Advisory notes accompanying MOT Certificate – pass or fail – have been used now for decades. They are potentially helpful to motorists to provide a broader picture of the condition of their vehicles.
MOT Testers can use them to indicate to the MOT Testing Authorities that items have been inspected, even if an incorrect pass/fail judgement has been made, but they can also be contentious. They are officially acknowledged on the MOT Computer, but are not compulsory within the regulations. Soon, however, when the latest EU MOT rules take effect, that may change. So let’s have a closer look and shine our spotlight on MOT advisories…
There were various reasons behind issuing advisory notes with an MOT. Before a structured disciplinary points system was established, MOT discipline was very draconian. If a VE said you had not inspected a component, despite your protests, that was it, no appeal, you were considered guilty, bang-to-rights!
But at some stage, the then Vehicle Inspectorate acknowledged that if a Tester, knowing there was wear in a Testable component, having decided it was acceptable, could make a note to that effect at the time of the examination – providing evidence that the item had been inspected; a wrong pass/fail judgement being a lesser ‘crime’, than not even inspecting the component.
There were also difficulties when motorists couldn’t understand why some defects didn’t result in an MOT failure, so advisories went some way to address that confusion. Before long Testing Stations developed their own printed versions of ‘Advisory Notes’ outside the formal MOT process.
A further difficulty which ‘Advisory Notes’ address, is that the MOT is only a minimal safety requirement, on the day of the inspection of defined testable items. An advisory system enabled Testers to inform motorists that their tyres, brake pads, track-rod ends or whatever, were only just of a condition to pass the MOT on that day. By next week, next month or soon after, they might fail!
Dangerous to drive
Before computerisation all certificates, both pass and fail were hand-written on a pre-printed form. If a Tester discovered a ‘dangerous to drive’ defect (pass or fail), it was flagged up in a box on a special red certificate solely for that purpose. It is still possible to issue a pass certificate, but to also flag up the vehicle as being ‘dangerous to drive’, but it no longer has any especial prominence.
With computerisation in 2005 advisories were available on the MOT Computer with a suggested menu, and a facility to write them up in free text as well, with ‘dangerous to drive’ advisories having their own ‘danger box’ entry.
Dangerous Non-Testable items
Motorists become perplexed when a dangerous to drive advisory accompanies a pass certificate. Here’s an example: the front prop-shaft universal joint on a rear wheel drive vehicle, if seriously worn could fail and ‘pole vault’ the vehicle – clearly a dangerous defect, but not a ‘Testable item’. In fact, ‘Danger Box’ entries are just another form of advisory note, entered into the ‘danger box’ on the MOT computer.
An informal process
Apart from a suggested menu of advisories on the MOT computer, there are no formal rules at all on advisory items, including dangerous defects. It is not compulsory to issue advisories, and with no formal rules, there can’t be any training – although DVSA Trainers do urge Testers to use advisories to provide evidence that an item has been inspected. Yet whether or not to issue advisory notes, what to advise if you do, how to word that advice and whether or not a component is in dangerous condition, is entirely at the discretion of the Tester. The only guidance is the menu on the MOT computer. It is an entirely informal process – which can be beneficial and informative for motorists, but can also cause numerous problems.
I know a Testing Station owner who does MOTs for a local car dealership. The cars his company Tests are from both the service/repair side of the dealership’s business, and from the used car sales operation. On the former, the Service Manager wants to maximise the number of advisories so further work could then justifiably be recommended to the customer.
Contrariwise, the car sales manager wanted clean MOT pass certificates without any advisories on the cars he was selling, suggesting they were less than perfect! Yet when delivered for MOT, the Testers had no idea which side of the dealership they had come from. As the Test Station owner said, “…we Test the cars as they come, we can’t change our advisory policy car to car… ”
Whilst that’s a problem for one Test Station where different customers from the same business have different expectations regarding advisory notes, as between different Test Stations it can become confusing for motorists.
No rules means no consistency…
With no rules on advisory notes, everybody is right, nobody is wrong! Unsurprisingly the resulting inconsistencies confuse motorists who don’t realise that the advisories notes with their pass or failure certificates have no ‘official’ stamp of approval.
Some mistakenly believe that the MOT is a gilt-edged assurance that their vehicles are safe for another year. So an advisory list of potentially defective items, accompanying the pass certificate causes confusion! Of course, not all Testing Stations ‘load up’ the advisories to get more work. Many carefully explain to their customers the issues involved and degree of urgency (or not) of different advisories. Sadly others are less honest and use advisories to ‘up-sell’ and increase revenue.
