Someone else’s MOT failure was applied to my car – now I can’t sell it!

Vehicle technician inspecting car from beneath

There is an increasing number of cases of MOT certificates mistakenly being given to vehicles perhaps hundreds of miles away from the one actually in the MOT Testing bay because of errors made in typing registration details into the MOT computer.

There are many advantages to computerising the MOT system, as happened in the UK several years ago, such as up to date information being available to DVSA regarding the number of cars failing the MOT, and what part of the safety check they are failing on, for example, as well as many other interesting details which some motoring news websites are making available to the public.

This information enables car buyers to see which vehicles are the most reliable in terms of passing their annual safety check, and which ones are likely to fail.  It also allows DVSA, the government agency which oversees the MOT, to look at the statistical information about each MOT Test in any particular Testing Station to be compared to others all over the country.

Prior to MOT computerisation there was no way of really knowing anything about the past MOT history of a vehicle except by physically inspecting historical paper MOT documents, the absence of which was itself no real cause for concern.

Since MOT computerisation, and with it the advent of the ‘Check your vehicle’s MOT’ page on DVSA’s website (link below), any vehicle’s MOT history can now be checked, a big step forward… but wait; this new feature is exposing a flaw in the way data is being entered into the system.

Vehicle not present

One example of how this happens is very straight forward and can be put down to outright fraud; an MOT Tester enters his mate’s car details onto the computer and records and issues a pass. The car doesn’t even need to be at the garage, is never inspected, it gets an MOT pass, good for another year on the road and no-one’s the wiser. There are safeguards against this of course, but nothing a cunning and determined Tester with a busy garage manager whose attention is diverted elsewhere can’t overcome.

It should be noted that this kind of behaviour is very rare, and in a well-run business would be likely to be noticed straight away. But it does happen, and if DVSA catches someone out issuing a certificate to a vehicle which is not present at the Testing Station, the Testing Station can be shut down immediately, and if fraud is proved, criminal convictions can follow.

In contrast, another not so easily detected example of a vehicle being ‘Tested’ while not present, is a simple matter of a typing error!

In this example, the Tester receives the job card related to the car being Tested, and instead of looking at the registration plate of the vehicle, as he’s supposed to, he copies the registration number off the job card straight into the MOT computer. If the number on the job card is correct, all well and good.

If he makes a mistake, however, or if the person who wrote out the job card made a mistake, the vehicle with the registration number which was actually typed in – not the vehicle actually being inspected – can end up with a MOT result recorded against it, (could be a pass or a fail), and the vehicle which is actually in the MOT bay at the time will be driven off by a driver who thinks he or she has a year’s MOT, but hasn’t, or if failed, the vehicle will be repaired and ‘passed’, and the owner will have paid the bill, but still actually have no valid MOT!

For this to occur the Tester will have had to enter the VIN number, which can be obtained from calling up a duplicate copy of last year’s MOT i.e. off the MOT system onto his PC too. Therefore if he’s typed in the wrong registration, he’s also going to end up obtaining, then recording the VIN for the ‘wrong’ vehicle – i.e. a vehicle that’s not physically there with him (awaiting inspection!)

MOT Certificates mistakenly being given is happening frequently enough to be a serious problem; DVSA estimates that incorrect registration plate numbers are being entered onto the MOT Computer up to 5,000 times every year by MOT Testers. The number could be significantly higher than this however, as it’s only if someone notices, as in the example which follows, that the mistake comes to light.

Becoming a serious problem

The first motorists may know about it is when they get stopped by the police, or, in a case recently related to us, when the car owner tried to sell his regularly serviced and well cared for vehicle only to be told by the potential purchaser that he had checked the vehicle’s MOT history online and that not only did his vehicle appear to have recently been failed on several major items, but the mileage was much higher than had been advertised. Needless to say the buyer disappeared, leaving the perplexed owner with both wasted advertising costs and time. He couldn’t work it out – he had used the same garage just down the road (in Lincolnshire) to MOT and service his car every year, and it had a good four months to run on the MOT, yet it appeared that a garage in Liverpool had ‘failed’ it a few weeks ago!

How could this happen? A simple case of an incorrect registration number and VIN being typed in during the MOT by an MOT Testing garage in Liverpool.

