A guide to the 40 year old MOT exemption

In September 2017 The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that classic cars more than 40 years old would be exempt from MOT testing from May 2018. This news arrived with a whimper rather than a bang and we have found many of our clients are still unaware of the change.

What do classic car owners need to know about what’s changed?
Most obviously it means that any car that reaches 40 years old will be MOT exempt. This is a big increase in the number of vehicles on our roads that will not need to be tested. Up until May 2018, when the new rules came into force, a total of 197,000 cars were exempt. From May 2018, the new rules meant a further 293,000 classic cars were free of the yearly test. Now year on year this figure grows.

Why the change?
The DfT consulted 2217 people and organisations about the proposal and concluded that classic cars are “usually maintained in good condition and used on few occasions” and therefore the MOT requirement was unnecessary. In their consultations and research the DfT also found a substantially lower rate of failure for classic cars than the national average and felt that any safety concerns were covered by the option to carry out a voluntary MOT.

Is this a change for the good?
We would agree that most of the classic cars we see are very well maintained by their owners, who often know far more about their cars than an MOT tester might.

One small area of concern we had in the past was in the knowledge of MOT testers about classic car performance. In our experience the quality of the testing was inconsistent and deep knowledge of classic cars was often lacking. Classics do not perform like modern cars and the younger MOT testers are not always aware of the differences. A good example is braking – a slightly squashy brake pedal is what many classics left the factory with all those years ago! More seasoned MOT testers give a little leeway on things a less experienced tester might find fault with.
But we do have one major concern – because of the recent a change in how restored classic cars can be registered in the UK. The DVLA no longer carry out physical safety assessments on restored cars. Instead it is down to the owner to declare what work has been carried out. This raises a possibility of someone completely rebuilding a car but stating that a vehicle was only lightly restored. The MOT was an important safety net to catch these types of restored cars and with it removed, there is a real danger that a poorly rebuilt vehicle could be on the road completely untested.

So, our advice to potential purchasers of recently exempted classic vehicles is to have them inspected by a professional restorer familiar with the vehicle before a purchase. For current owners of classic vehicles that are now exempted we would suggest that a yearly safety check by a restoration company or the voluntary MOT test are a minimum requirement.

We will leave the last words to the DfT who wish to remind classic cars owners that whilst some may be free of the yearly MOT, all car owners still have responsibilities:

“The option for owners to submit their vehicles to a voluntary MOT test will remain and they will still, like all vehicle owners, need to ensure that they meet the legal requirement of keeping their vehicle in a roadworthy condition at all times.”