It may seem like a long time ago, but in March 2020, vehicle owners were granted an MOT “holiday”. This was a six month period beginning on the 30th of the month, and designed to allow essential journeys during the initial lockdown, when the majority of the UK’s population was being urged to stay at home. MOT tests themselves were suspended, although the garages which carried them out retained skeleton staffs, who were available to carry out only essential repairs and tests on a small number of vehicles. The holiday period was eventually shortened, but the ramifications of that disruption in the annual testing process are still being felt in 2022; indeed, they are adding to a worsening road safety situation across Britain.
Recorded figures for MOT tests over the time period beginning March 2020 are revealing. Not surprisingly, number for April to May 2020 were low, registering about 1.6 million. The same months in 2021 saw a rise to 3.1 million; however, this still represented a huge drop from 2019’s test number of 5.4 million. For a total fleet of close to 40 million vehicles, this is a relatively healthy figure; 3.1 million tests per year, however, is much less healthy. Unfortunately, experts in the motoring industry are predicting that this low take up is almost certain to persist for much of 2022.
The reason for the 2021 MOT testing shortfall was directly relatable to the 2020 covid holiday. This meant that, in April and May 2021, 2.3 million cars and vans which would originally have been due for an MOT during those months, were not. The “holiday” period in effect extended the life of those vehicles, regardless of whether they were being used or not. Although much of the UK’s road network was indeed emptier than ever before, this did not have a predictable effect on the motoring fleet; indeed, evidence later showed that sitting unused in a garage for months on end has its own damaging effects on motor vehicles.
Of course, a new vehicle is not eligible for its first MOT test until it is three years old. The MOT holiday, however, was applied universally, regardless of age. This meant that a new vehicle less bought after March 2019 automatically had its test expiry date extended, in the same way as much older ones. In this scenario, a car or van which would ordinarily be due for its first MOT check in April to May 2022 can now still be legally roadworthy until August or September. A number of circumstances are combining to make this a very attractive option for an awful lot of these vehicles’ owners.
Industry surveys show that, indeed, the prospect of paying for an MOT is making vehicle owners delay booking a slot, at least until the summer holidays are over. This is perfectly legal in most cases, even though one in ten drivers know that their expiry date has already passed. It seems that motorists would rather face the cost of repairs on top of their £55 MOT test charge than pay it in April or May. This may be due to planned family holidays, and the hope that fuel bills for the late spring to early summer will be less than those they have just received.
One predictable result of these delayed tests is a high demand for tests in late summer to early autumn 2022. This in turn will inevitably lead to a backlog, as smaller garages in particular struggle with the sudden onrush of requests. If, as seems likely, a lot of drivers are also expecting repairs to be necessary, this will mean even more work. In this situation, the biggest, best equipped and staffed test centres are sure to be in a position to take up the slack, and therefore make the biggest profits.
As a lot of rural communities rely on smaller, local test centres, these areas and drivers are likely to face the biggest delays. As large numbers of vehicles will be due for their regular yearly tests from August onwards, this is sure to add to the delays already in the system, plus those caused by delayed appointments. Until the 2020 MOT holiday finally works its way through the UK’s motoring fleet, motorists, testing centres and the British public as a whole will continue to feel its after-effects. With roadworthiness always the top priority, it is to be hoped the cost will not be too high.