Altogether, last year there were just under 30 million advisory notes. The most were on tyres only just meeting the 1.6mm requirement, with 4 million associated with passes, and another 2.5 million with failures. Slight wear in ball joints accounted for 2.3 million advisories, with just acceptable brake pad/lining wear coming third at just over a million. By and large advisory notes fall into categories:
Degree of wear: This gives the motorist at least a ‘heads up’ if an item has only just passed the MOT standard. It applies to tyre wear, disc pad thickness, wear in steering and suspension joints and so on. In discussion after the MOT the motorist should be given a balanced view as to how long it might be before the item concerned would deteriorate excessively.
Corrosion: This can pose real problems. Sometimes it is difficult to accurately assess corrosion – and just the following week it might be significantly weaker – or somebody might have had a go at it with a screwdriver, or it may be covered with underseal or filler and be difficult to assess. Here, to guard against future issues, the Tester might advise of ‘extensive surface corrosion’, or ‘repair coated in underseal’, or some other caveat providing evidence of the situation ‘on the day’ to refer to in the future.
Inspection difficulties: Plastic covers concealing ‘testable items’, and other problems making it specifically difficult or impossible to inspect an MOTTestable component.
Non-Testable Items: If the car is road tested to check the brakes, there may be a problem with the clutch, or the gearbox or some other component unconnected with the MOT. This has to be worth noting. It might be helpful to confirm the identity of the car at some future stage if that is in doubt (‘ringers’ for example), or to confirm that the defect was extant at the time of road test – just in case the owner suggests that it was perfectly all right before it was MOT Tested. And some owners might be pleased to have the problem noted and be given a tentative diagnosis.
Quirks and foibles: Perhaps the vehicle has a dent in a front wing, or serious surface rust on one door. Such peculiarities, unique to that vehicle are often worth noting as an advisory as it helps properly identify the vehicle if questionable issues arise at a later stage during a DVSA Appeal Inspection.
Future changes and EU regulations
Whilst we are unaware of any plans by the DVSA to formalise or alter the current advisory system in any way, requirements associated with the recently finalised European Union changes to the MOT may well force their hand.
The recently revised MOT EU Directive, which must take effect by 20th May 2017 effectively formalise a specified list of ‘advisories’, and defines ‘dangerous to drive’ defects. It should be noted, however, that these are limited in scope, and only apply to listed ‘Testable items’.
Three levels of MOT failure
The new EU Directive has three different levels of MOT failure; ‘Minor’, ‘Major’, or ‘Dangerous’. ‘Minor’ being the equivalent of our current advisories as a pass is still issued. Not every Testable item in the new Directive has the option of being a ‘Minor’ failure, or, a ‘Dangerous’ defect. For example, issues concerning number plates and vin numbers will always attract a failure and must be addressed before a pass can be issued, but will never result in a vehicle being ‘dangerous to drive’. On the other hand, issues regarding illegible documentation, or clerical inaccuracies are only minor and won’t prevent the issue of a pass certificate.
For some items the failure could be any one of all three – for instance the brake fluid level. If it is below the ‘Min’ mark, but not significantly so, that’s a ‘Minor’ infringement, noted, and a ‘pass’ issued. If, however it is significantly below the ‘Min’ mark, that would be a failure – and if there’s no visible brake fluid, that failure would also be defined as a ‘dangerous’. In the same vein, a missing fluid reservoir cap, or defective fluid level warning light or other fluid level warning device is only a ‘Minor’ failure, akin to a current advisory. It’s going to be a tricky task for DVSA and DfT staff to turn this aspect of the Directive into ‘do this, do that’ provisions in the Testers Manual.
On other advisories, not even raised in the EU Directive, the current situation would remain – but should DVSA put some rules in place for those?
Advisory notes on ‘Testable items’ have largely been addressed by the new EU Directive, providing scope and a starting point for DVSA when incorporating those advisories into the Manual. More trivial advisories pose less of a problem, but on issues concerning potentially dangerous, non-Testable items, some DVSA guidelines would help. There’s also a problem regarding contradictions between ‘Prohibitions’ issued during roadside checks, and the MOT itself. Perhaps formalised Advisory Notes could bridge that gap, especially when such defects endanger road safety – which is, after all, what the MOT Test is all about.
A better future?
The current situation on MOT Advisory Notes is not entirely satisfactory. Used car dealers don’t want to see them accompany their MOT Pass certificates. Some National fast-fit groups strongly encourage customers to have all the advisories fixed. Dealerships’ service and repair departments welcome them as an opportunity to boost income. Testing Stations are keen to use them to provide ‘proof’ that items have indeed been inspected if issues arise during an Appeal Test. And if issued correctly and properly explained, they are to motorists’ advantage, providing a broader insight into their vehicle’s condition – yet cause confusion amongst those motorists who don’t realise the ‘minimum safety level on the day’ underlying principle of the Test.
Advisories just suddenly happened, perhaps it is about time that both the DVSA, the MOT Trade, and the Motor Trade more generally had a really good think about what they are for, what they should achieve, and how they should be used in a future Modernised MOT Scheme.
MOT Workshop Magazine