelling argument for a voluntary annual inspection, which I will come to later.

Having reached the end of the very long and winding road to finally owning a classic car, a 1970 Triumph Vitesse, the first thing on my mind was to get it thoroughly checked out by my friendly car mechanic “Ed ”. I have known Ed for some years now and he is someone who I can trust to do a good job.

The car was sold by a dealer with a new MOT Certificate. The array of new parts on the car, such as ball joints, bushes and brake pipes, gave me confidence the car had been well looked after. I thought I could rely on the MOT as complete assurance my wife and I would not be driving around in a rust bucket or worse a potential death trap.

Driving around over the past couple of weeks prior to the Triumph being inspected by Ed, it quickly became evident that unlike modern cars there was a need when slowing down to revert to the time tested “changing down gear method,” rather than relying on the brakes. The latter is I understand encouraged for new learner drivers in lieu of slowing down in anticipation in case of the unforeseen need to slow or stop suddenly. Even with 85 kilos “standing” on the brake pedal the almost 50 year old car does not slow as quickly as a modern car, so I had to keep reminding myself which car I was driving just in case I left braking too late.

When I discussed options with my friendly mechanic Ed and his dad, who is a classic car enthusiast and according to Ed was “excited about the prospect of having a Vitesse in his garage, they advised the fitting of a servo would be the best option. At this point there will no doubt be mutterings about “originality”, yes but I would rather my wife, myself and others be safe than injured unnecessarily for the sake of a minor modification which nobody looking at the bodywork will see.

The decision to opt for a servo was further confirmed when I was taking the car to Ed’s garage for the work to be done.  I was travelling down country lanes around Biggin Hill following an Audi TT. I am sure the new TT is wider than the previous version, making it somewhat “bulbous”, and the driver was clearly having problems with the width when encountering oncoming vehicles. Driving my slimline Triumph Vitesse I could easily fit through most of the gaps, but the Audi driver was constantly breaking which was causing me issues with the Vitesse braking problem. If only I had a servo, another few days and I will.

I am not sure if it is just me, but I find white van and company car man seem to be more, well accommodating, considerate even, when they come across a classic car. Not just the Vitesse, but other cars I have been a passenger and driven in the past. Clearly that was not the case with the Audi TT, constant breaking and stopping. In the end I stopped and let the TT driver get some 50 metres or so ahead, but I still caught them up again as the Vitesse was waved through by kindly white van people while the TT was parked in a hedge.

With the Vitesse safely in the workshop I received a phone call the next day from Ed and his dad to say they had discovered “serious and worrying” excessive play in the steering column. As I said previously, I trust this guy implicitly not to create work so I agreed to have it fixed, and enquired if this should have been an MOT failure. According to Ed apparently such issues are “at the discretion of the MOT Tester”, and clearly the Tester did not deem it an issue, but another two experienced mechanics did.

I remembered “back in the day” when I was a lad I usually took my car to a garage for an MOT where the Testers were less vigilant than others, making life easier and cheaper. Ed was therefore correct; one Tester might pass something where another Tester would fail the car.

Ed’s statement about MOT testing and “Testers discretion” has prompted some research on my part, and hence this blog where I would share some my findings, and indeed offer my thoughts.

As you can imagine there is a whole load of info on the web, and sorting the fact from the opinion has been a challenge. In reality there are a few relevant facts and a whole load of, in my view, irrelevant or repeated opinion.

So what are the facts?

It is a fact vehicles over 40 years of age are exempt from MOT’s as long as they have been registered as a Historic Vehicle and they have not undergone “substantial change” from the original.  The good news being there is a saving of £55 a year and possibly a whole load of expense in repairs.

When I say the vehicle has “not undergone substantial change from the original”, I guess the car on the right would not meet this criteria and will still need an MOT after 40 years, but eventually the car on the left would be exempt from the MOT assuming it does not have say a V12 under the bonnet which is not obvious!

The “Gov” website at will explain all the facts around exemptions in more detail, but of particular relevance to this blog is Section 40A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Clause F1 40A states: “Using vehicle in dangerous condition etc. A person is guilty of an offence if he / she uses, or causes or permits another to use, a motor vehicle or trailer on a road when—(a)the condition of the motor vehicle or trailer, or of its accessories or equipment, is such that the use of the motor vehicle or trailer involves a danger of injury to any person”.

I was particularly interested in the “fact” which stated “You can be fined up to £2,500 and get 3 penalty points for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition”. But that assumes the vehicle is defective and the defect is identified by a friendly Policeman who stops you to have a look at and a chat about the car. If however it was involved in a collision, and worse someone was injured, that fine could be increased further and to possibly including a custodial sentence for negligence, or even manslaughter if it could be proved the driver was aware of the defect.