A single digit difference can very often occur when batches of similar vehicles are all registered at the same time and may even be similar in colour as well as make and model. So a single digit mistake, in this case, on a vehicle in Liverpool can easily be the correct registration number for a very similar vehicle in Lincolnshire. The MOT computer accepts whatever registration number is put into it – it has no mechanism for detecting this type of error if a Tester incorrectly confirms the entered information is a ‘vehicle match’.   

So what’s the remedy?

While DVSA are aware of this problem, and are trying to ‘encourage’ Testing Stations to take more care with entering information onto the MOT Computer by coming down heavily on them with penalties when it comes to light, this shouldn’t be happening at all.

A simple system of scanning vehicle registration plates (as exists all over the country on major roads, via the ANPR scheme) before carrying out an MOT would stop this happening completely.

However, this improvement to the MOT is unlikely to be implemented in the near future.

So Testing Stations and motorists alike have to make do with a human-error -prone system, and until the system is improved, Testing Stations must be very careful when entering registration plate numbers.

At time of writing, DVSA have recently discontinued the facility of being able to obtain a VIN from a duplicate certificate, so it should go a long way to redressing this current problem.  (Mistakes made in the previous few years however, can and will still rear their ugly heads in the next 12/24 months i.e. as motorists start selling their vehicles on).    

As a car driver, you would be well advised to double check your paper MOT certificate – is that your car’s registration number on it, or is it someone else’s?

MOT Test changes May 2018 - new Pass certificate
This is a sample certificate, clearly showing the registration number, make and model, and vehicle mileage. Make sure your paper copy has the correct details before leaving the MOT garage – it could save you a lot of time and inconvenience.

If you want to put your mind at rest, your vehicle’s MOT status can very easily be checked on the DVSA website There is a facility to see both the current MOT status and an MOT ‘history’ – all recorded MOTs for that vehicle on the system.

As the system is at the moment, with around 28 million MOTs being carried out a year, mistakes are bound to happen – so what can be done once a problem has been discovered?

What should the garage do?

From the garage’s point of view, the first they are likely to know about it is when the customer points out the mistake or they receive a phone call from an irate customer i.e. he’s been stopped by the police and the MOT he paid for isn’t showing on police records, so he’s been driving around without an MOT, and perhaps therefor without insurance!

DVSA’s advice to the garage: “Let us know straight away – do not write out another MOT certificate with the correct registration number on it” – you will have just repeated the same offence, giving an MOT to a vehicle not present.  

DVSA will cancel the wrong MOT and put everything right on the system. If the garage has brought the matter to their attention, especially if the vehicle hasn’t left the premises, and they are happy that it was a simple error, they would not normally apply any disciplinary sanction. However if the motorist brings it to DVSA’s attention, then the garage will receive formal disciplinary proceedings, as in their mind the Tester has clearly been negligent in his procedures, as too has the garage’s management system, as DVSA expect internal audits against invoices etc to spot such mistakes.    

What should the motorist do?

What can you do if you find yourself without an MOT, or, almost as bad, but not actually illegal, as long as your real MOT is still valid, with an MOT for another vehicle or a VT30 failure which indicates several defects and advisories, when your vehicle may have always been kept in immaculate condition?

Should you contact your own MOT Testing Station or the one which issued the wrong certificate (assuming that they are not the same)? Or should you contact DVSA?

Here’s what the DVSA web page says:

Add or remove test records

If there’s an MOT test missing from your vehicle’s MOT history, or a test that does not belong there, email or call DVSA to have it corrected.

You’ll need to give your:

  • name
  • telephone number
  • vehicle number plate
  • vehicle make and model
  • date of the MOT
  • MOT test number (if you know it)
  • MOT test centre name and address

DVSA will wipe the erroneous MOT from your vehicle’s history.

DVSA’s contact details:

DVSA customer service centre
Telephone: 0300 123 9000
Monday to Friday, 7:30am to 6pm”

Finally, advice to all drivers who are collecting their car from the MOT Testing Station after its annual MOT check: for all the inconvenience this issue can cause to both vehicle owner and MOT business, it’s worth making a quick check of the registration number on your MOT pass or fail before leaving the garage, to make sure the MOT document relates to your vehicle. If anything’s amiss, let the garage owner know; they can then make a phone call to DVSA, who can solve the problems there and then. i.e. remove incorrect Test record from the system/database and arrange for the MOT Tester to input the right details.

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