MOT test garages pass one in seven cars that should fail

Exclusive What Car? investigation reveals that 13.58% of cars that passed their MOT test should have failed, many with brake and suspension issues...

MOT compliance

Thousands of potentially dangerous vehicles that should have failed the MOT last year were allowed back on the road because some garages did not uphold government testing standards, a What Car? investigation has revealed. 

We made a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of the MOT Compliance Survey (2019-2020) compiled by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Our analysis of it showed that nearly one in seven vehicles (13.58%) that passed the MOT should have failed, with testers missing potentially dangerous defects on some vehicles.

When that percentage is extrapolated across the UK's car fleet, it equates to more than 2.9 million vehicles that should have been fixed and retested before being allowed back on the road.

For the 2019-2020 MOT Compliance Survey, a team of DVSA expert vehicle examiners retested a randomly selected sample 1671 vehicles that had already been examined at test stations across the country.

MOT garage sign

The aim of the annual study is to understand whether correct testing standards are being applied by the industry. The DVSA disagreed with the test outcomes in 16.82% of cases, with 3.23% of failures deemed worthy of a pass certificate.

In 70.1% of cases, the DVSA found at least one defect that the MOT test station had missed or incorrectly recorded. It also disagreed with three or more defects identified in 56.48% of vehicles.

Worryingly, safety critical features such as the brakes and suspension were subject to the biggest discrepancy between the DVSA and MOT testers' verdicts. Brakes had the highest number of wrongly assessed defects (17.74%), followed by the suspension (14.56%), tyres (13.22%), and lights, reflectors and electrical equipment (11.51%).  

What Car? also surveyed 1425 used car buyers as part of our investigation, and 11.9% of them said they knew of a local garage with a reputation for giving MOT passes to cars that should be failed. For 76.8% of buyers, a car’s MOT record was either ‘very important’ or ‘important’ when deciding whether to buy it.

MOT compliance

Based on the findings of the survey, our advice to consumers is to let the DVSA know if they think a garage is being too lenient and letting faulty cars pass the MOT test. It's also important to bear in mind that an MOT test is not an automatic guarantee that a car is safe. The DVSA's research shows that issues with important components can be occasionally overlooked, so if you think your car has a fault even though it's passed its MoT test, do get it checked out.  

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

Chris Price, the DVSA’s Head of MOT Policy, said: “We carry out the MOT Compliance Survey to maintain MOT standards. The survey targets a random selection of vehicles and is designed to identify problems with MOT testing in order that we can put them right. The public can play their part in maintaining high MOT standards by reporting any concerns to us on gov.uk.”

Most common areas where DVSA disagreed with MOT test station 

Defect category % of incorrectly noted defects
Brakes 17.74%
Suspension 14.56%
Tyres 13.22%
Lights, reflectors and electrics 11.51%
Visibility 3.72%
Noise, emissions and leaks 3.63%
Body, chassis, structure 3.50%
Steering 2.01%
Vehicle identification 1.13%
Seatbelts and restraints 1.08%

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Read more: The 50 best used cars for passing the MOT test >>