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MOT Testing

MOT Testing Published: 28th Jun 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Cars that are forty years or older may be able to avoid the annual MoT test. We explain the latest rules and regulations for eligibility

MoT exemption has already been available for vehicles that were first registered before 1960, but on the 20th May this year, this exemption will change and operate on a rolling 40-year basis. So a vehicle that was first registered over 40 years ago (i.e. in 1977 or before) is now eligible, meaning that in 2021, cars that were first registered in 1980 may be exempt.

However, the rules are now a little more complicated than the pre-1960 exemption. To be eligible for exemption, there are a number of guidelines concerning non-standard changes, or what most people call modifications. The DVSA’s guidelines for MoT exemption state that “A vehicle that has been substantially changed within the previous 30 years will have to be submitted for annual MoT testing.”

However, the definition of having been ‘substantially changed’ does have some exemptions of its own, meaning that many cars may still qualify.

For instance, if a larger engine of the same type has been fitted to a car, then it may still be eligible for exemption. Fitting a 1275cc A-Series into a Frogeye Sprite, which originally had a 948cc unit is acceptable. The ruling states that for engines, “alternative cubic capacities of the same basic engine and alternative original equipment engines are not considered a substantial change.

“If the number of cylinders in an engine is different from the original, it is likely to be, but not necessarily, the case that the current engine is not alternative original equipment.” This does get complicated. Take an MGB GT with a 1.8-litre B-Series engine for example. A Rover V8 was fitted to the MGB GTV8, so the ruling suggests that such an engine in an MGB is acceptable. Also, increasing the capacity of an original engine is within the rules.

Renewing the subframes is within the guidelines of changes, so renewing the front subframe on a Jaguar XJ because it is rotten is allowed. The rules explain that in the case of a monocoque bodyshell and including any with subframes, “replacements of the same pattern as the original are not considered a substantial change.” This also applies to where a chassis is fitted on cars such as a Triumph GT6 or TVR Tasmin.

A similar ruling applies to the axles and running gear, which stipulates, “alteration of the type and or method of suspension or steering constitutes a substantial change,” which initially seems to suggest that uprated suspension, adding power steering or switching from a steering box to rack and pinion is not allowed for MoT exemption. However, there are three more rules that help to clarify whether such changes or modifications can be allowed to still qualify for MoT exemption.

The first rule concerning changes that help to qualify for exemption covers, “changes that are made to preserve a vehicle, which in all cases must be when original type parts are no longer reasonably available.” At the time of fitting a non-standard part, if the original part wasn’t available or difficult to source, then fitting an alternative part is acceptable, but providing it helps to preserve a vehicle.

So, fitting aftermarket wheels because at the time, standard wheels were not available new, seems to be acceptable, providing they preserve the vehicle.

In the case of fitting rack and pinion steering, this argument may stand if an original new steering box could not be sourced at the time. There is however, a second ruling that can help in some cases, which states, “changes of a type, that can be demonstrated to have been made when vehicles of the type were in production or in general use (within ten years of the end of production).”

This ruling does require some historical research. Changes that were in general use up to ten years after the production of a vehicle ended is a lot of time. Many cars ranging from the Mini to the Jaguar XJ evolved throughout their lifetime with the introduction of modern components such as electronic ignition and power steering, so providing the type of vehicle hasn’t changed, then there appears to be a strong case for MoT exemption. However, this is a grey area.

Take a Jaguar XK120, which uses a steering box. The later XK140 and 150 models have more modern rack and pinion steering, which can be fitted on the earlier XK120, but it’s doubtful that both the XK120 and XK140 are classed as the same type.

The third rule concerns changes to axles and running gear. This has some very specific exclusions to help qualify for MoT exemption, which concern aspects that help to improve efficiency, safety and environmental performance.

