In a surprising move by the government, classic and historic vehicles will no longer be required to undergo an annual Mot test as long as they are manufactured prior to January 1st 1960.

This will come into play from November 18th this year, Roads Minister Mike Penning announced.  Of course, vehicles are still legally required to be road-worthy and the oft-cited mantra that classic enthusiasts tend to look after their cars and have a superior knowledge of what happens under the paintwork was wheeled out by Mr Penning in part justification of the move.

Personally, I’m in two minds about this, while partly wishing this was to become law for all classics I am also initially a little concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the removal of red tape and anything to save the vintage car owner some money. Let’s face it, we all know that owning a tax-exempt automobile is a constant annual money drain at the best of times, but my concerns are for potential hidden safety issues that may arise and the re-selling of classic vehicles…

I once had a discussion with a very famous air-cooled engine tuner based in Essex who told me of a Campervan repairer in a nearby unit who cut corners pretty drastically in his repairs. Now, with a careful paint job, you wouldn’t know what was under the cover so to speak, but you could rest assured that the good old MoT would eventually reveal all.

But that’s an initial reaction – let’s look at the facts in a little more detail. The idea came to light in a Department for Transport paper released in November 2011. The consultation period ended in January this year.

4000 online responses were gathered, with 74% wishing to see a relaxation of historical and classic vehicle testing rules, while 71% believed that pre-1960 vehicles being used for commercial purposes should still be subject to an annual MoT.

Rather comfortingly (& wisely), 53% said they would still take their vintage vehicle for a voluntary test.

The government proposal provided some interesting figures as well. One of them was that only 10% of historic vehicles manufactured before 1960 failed their initial MoT in 2009.  The report also told us that there are approximately 162,000 pre-1960 vehicles currently in the UK.

A quick bit of mental arithmetic will tell us that this means around 16 thousand pre-1960 vehicles failed their test in 2009 – now, without the test, does this mean that there would be 16 thousand dangerous vehicles on the road? Well not quite. The consultation paper also gave figures for the amount of miles such vehicles tend to do, with two thirds driving less than 500 miles a year. One would presume that this is in the (safer) summer months and quite possibly to and from shows. I think we also have to take into consideration the lower speeds that many pre-1960 vehicles are likely to be travelling at.

The campaign to remove the necessity for some historic vehicles to undergo an MoT test was championed by MP Greg Knight who pointed out that accidents involving historical classics were “extremely rare” – though time will tell if this remains the same.

My own experience of the MoT has (as anyone who reads this blog will note) been a begrudgingly good one, with the test highlighting problems I didn’t know existed way in advance of either major expenditure or an accident.

The last pre MoT check up revealed rotting of the heater channels on my Beetle from the inside out. This rot had worked it’s way right through in some places but was hidden by carpet. Now, the heater channel is expensive to repair but also structural. Would I have discovered the rust without an MoT? Eventually yes of course, but whether that would have been in the safety of a garage or sharp cornering on a wet road is debatable.

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