Another fact is all vehicles have an insurance policy, and those policies have various conditions. For example I am insured by LV, and their conditions include:

  • You should ensure your car is kept in a roadworthy condition and you must have a valid Department for Transport Test Certificate (MOT) if one is needed by law.

  • You must give us access to examine your car and if asked send us evidence of a valid MOT and/or evidence your car was regularly maintained and kept in a roadworthy condition.

The second bullet point is of particular interest. If you are involved in an accident, whether your fault or not, insurers might be looking at any non-compliance with conditions when considering a claim. You might have a greater argument if the vehicle has had an annual inspection by an independent assessor, and a £55 MOT starts to look attractive as a “second” insurance policy. I wonder what your insurance policy says.

In search of answers as to the value of a modern MOT I spoke to someone who knows about such matters and someone who actually carries out MOT testing, Warner Cherrett, owner of Brian T Gordon garage in Oxted. After marvelling at the various cars in his workshop, ie an E-Type, MG TA, an XK 120 and a Spitfire, oh and the TVR, I spoke to Warner. He advised he carries out MOTs for modern and classic cars, apparently the basis of the current MOT is the still same as when it was first introduced but it has been updated with “add-ons” to take into account developing technology.

The MOT test was first introduced in 1960 under the direction of the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples under powers in the Road Traffic Act 1956. The original MOT was a basic check which catered for the type of cars around almost 60 years ago, which we now call classics. Apparently the inspection of Kingpins is still included in the MOT as it was in 1960, modern cars do not have these but the MOT can cater for cars that do. It also includes emissions, and the Vitesse certainly would not pass there so thank heavens there is a visual check in the current MOT for older vehicles.

Therefore if the MOT caters for today’s classic cars, and it did when it was originally introduced in 1960, I suggest it is a good and relevant basis for an annual inspection. Warner advised in his case where he considers the vehicle has a potential or developing fault, but not necessarily a MOT Advisory, he will highlight these to the vehicle owner in a separate written report. That to me sounds a great idea, as there is a standard nationally recognised test which is tailored to a certain extent to an individual vehicle. I am sure Days Garage and DP Storrier offer a similar service to classic car owners.

There is also the knowledge of the tester to be considered. Warner advised he does not like the term classic car “specialist”, but suggests a more meaningful test on a vehicle is more likely if a garage regularly carries out work on older “classic” cars. The mechanics might then better understand the foibles with older cars rather than the precision engineering we find in modern cars. This would be particularly helpful when the MOT Tester comes across something which could mean a pass or fail, the greater understanding might make the difference between a thumbs up or down.

So do you MOT or not MOT, the question is are you aware of, and prepared to accept, the risks?

For me there are three factors to the answer to the question:

  1. The first is I would suggest classic car owners would not wish to drive around in potential death traps, and more importantly we would not wish anyone else being injured or worse because we want to save £55 not having submitted our cars for an MOT test. So it is a yes from me in support of an MOT.

  2. The second is what do the insurance companies want? We should look to cover ourselves should they attempt to dispute or even decline a claim, whether it is our fault or others. If a claim for personal injury is involved classic car drivers need to be sure that no fault can be attributed to the condition of the vehicle, and the MOT is a nationally recognised way of providing proof that the vehicle has been regularly inspected. Accepted the MOT is effectively proof the vehicle was roadworthy for 24 hours, but in the event of a dispute classic car owners will be in a better position having one than not, especially if it ends up in some form of legal proceedings or compensation claims. I want assuance of insurance, so it is another yes from me in support of an MOT

  3. The third answer is should we have an accident and are prosecuted by the Police because our vehicle is found to be defective, do we want to risk a custodial sentence for manslaughter. Personally I do not want to take that risk so I am going to say yes in support of an MOT.

That is three yes’s from me, I know what I will be doing and to hell with the £55 saving.

Grateful for your comments on this, below are a couple of images to put things into perspective.

This gives a whole new meaning to a drive through takeaway. No customers were injured in this crash in Kent; the driver received minor injuries. (picture Linas Baltrukonis)

Two women were injured when a classic £50 000 Porsche went out of control and hit the front of a cafe in West Hampstead, north-west London. It took 20 fire fighters to rescue one of the women after the classic car crashed into Lena's Cafe on West End Lane. (Picture SWNS)

Two people were injured when this Triumph Herald collided with a lorry. (Picture: Victor Shannock)

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