History of the MOT Test

History of the MOT Test

What is an MOT Test?

The MOT is a regular examination of the condition of cars and light commercial vehicles in mainland Britain. It is required annually on all vehicles over three years old with one or two very minor exceptions – small ‘breakdown’ trucks is one example.

History – and why it’s called the ‘MOT’

Following the second world war and into the late 1950s most people purchased second hand cars and light vans, many of which were originally manufactured before 1940 and vast numbers of which were not in ‘tip top’ condition, nor were they regularly serviced. As a result there were numerous vehicles being used on the road which were potentially dangerous. In particular they often had defective brakes, lights and/or steering.

As a result of this, in 1960 the then Ministry of Transport under the direction of the Minister of Transport Mr Ernest Marples decided that all vehicles over ten years old should have their brakes, lights and steering checked every year. This became known as the “ten year Test”, or alternatively the Ministry Of Transport Test – which became shortened to ‘MOT’. The Testable age was progressively reduced to 3 years by April 1967.

‘Giles’ cartoon from the 11th September 1960 edition of the Sunday Express. The MOT Test commenced on Monday 12th September, 1960. © Express Newspapers.

Over the years the MOT Test has been extended and expanded to the comprehensive examination which is today’s MOT Test. And the Test is developing all the time. Significantly since the 1990s has been the development of highly sophisticated emissions Testing for vehicles with catalytic converters fitted.

A significant development of the MOT has resulted from Britain being members of the European Union. All vehicle Testing is now decided by EU Directives which set minimum standards for vehicle Testing in member states. Each state can, however, decide to install more stringent vehicle Testing regulations in their own domestic regulations under the EU principle of subsidiarity. In many EU countries, for example, Testing is carried out every two years – the basic EU minimum, whereas in Britain it is on an annual basis.

There are now approximately 22,000 Testing Stations in Britain and 50,000 MOT Testers.

Who’s in charge of the MOT?
The Government

From the start the British Government decided that the annual vehicle check should be carried out by locally situated repair and service garages thus ensuring that any motorist would have a local ‘MOT Testing Station’ who could provide a convenient service. On the other hand the Ministry of Transport were very keen to make sure that there was a uniform set of MOT Testing standards throughout the country and so they insisted that if a garage wished to become a Testing Station that they used only approved equipment and also carried out the Tests to a set of standards laid down by the Department of Transport.

This system remains to this day, with the Government in overall charge of MOT Testing, but now through an Executive Agency called DVSA (the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency), previously VOSA (the Vehicle Operator and Services Agency) whose Chief Executive is responsible directly to Parliament, and also to the Secretary of State for Transport.

The local MOT garage does, however, carry responsibility for the quality of day to day Testing at that Testing Station. The garage, either through the individual, the company or the partnership if that is how it is set up, becomes what is known as the Authorised Examiner (AE), having been authorised by DVSA to carry out MOT Tests on their behalf. So generally, but not necessarily the AE is the owner of the business or the business itself.

[Note: Tester Training rules have changes since this article was posted].
In turn the AE has the power to nominate specially trained individuals to carry out MOT Testing on customers’ cars. So the official name for an MOT Tester is Nominated Tester (NT) because he or she has been nominated by the AE. It should be noted that this is why it is impossible for aspiring young MOT Testers to go to college and learn the profession – they have first to be trained at a Testing Garage and then ‘nominated’ by the AE.

An aspiring Tester also has to have either a certain minimum formal qualification or sit a special examination set by DVSA before then going on a two-day course set up by DVSA to, as they say “calibrate his or her skills”.

Despite being ultimately fully responsible for all MOT Testing, DVSA have never published either a complete training programme or an approved syllabus to train MOT Testers).

So your local Testing station is in charge of the Tests they do, but the Government, through DVSA is responsible overall for the general quality of MOT Testing. To do this they have about 100 experts called Vehicle Examiners who spend much of their time monitoring the performance of NTs and AEs – but they also have other jobs as well. Not many people to keep an eye on nearly 20,000 Testing Stations and 50,000 Testers!

It’s the Government’s MOT

So the next time one of those newspaper articles or perhaps a sensational TV programme appears about poor quality MOT Testing, just remember that it’s as much the Government’s fault through providing insufficient Tester Training and inadequate resources to properly manage and control the MOT Scheme for which DVSA is responsible!

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