Eight in 10 car owners choose peace of mind over £45 MOT money saving as industry urges government to keep first test at three years

21 April 2017 #SMMT News
  • 83% of UK car owners say typical £45 MOT test fee is worth the peace of mind that their car is safe, roadworthy and legal, finds new research.
  • 76% of car owners back automotive industry’s call for government to abandon plans to delay the first MOT for cars by a year.
  • 89% of car owners unlikely to buy a used car over three years old without a valid MOT certificate.

British motorists have put their support firmly behind keeping the first MOT test for cars at three years, according to the results of new research published by SMMT. In a YouGov survey, when told about government plans to change the date of a car’s first MOT, more than three quarters (76%) of car owners said the test should continue to take place when the vehicle is three years old.

Currently, all cars in the UK must undergo an MOT test when they reach three years old, and then annually thereafter, but government is proposing to delay the date of the first test for 12 months to when the car is four years old. It argues this would save motorists £100 million a year, or £45 over the vehicle’s lifetime.1 However, 83% of car owners showed resistance to the idea, saying that £45 – the typical MOT test fee2 – is worth the peace of mind that their car is safe, roadworthy and legal.

More than two thirds (68%) also expressed concern that delaying the car’s first MOT could put themselves and other road users in danger and the industry shares this concern. In its consultation, government suggests that new technology in cars such as tyre pressure monitoring systems, lane departure warning or wet weather tyre performance, is making cars safer. However, while such systems may help prevent or mitigate accidents, they do not change the fundamental underlying operation of wear and tear products such as tyres and brakes, which continue to require regular checks and maintenance.

17% of all cars taking their first MOT at three years do not meet minimum safety requirements. Postponing the first MOT for a further 12 months could, therefore, result in almost half a million more cars in unfit condition driving freely and unchecked on UK roads.3

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

The MOT is an essential check on the safety and roadworthiness of vehicles. Extending the first test for cars from three to four years is not what consumers or industry want given the serious risk posed to road safety and vehicles’ environmental performance. The latest vehicles are equipped with advanced safety systems but it is still critical that wear and tear items such as tyres and brakes are checked regularly and replaced. We urge government to scrap its plans to change a test system that has played a vital role in making the UK’s roads among the safest in the world.

The most common reasons for three-year-old cars failing the test include essential lights and indicators, tyres, brakes and suspension, and the MOT is a critical intervention that ensures worn components are replaced before the car is allowed back onto the road.4 A recent tyre industry investigation found that more than a quarter (27.3%) of car tyres checked were below the legal minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. In addition, 70.4% of the tyres examined were worn below the recommended 2mm minimum and would be unlikely to last another year before reaching the legal minimum through typical use.5 Car tyres should be checked at least once a month, however, more than half (56%) of car owners responding to SMMT’s survey said they didn’t examine their tyres as frequently, with one in five (18%) checking them just once a year or less, or not at all.

The automotive industry believes safety should come ahead of deregulation, cost saving or convenience, and in fact, it wants the test to go further. It is calling for additional checks such as allowing diesel particulate filters to be properly tested; introducing vehicle safety recall checks to remind motorists of outstanding recall work and ensure it is carried out; tightening the check on mileage to aid the fight against clocking; and ensuring the test and testing stations are sufficiently equipped for checking emerging technologies such as automated safety systems.

This isn’t the first time government has proposed changing the frequency of the test. Similar consultations were issued in 2008 and 2011. In 2008, Department for Transport data, prepared for the then consultation, estimated that up to 71 additional road deaths could result from moving the first test from year three to year four.6 This would undermine the hard work and investment that has gone into reducing road accidents in the UK, which have fallen 77% since 1970.7 This is tremendous progress, partly due to investment in ever more advanced vehicle technology, partly due to tougher driving regulations and stricter enforcement, and partly due to the MOT test.


  1. DfT consultation, January 2017: MOT – Extending the date of the first MOT test from three years to four years.
  2. The maximum MOT test fee for a car in the UK is £54.85. However, authorised test stations often charge much less than this. In its consultation, DfT bases its calculations on a typical fee of £45.
  3. Calculation based on DVSA data published in the DfT’s MOT consultation (above), and SMMT new car registrations data 2014.
  4. Top 5 reasons for initial failure of Class 4 vehicles around age three, tested in 2015: Lamps, reflectors and electrical equipment (143,413); Tyres (85,720), Driver’s view of the road (73,883), Brakes (47,138), Suspension (24,628) – DVSA data published in DfT’s MOT consultation (see above)
  5. UK-wide survey of 340,000 tyres conducted by TyreSafe in partnership with Highways England in 2016
  6. Department for Transport MOT Scheme Evidence Base, December 2008
  7. Reported road casualties in Great Britain, 2015


The full results of the survey

To what extent do you agree that the typical £45 cost of an MOT (according to the DfT) is worth the peace of mind that the car is safe, roadworthy and legal?

Strongly agree: 39.7%
Tend to agree: 43.6%
Tend to disagree: 10.6%
Strongly disagree: 3.8%
Don’t know: 2.3%

How often, if at all, do you or someone else responsible for your car personally check tyre condition and tread depth?

At least once a week: 11%
At least once a month: 27.7%
At least once every three months: 22.4%
At least once every six months: 14.9%
Once a year (not including the annual MOT): 11%
Less often than once a year: 3.3%
Never: 3.9%
Don’t know/ can’t recall: 5.7%

How likely, if at all, would you be to consider purchasing a car over three years old that did not have a valid MOT certificate at the time of purchase?

Very likely: 2.1%
Fairly likely: 4.7%
Not very likely: 19.3%
Not at all likely: 69.7%
Don’t know: 4.2%

In the UK, passenger cars must undergo a safety check called the MOT test to make sure they meet road safety and environmental requirements. Currently, a car is first tested when it is three years old and annually thereafter. The Government is suggesting that new technology in modern cars means they don’t need to have their first test until they are four years old, and, to save motorists a one-off payment of the fee (typically £45), it is considering extending the time before a car’s first MOT test to four years. However, new technology has not changed the fundamental way in which safety critical components such as tyres and brakes operate. Brakes and tyres will always wear through normal everyday use due to the high levels of friction they rely on to work, and regular checks are therefore essential. Around 1 in 5 (17%) passenger cars fail their first MOT at three years old (according to the Department for Transport) and some of the most common items to fail are critical wear and tear safety components such as brakes and tyres.

To what extent do you agree with extending the length of time before a car has to go for its first MOT will put drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road uses in danger?

Strongly agree: 25.9%
Tend to agree: 42.2%
Tend to disagree: 18.6%
Strongly disagree: 7%
Don’t know: 6.3%

To what extent do you agree that a car’s first MOT should continue to take place when it is three years old?

Strongly agree: 41.8%
Tend to agree: 34.7%
Tend to disagree: 13.7%
Strongly disagree: 4.8%
Don’t know: 5%

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,036 adults, including 1,266 vehicle owners/ registered keepers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22-23 March 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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