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So will an extended EU Roadworthiness Test affect us?

The EU Roadworthiness Test (RWT) proposals have kicked off a big debate with some people fearing it’s the end for classic and custom vehicles and others saying “nothing to worry about”.

For example, here’s what the Lib Dem MEP for the West Midlands Dr Phil Bennion has to say:

“I have had a number of letters from constituents worried by claims that the EU is going to make modifying cars illegal or ban classic cars unless they are totally unchanged from new. These press reports are entirely wrong.

“The UK already has stringent roadworthiness checks in the MoT test but some other EU states do not have an equivalent. The EU Transport Commissioner wants to update basic minimum standards for every EU country as cars and lorries can be driven on each other’s roads.”

In other words, Dr Bennion, who happens to be the Lib Dem transport spokesman in the European Parliament, says it shouldn’t affect GB registered vehicles as our MoT test is already much tougher, but will ensure that foreign vehicles from other EU states which might be driven here meet basic safety standards.

So that’s all right then?

Well, possibly not. It’s true the RWT is not standardised across Europe, but the EU Commission’s grounds for imposing tougher testing cover two major areas.

The first are the disputed claims that technical defects contribute heavily to accidents. The figures claimed are 6% of all car accidents and 8% of all motorcycle accidents are linked to technical defects, and that “recent studies from the UK and Germany” indicate up to 10% of cars at any point in time have a defect that would cause them to fail the safety tests.

The second is that existing EU rules for vehicle checks date back to 1977 and are out of date, as they do not take account of developments such as ABS and electronic stability control, so electronic safety components would be subject to mandatory testing.

From this evidence, they propose that all motorcycles and scooters are drawn into the testing procedure (in some EU countries they are exempt), test frequency for older vehicles and cars and vans with exceptionally high mileage is increased, and that there is an overall improvement of the quality of vehicle tests. Member states will not be able to opt out of the tests once approved but would retain the freedom to set higher standards “if appropriate”.

The “don’t worry” argument seems to be based on the fact that the current UK MoT already operates a higher frequency of testing than that outlined in the proposal. The current UK test period for cars and light commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes is 3-1-1 (ie first test after 3 years, next test after 1 and annually thereafter. The proposed EU minimum is 4-2-1.

To go further, it’s being sold as a positive reassurance to UK motorists “that vehicles from elsewhere in the EU driving on UK roads have undergone stringent and regular roadworthiness tests. Also, motorists travelling on EU roads would be at less risk from road accidents caused by unroadworthy cars.”

However, one of the major areas that’s caused concerns is a statement that says:

“…components of the vehicle must comply with characteristics at the time of first registration…”

At the moment, the existing UK MoT test is a test of mechanical fitness, but this statement shows that the goal of the RWT is not simply to check that the vehicle is roadworthy, but that any safety or environmental components fully comply with that particular vehicle’s original ‘type approval’ that was granted to the manufacturer to enable it to be put on sale in the first place.

Now put it together with this:

“…this may prevent most modifications to vehicles without further approval…”

The devil is in the detail. What does “without further approval” actually mean?

It’s been mostly classic car and bike bods who’ve been up in arms so far, but the ultimate expression of the concept is that all modifications, cosmetic or mechanical, from our bike or car’s original factory spec are basically illegal until proven otherwise, and proving otherwise would require first the manufacturer to get prior approval for the part and then TuV type testing to ensure that approved replacement parts have actually been fitted.

OK, so it might seem that would only be a problem if we own a heavily modded bike, for example with non-standard bodywork, custom wheels and wavy discs, replacement exhaust which ditches the catalyser?

It just means that if we modify our vehicle between MoT tests, we’d be lawfully required to resubmit the vehicle for testing before it is deemed roadworthy again, so if we’ve got a standard road bike and we leave it alone, it wouldn’t be a problem, right?

Wrong. Say we drop the bike and bend the bars, break a mirror, snap a lever and shatter the headlight lens.

Now, you may not have noticed but if you look carefully at your mirrors and headlight, you’ll see they are CE-approved. The CE mark is a manufacturer’s claim that its product meets specified essential safety requirements set out in relevant European directives. As I understand that already means that legally we should already only fit CE-approved parts to replace them.

So we should be able to head off to Honda, Suzuki, BMW et al and buy the original parts and fit them as we’re not modifying the bike, but what if we head off to the local M&P type store, and source some much cheaper aftermarket parts and fit them.

Well, at this point it would seem we have made a modification to the machine which now requires that “further approval” to verify we’re actually using approved parts. It would seem that we’ve effectively invalidated our MOT until our modifications have had the TuV-style approval.

And of course, if we’ve fitted non-approved parts – maybe that brake lever is a non-approved pattern part – then the approval would be withheld.

And don’t forget, this legislation isn’t simply about new bikes and cars. It affects what you and I ride and drive now. Just go round your bike and count up the non-original parts you’ve fitted.

Nothing to worry about? Hmmm.

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