ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- One of the responsibilities of anyone who wants to drive in England is to have a current Ministry of Transport inspection on all operating vehicles.
This responsibility applies to British citizens, as well as U.S. military personnel, Department of Defense civilians and their family members, and is a legal requirement to ensure that vehicles meet the minimum standrads to operate safely on British roads.
MOT inspections are conducted by British MOT specialists, whose only job is to inspect motor vehicles.
"It is not our job to fix the cars, only to inspect them," said Mike Shearing, the MOT inspector at the Lakenheath Auto Hobby Shop. "The public thinks we are out to scam them and that's not the case. We are not paid based on passes or failures, and it actually works out better for us if cars pass," he said, adding that it means fewer inspections that need to be re-accomplished.
According to MOT officials on various Web sites, failure to comply with MOT regulations mean that vehicles are not approved to safely operate on British roads and invalidates a vehicle's road tax and insurance. Consequently, if a driver is caught by the British police without a valid MOT certificate they will be fined.
"We see expired MOT's a lot," said Mr. Mack McDonald, a professional mechanic at the Lakenheath Auto Hobby Shop.
Mr. Shearing jumped in adding that, most motorists don't know the British police have automatic number plate recognition cameras in place on the roads and are constantly scanning the license plates of passing vehicles for discrepancies such as expired MOT and road tax alerts.
And according to various Web articles on MOT inspections, negligence can be very costly and the penalty for not having a valid MOT certificate can be anywhere between £60 and £30,000 and one year in prison. Furthermore, offending drivers who are involved in a traffic accident could incur the entire cost of damages to all vehicles involved if found at fault.
Mr. McDonald offered one reason some people find themselves with invalid MOTs.
"There is a common misconception about when to have an MOT inspection," he said. "Most drivers opt to have an MOT inspection when their road tax expires. However, if you did not purchase your road tax at the same time you had your MOT inspection done, then they are due at different times."
Even with this oversight, both Mr. McDonald and Mr. Shearing expressed that there is really no good reason for not having a valid MOT and explained that the process is fairly simple.
To schedule an MOT inspection, you would just need to make an appointment at the base auto hobby shop or a local MOT inspection point. On the day of your inspection, you should arrive at the appointed time with you V5, which is your ownership documentation, money (they typically cost between £30 and £50), and your vehicle, of course. Once your vehicle is inspected, you will be given paperwork indicating a pass or fail. If your vehicle fails, the paperwork will indicate why so that you can see a mechanic and have the necessary repairs.
Personnel there say an added benefit to using the base auto hobby shop is that if your vehicle fails, you will have 10 working days to make the necessary repairs and have your vehicle inspected again free of charge, as long as your return with your failure certificate.
In further validation of his point that it is better for the MOT inspectors that drivers pass their inspections, Mr. Shearing offered some helpful information regarding common failures and tips to help drivers prepare for them.
"Some of the most common and preventable causes for MOT failures are lights and tires," he said. "Dead lights account for 35 percent of failure rates, and tires make up another 11 percent. In addition, failing to have your lights converted prior to inspection is an automatic failure."
He went on to say that regularly checking your lights and tires for wear and tear can prevent failure and ensure safety to you and others.
British standards for safe tires are 1.6 millimeters of tread depth, which can be easily measured using an inexpensive tire depth gage purchased at any local car store.
"Another quick and convenient way you can test your tires is to place a U.S. penny inside the tread of your tire," he said. "If only half of Abraham Lincoln's head is visible, you have good tires; however, if you can see the head clearly, it is time for new tires."
Lorraine Peat, the assistant MOT inspector at the auto hobby shop, chimed in on this important point.
"People fail to realize it's only three inches of rubber that separate you from the road and that's it," she said. "It doesn't matter how good your brake pads are or how good your steering is; if your tires can't grip the road, nothing else matters."
While tires are very important and were emphasized by the personnel at the shop, they said secondary causes of MOT failures include cracked windshields, faulty windshield wipers, rust, holes in exhaust pipes, and items that obstruct the driver's view, such as beads, air fresheners, and satellite navigation systems.
"Anything that severely obstructs a driver's view of the road is an automatic danger and cause for failure," said Mr. Shearing.
For more information or to schedule an inspection, contact the Lakenheath Auto Hobby Shop at 226-2454.