Northern Ireland

MOT backlog in NI - your questions answered

Mechanic working on engine Image copyright Getty Images

Northern Irelands's motorists have been facing weeks of delays in arranging a vehicle test.

Some drivers have found themselves unable to secure an appointment until after their MOTs expired.

Last month, the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) announced that it would open some test centres on Sundays in a bid to tackle the backlog.

It also emerged that more than 2,000 motorists failed to turn up for their MOT appointments in June.

Here are the answers to some of the questions you've sent in.

If drivers missed their test and failed to book another, could they get their car taxed?

No, a car cannot be taxed without a valid MOT certificate. But all of the drivers who cancelled have the opportunity to book a new test.

Image caption MOT tests in Northern Ireland are carried out in government-run tests centres

Why are there so many differences between MOTs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK?

Many of you got in touch to ask about various differences between MOT testing in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The most simple answer is the tests have always been run separately. Currently tests in Northern Ireland are overseen by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

In the rest of the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVSA) is responsible.

One of the main differences is that, in Northern Ireland, tests are only run in state-operated centres, whereas in Great Britain any authorised private garage can carry them out.

Other differences include the age at which a car must start being tested (three years in Great Britain, four in Northern Ireland) and the age at which they become designated as an exempt classic car (40 years in Great Britain, if they are registered before 1 January 1960 in Northern Ireland).

Simply put, the testing regimes are separate and have come up with different regulations for different reasons.

Were the motorists who did not turn up for tests still charged for the missed appointment?

Yes. In Northern Ireland tests must be paid for in advance, so if a booking is missed there is no refund, although no extra fine is levied. Motorists who cancel in advance get their money back.

Can you get an MOT done in an approved private garage in Great Britain if your car is registered in Northern Ireland?

Yes, an official MOT vehicle test certificate issued within the UK is valid in Northern Ireland.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In Northern Ireland four-year-old cars are due for their first test

Am I breaking the law if I drive without a valid MOT certificate?

The government says that it is "generally an offence" to drive without an MOT certificate except in three circumstances:

  • You are driving it to the test centre for a test you have already booked
  • It fails its MOT test and you are driving it away from the test centre to somewhere it can be fixed
  • It fails its MOT and you are driving it to or from a place where you had arranged for it to be fixed

But be warned, even in these circumstances you could be prosecuted for driving a vehicle that is not deemed roadworthy if it doesn't meet various regulations requiring its construction and use.

Will my car insurance still cover me if I do not have a current MOT certificate?

The Association of British Insurers advises: "It is a legal requirement of the Road Traffic Act that, where required, you have a valid MOT for your vehicle. Driving without one means you are breaking the law. In such circumstances, your motor insurance may well be invalid as well."

Some policies may still cover you but it is safe to assume that the policy will be invalid. If in any doubt you should contact your insurer.

I have booked an MOT, but the first available date was a few days after my current certificate expires. Is it legal for me to drive?

The PSNI said it has been in discussions with the Department for Infrastructure (DFI) since early June about the implications for drivers who find themselves in this situation, but did not not say what the outcome of those discussions was.

Insp Rosie Leech told BBC News NI: "The authority to apply exemptions rests with DFI and PSNI would encourage anyone receiving their MOT reminder letter to act upon it immediately.

"If you didn't get a letter, make sure your vehicle is properly registered with DVLA in order to benefit from the automatic prompt to book your test and tax your vehicle.

"It is an offence to fail to properly register your vehicle."

Why is the flat rate for a test in NI £30.50 but the maximum charge in GB £54.85?

Because tests are only performed at state-run centres in Northern Ireland, there is a flat rate. The £54.85 figure is a maximum, to stop private garages in Great Britain charging whatever they like. Many garages charge much less than this.

How far in advance can I apply for an MOT appointment?

You can book a test three months in advance.

Why is the diesel emissions test not carried out on cars in Northern Ireland?

In September 2018, the BBC NI's Spotlight programme reported that emissions tests had not been carried out on diesel cars during MOT tests for 12 years.

Both EU and Northern Ireland domestic law requires the government to do an emissions test on diesels at MOT using a machine called a smoke meter.

The Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) said its staff did a "visual test" and made a "personal judgement" about emissions.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption DVA staff do a "visual test" of diesel emissions

The Department of Infrastructure said the tests were suspended "because of the potential risk to health and safety of staff and customers".

It added that "resuming the tests requires significant investment" to modify test centres and that a "modernisation project" at Belfast's test centre, due to be completed in late 2021, will allow the emissions tests to be conducted.

"Work planned for other test centres requires substantial additional funding which was not approved before the collapse of the assembly in January 2017, and will therefore be subject to the approval of a future minister for infrastructure," it said.

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