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Changes ahead for UK motorists on forecourts & at MOT centres

What changes on the forecourt will mean for UK drivers

While the UK government deals with domestic and foreign policy, the workings of the European Union continue in the background to the extent that directives that were approved some time ago (and largely forgotten about) come to the fore. One such directive, EU 96/63/EC, passed in 2009 will cost UK filling stations in the region of £80 million, as the type of pump dispensers is changed to the prescribed type. The directive, like many others, sets time limits within which it must become part of the member state's laws and the deadline is January 2012.

The directive is motivated by a desire to improve air quality by reducing the amount of petrol vapour that escapes into the atmosphere when cars are refueled at filling stations. This happens because petrol contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate and fill the space above the liquid petrol - this is displaced when fuel is added to the tank. Vapour recovery equipment is required to control harmful VOC laden vapours containing substances such as benzene and ground level ozone - both are pollutants that are detrimental to health and the environment.

AVR equipped dispenser nozzle: note the circular holes for recovering the vapour

Existing larger filling stations, as defined by the directive as selling in excess of 3000 cubic metres of petrol annually, are required to install Vapour Recovery equipment with a recovery efficieny rating of 85% (as are stations with housing close by) but smaller, rural stations will be exempt. New stations, however, will be subject to even tougher limits.

The directive has provision for testing on an annual basis to ensure compliance.

The overall impact for petrol stations is that existing pump dispensers will need to be modified. The most commonly employed solution relies upon a method is known as active vapour recovery (AVR) that may include a vacuum pump within the dispenser apparatus that sucks and recovers displaced fumes through slots cut into the pump nozzle and back into the underground tank via a return hose within the main delivery pipe. On the basis that the profit margins involved in the bulk sale of road fuel in the UK are meagre at best, it seems likely that the installation costs incurred will be passed on to the motorist.

Do plans to make changes to the MOT test make sense?
The author looks at the changing face of MOT tests in the UK

In the UK today, annual safety examinations are mandatory on light vans and cars over the age of 3 years old.  Testing centres are under the jurisdiction of the government’s Vehicle Operator Standards Agency (VOSA) but whereas most people still refer to the annual test as ‘the MOT’ the Ministry of Transport was superceded by the Department for Transport some time ago.

The frequency, scope, nature and cost of the annual test has changed considerably since the tests were first introduced in 1960. In the last fifty years, of course, vehicles have evolved considerably due to advances in vehicle technology and safety. Cars of the 1950's and 60s would often have drum brakes, cross ply tyres, carburetors, kingpins and distributors with points - a far cry from today's ventilated anti-lock disc brake setups or engine management systems with multi-point fuel injection with complimentary emission controls and catalytic converters.

In the same time, safety items like seat belts and airbags have become commonplace but gradually the size and type of vehicle population covered by the annual test has changed. When the tests were first introduced, not only were most cars and light vans petrol engined but cars were generally 2 or 4 door saloons - estates (shooting brakes) were relatively rare and the hatchback or Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) concept had not been conceived.

As long ago as April 2011, the government noted that vehicle technology has changed since the test was first introduced and that it was considering three proposals to alter the frequency of tests and the time interval that would elapse between them (for vehicles under 10 years old) together with the date at which vehicles first require testing (currently 3 years). Apparently, the planned revisions are aimed at reducing the burden of cost imposed upon the motorist by rising insurance and fuel costs.

In reviewing the current MOT arrangements,3 main proposals are under consideration. The first simply involves changing the age of liability (the age at which a vehicle first needs testing) from 3 years to 4. The second proposal involves an MOT test when the vehicle reaches 4 years old then another 2 years later, then annual tests thereafter while the last proposal suggests an MOT at age 4 years, then another 2 (at 2 year intervals) followed by annual testing. The second proposal seems to be the one most likely to be adopted.

Motoring organisations, car clubs and garages have voiced opposition. While it is true that vehicle technology has improved over the years, owners can adopt a wayward attitude to safety and only have their vehicles serviced just prior to MOT time. The author has owned a good few SAABs that have covered over 50,000 miles in their first year and this (in extreme cases) could mean that a vehicle -in theory- could cover almost a quarter of a million miles (in 4 years) without ever being checked by an MOT testing station. This raises fears for the safety of other road users and the public at large but reducing the frequency of MOT tests would necessarily threaten the livelihoods of smaller garage workshops who depend not only upon the test fees but also revenue from effecting repairs to make failed vehicles roadworthy.

The author isn't impressed by government reasoning in general but when it comes to these specific proposals to alter the frequency and indeed number of MOT tests, the logic that the move will help the cash-strapped motorist simply doesn't work. Those fortunate enough to be able to run and finance new cars or cars up to 4 years old will benefit but owners of older cars, perhaps on limited means will be no better off.

Although garages that carry out the test would suffer from an alteration in the frequency of tests, it could also be argued that motorists would also be worse off because owners who only carry out maintenance at MOT time might simply not bother, leading to far more work to do the following year. Worse still, there is real risk that the number of dangerous vehicles on our roads will increase - the exact opposite of the MOT test's raison d'être. Compared to MOT tests in other EU member states, our tests in the UK are not especially tough and the author believes that the changes are both unwise and unwarranted.






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