Remember this only concerns axles and running gear; a brake servo added to a non-servo assisted Mini could be seen as a change that improves efficiency and safety, so it doesn’t prevent the vehicle from being classed as MoT exempt. Fitting aftermarket multi-piston calipers with drilled and grooved discs is considered to be a safety and efficiency improvement for the running gear. Changing the differential to one with a final drive ratio that results in less engine revs at say 70mph, could be regarded as an improvement on the grounds of environmental performance (i.e. better fuel economy, so less pollution) and efficiency.

Kit cars and replicas

There are some categories of kit cars and replicas that cannot qualify for MoT exemption. Any vehicle with a Q-registration, which was introduced in 1983, must continue with an annual MoT test. However, many kit cars carry the original registration plate of their donor vehicle because a sufficient number of components have been reused. Beetle-based exotica such as the Nova, Karma and several beach buggies apply here, but the MoT exemption initially states that these cannot qualify. The official wording groups them into the following; “a kit car assembled from components from different makes and model of vehicle; or is a reconstructed classic vehicle as defined by DVLA guidance; or is a kit conversion, where a kit of new parts is added to an existing vehicle, or old parts are added to a kit of a manufactured body, chassis or monocoque bodyshell changing the general appearance of the vehicle.”

Sounds straightforward? There’s an exclusion to this rule, which states, “However, if any of the four above types of vehicle [the kit car details we have outlined] is taxed as an ‘historic vehicle’ and has not been modified during the previous 30 years, it can be considered as a VHI.” So this suggests that there are a few kit car categories that could be eligible for MoT exemption.

How to apply

As from 20th May this year, at the point of taxing a vehicle, you can declare the vehicle is exempt from MoT if it was first registered more than 40 years ago. When declaring this exemption, you will be asked to confirm that it has not been substantially changed. This applies to all vehicles over 40 years old, including those made before 1960. Declaring a vehicle is MoT exempt can be completed online or at a post office and can only be done at the point of taxing it.

MoT free criteria appears to be something that will evolve and eventually everyone will be fully aware of the rules. Remember that you have a legal obligation to declare your vehicle falls within the exemption guidelines when declaring it exempt from MoT tests. If you are at all unsure, the official advice states, “consult a marque or historic vehicles’ expert, a list of whom will be available on the website of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (”

It is also worth noting that if a vehicle is exempt, it could require an MoT test in the future if it is substantially changed.

Our advice is that if you are at all unsure, stick with having it tested every year. And even if you have a completely standard car that’s 40 years old or more, is it really worthwhile saving a few pounds by not having it tested every year? If it’s rarely used, then there’s possibly an argument in favour of exemption, but rubber still deteriorates and corrosion still spreads.

After speaking with several classic car specialists, the majority of them intend to MoT their cars that are eligible for exemption. Myles Scofield of Miles Classic commented, “I am not sure what to make of the 40-year-old rule. Surely if we need a control to make sure a car is safe for the road at 39 years old, we need it at 40 years old. Most people determined to run a car at 40 years old will make sure it is operating effectively, but I think it is a good idea to have a once-ayear check by an independent professional who can say for sure that at that particular time, the car is safe and roadworthy.”

Meticulous DIY-maintenance of a classic car can ensure it’s capable of passing an MoT test, but can we really trust owners to be so vigilant, especially if they know how much time and money is involved in repairing a rotten chassis leg or renewing a split ball joint gaiter?

And there are some aspects of the test that cannot be conducted without special equipment, such as a brake test that helps to confirm the brakes are balanced and as efficient as they should be (helping in turn to identify a warped disc, sticking handbrake and many other problems). Also, an emissions test cannot be conducted at home.

One of the biggest concerns we keep hearing from the industry relates to abandoned projects, poor restorations and barn finds. MoT exemption means there’s nothing stopping them being sold and driven away, other than the current legalities of ensuring a vehicle is roadworthy.

MoT exemption may help to divide the good cars from the bad ones. A car that is in good condition has nothing to be concerned over, so why not MoT test it whether it’s exempt or not? And the online MoT history check will help to back this up for anyone interested in buying the vehicle.

There are many aspects of life where an annual check-up gives peace of mind, from visiting the dentist to servicing a central heating boiler. It’s where you draw the line that matters the most.


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