MOT test changes could make life difficult for diesels

A Volkswagen Passat CC car is tested for its exhaust emissions, at a MOT (Ministry of Transport) testing station in Walthamstow, London, as the software used in Volkswagen's diesel cars to trick emissions testers in the US was also built into its European vehicles, according to Germany's transport minister.

A series of alterations are set to be made to the yearly MOT test from May, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). The tests will now group faults into three new categories, and will alter the requirements made of diesel vehicles – potentially making it more difficult for them to pass.

Defects will now be graded in three categories. 'Minor' faults will take the place of advisories on the current MOT test – small issues which do not prevent a vehicle passing its test, but should be seen to in the future.

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More severe issues will be classed as 'Major' faults, and will cause the vehicle to fail its test. The same is true of 'Dangerous' faults, but the DVSA hopes that by reclassifying more serious issues, drivers would be less likely to drive away from the garage in a car that's potentially not roadworthy.

One example, set out in a draft MOT guide, uses steering to explain the new categories. A leaking steering box would get a Minor fault, but if the oil was leaking so badly as to be dripping, that would constitute a Major defect and the car would fail its MOT.

Meanwhile, if the steering wheel itself was so loose that it could become detached, that would be marked down as a Dangerous failure, and flagged up on the MOT certificate with greater urgency. Guidance would be issued on MOT reports containing Dangerous faults, with the potential penalties highlighted – reminding motorists that regardless of the reason, it's a criminal offence to drive a vehicle in a dangerous condition.

Diesel vehicles will also be more closely regulated under the new regulations. Any vehicle that emits 'visible smoke of any colour' will automatically fail its MOT, for example.

Testers are also being instructed to check whether diesel particulate filters are still in place. Rogue drivers often have these bypassed or removed to improve performance and fuel economy, but they play a vital role in reducing air pollution. Under the new regulations, MOT garages must refuse to test any car where the "DPF canister has clearly been cut open and re-welded", unless the owner can prove this was done for legitimate reasons.

Emissions testing will also get tougher, with limits on exhaust gases lowered for diesel cars.

Neil Barlow, MOT service manager at the DVSA, said: "The changes to the MOT will help ensure that we'll all benefit from cleaner and safer vehicles on our roads."

But RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: "While on the surface this change, which is part of an EU Directive due to come into force in May, seems like a sensible move, we fear many motorists could end up being confused.

"Rather than MOT failures simply being black and white, the new system creates the potential for confusion as testers will have to make a judgement as to whether faults are 'Dangerous', 'Major' or 'Minor'.

"We understand the Government has little choice in the matter, but gut instinct says if the system isn't broken, why mess with it?"

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