MOT garages pass nearly one in seven vehicles that should fail annual safety test

This is the latest report in a series of weekly updates for industry colleagues from Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car? and Haymarket Automotive. Quoted poll data is from more than 1400 whatcar.com users.

This week’s Insights is centred on the UK’s MOT standards, following an exclusive What Car? investigation which found that nearly one in seven vehicles passed by MOT testers should fail their annual roadworthiness test.

Analysis of the Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency’s (DVSA’s) MOT Compliance Survey (2019 – 2020) found 13.58% of vehicles that passed their MOT should have failed, with MOT testers missing potentially dangerous defects on vehicles*. This equates to more than 2.9 million vehicles on UK roads that should have had an MOT fail, according to the latest available MOT statistics**.

For the 2019-2020 MOT Compliance Survey, a team of DVSA expert vehicle examiners retested a randomly selected sample of 1671 vehicles that had undergone MOT tests at test stations across the UK. The aim of the study is to understand whether correct testing standards are being applied by the industry and the DVSA disagreed with the test outcomes in 16.82% of cases, with 3.23% of failures deemed to be worthy of a pass certificate.

In 70.1% of cases, the DVSA found at least one defect that the MOT test station missed or had incorrectly recorded, and in 56.5% of vehicles DVSA experts disagreed with three or more defects. Worryingly, safety critical features such as the brakes and suspension were subject to the biggest discrepancies between the DVSA and MOT testers. Brakes had the highest number of misidentified defects, at 17.74%, followed by the suspension (14.56%), tyres (13.22%), and lights, reflectors and electrical equipment (11.51%).

Following its investigation, the DVSA issued 24 disciplinary action recordings and 179 advisory warning letters to the vehicle test sites it visited. Between them, they were responsible for 12.1% of all vehicles re-tested by the Government agency.

We also surveyed 1425 used car buyers as part of our investigation, and 11.9% told us that they knew of a local garage that has a reputation for passing cars for their MOT. For 76.8% of buyers, a prospective car’s MOT record was either ‘very important’ or ‘important’ when deciding on whether to buy.

The investigation has shown the significant disparities between the DVSA’s own testing standards and those upheld by some in the industry. This not only poses a safety concern, with potentially hazardous vehicles allowed to remain on the road, but also complicates matters for the millions of used buyers who often rely on a vehicle’s MOT certificate as an indicator of a car’s safety and reliability.

*MOT Compliance Survey 2019 – 2020 was obtained under a Freedom of Information request, with the survey restricted to the re-examination of Class 4 vehicles only (cars and vans under 3,500kg).

**According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards agency, in 2018 – 2019 a total of 29,560,831 Class 3 & 4 MOT tests were conducted, of which 7,731,619 failed. This means