MOT exemptions – what does this mean?

What follows is a summary of the current (as of January 2018) documentation from the DVLA and other sources. The opinions are the author’s own, and should be used as the basis of a decision one way or the other to apply for or expect MOT exemption, especially if the car has been ‘modified’ from the original specification at the time of manufacture.

With production of the Fiat 500R ending in 1975, it’s now been over 42 years since a Fiat 500 of any sort rolled off the production line. From 20th May 2018, this means all Fiat 500 cars, vans and estates etc… are exempt from the annual MOT test, as from that date, and any vehicle over 40 years old can be exempted. This is quite a significant change as previously, whilst the 40 year rule applied to vehicle excise duty exemption, only vehicles made before 1960 could be exempted from the MOT, which at the time of the Government consultation amounted to 197,000 vehicles. With research at Transport Research Laboratory indicating that fewer than 3% of vehicle road casualties (in 2011) were caused by vehicle defects, the Government felt it was time for a change.

The Government consultation received 899 notices of public support for their proposal to exempt all cars over 40 years old on a rolling basis from the annual MOT, and what was interesting was that more people (1,130) were against it – mainly on the grounds of safety. The backdrop to the change however was probably that an increasing number of older cars would be unable to be tested by modern MOT stations. They didn’t have catalysts, and whilst an increasing number might have ABS, electronic devices and fuel injection, the items in the MOT test not applicable to the older car was getting longer and longer. The consultation also contended that such cars tended to be maintained in good condition, and were used infrequently and for shorter trips. It also, as mentioned above, harmonised vehicle excise duty exemption with the MOT exemption date on a 40 year rolling basis.

But, in terms of the exemption, it is ‘can’ rather than ‘will’ because there are certain rules DVLA put in place with this change. There are two main requirements, (i) the vehicle needs to be of ‘historic interest’ (VHI), and (ii) must not have been substantially changed.

What is a Vehicle of Historic Interest (VHI)?

Vehicles of historic interest, such as a Fiat 500, or derivative, are defined to have been manufactured over 40 years ago (on a rolling basis) and which have not been substantially modified in the past 30 years. Also, it must not still be in production – obviously, the ‘new’ Fiat 500 is not considered to be the same car(!). Owning such a vehicle still allows you to get the car MOT’d, you can still do so where stations accept older vehicles. The VHI status of such vehicles is undertaken by the owner via self-certification, usually at the time of renewing the vehicle excise duty (even if that is zero). It is not clear, but worth noting for the future, that just because a previous owner self-certified a vehicle as being VHI, does not mean that status continues when you buy it – it is up to the purchaser to ensure any modifications as within the exemptions for ‘substantially changed’ (see below), and that proof of when any modifications were done in period or at least 30 years ago are present and handed over with the vehicle.

When is a vehicle ‘substantially changed’ or modified?

Vehicles that have been substantially changed or modified since 1988 (or 30 years on a rolling basis) would not be exempted from the MOT, the onus would be on the owner to ‘self-certify’ this. It is really important to note that it is also possible such a vehicle might require re-registration, which would be a separate process (i.e. it might get a ‘Q’ plate). By the way, all ‘Q’ plate vehicles must have an MOT, they are never exempted.

It is worth noting that just because your vehicle is tax exempt doesn’t mean you will be automatically exempt from the MOT at the next test date. You will have to certify at the time of VED licence renewal that your car is exempt from the MOT, and self-certify about the ‘substantial change’ part mentioned above. Note that the advisory documents (see a link to all documents at the bottom of this article) state ‘If a vehicle keeper cannot determine that the vehicle has not been substantially changed, they should not claim an exemption from the MOT test.”

The “substantially changed” criteria is based on the main components of the vehicle – (i) chassis or monocoque body shell, (ii) sub-frames, axles and running gear, and (iii) engine. Taking each of these in turn:

Chassis or body shell: Whilst the Fiat 500 can have a full sunroof, and a partial sunroof, on the earlier cars it’s possible to swap these panels around as they bolt in. Later models had this as part of the roof section so you’d have to cut the car about to make a completely roll-down roof. However, it is probably the case that if you had an ‘L’ for instance, you could put a full roll-top sun-roof on the car, and it would still be classified as ‘unmodified’. However, it is highly likely that cutting the entire body shell apart and making a Fiat 500 into a Jolly ‘evocation’ model, would mean the car has been substantially modified. Anyway, it’s also possible that your V5 would then also be wrong if it still said ‘saloon’, and if you asked for that to be changed, you can expect a visit from the licencing authority… The onus would be on you to prove this had been done 30 years ago, with documentary evidence. Changing a Giardiniera into a van, or vice versa should (again) be acceptable, but as with all this, if in doubt, ask the licencing authority before making a declaration.

A point to note about kits such as the Barchetta is that if the Barchetta is taxed as an Historic Vehicle, and the change from Fiat 500 saloon to Barchetta was made over 30 years ago, then the MOT exemption would probably go through – but you would have to prove the change was made 30 years ago, and it would have to be already classified for the purposes of vehicle excise duty as Historic.

Sub-frames, axles, and running gear: If you have removed the suspension components, and changed to a fully independent suspension set-up, or taken the body shell and made a silhouette of the car and put it on a space-frame, these changes would almost certainly render the vehicle to require an MOT, and might even mean the registration changing to a ‘Q’ plate in extreme circumstances. Changing the steering from a steering box to rack and pinion could be considered a substantial change. Putting in a sequential gearbox would also be a substantial change.

Changing from cross-ply tyres to radials is of course OK – on the basis of safety and also lack of availability. Fitting much wider and larger wheels that were not available in period is unlikely to be consider a ‘substantial’ change as they aren’t really covered by the criteria but we might have to wait and see on that one, once other car makes encounter similar issues if challenged by the DVLA.

Engine: The engine needs to retain the same format. In our case, this means two cylinders, and petrol powered. Changing from a 499cc to a 695cc engine should be OK as an Abarth / Fiat 500 did have such an engine in period, and provided such a change was made within the 30 year rule, you should be OK. However, making any other change such as moving the engine forward and making it mid-engined, or changing to a four cylinder engine, or a motorcycle engine would be a substantial change. It’s also possible that a bored-out 750cc engine is not considered a period engine, as it was not offered in period by the factory – the onus, again, would be on the owner to prove that such a change was available in period, or that ‘their’ car has been fitted with that feature for over 30 years, and not done more recently.

In the club, most people have not modified their cars ‘substantially’ but anyone with a motorcycle engined Fiat 500, or thinking about making a Barchetta ‘kit’ body or buying one where the conversation is recent, or where they have cut away the sides to make an evocation of a Jolly, for instance, are probably the owners of a ‘substantially modified’ Fiat 500 and therefore require an MOT at the very least.

The only possible exemptions to the above are where the changes have been made because the original parts are no longer available and you are acting to preserve the vehicle, or the changes have been made on the grounds of efficiency, safety or environmental improvements. You could argue, for instance, that fitting disk brakes would fall under this definition, as could – perhaps – changing from a steering box to rack and pinion steering (which in the case of right hand drive cars are becoming more difficult to source). There are slightly different rules and exemptions for commercial vehicles, licenced as such, and the rules for motorcycles are different too.

Please note that this VHI and substantial change process affects all cars over 40 years old, even those previously exempted i.e. manufactured before 1960, not just for post-1960 cars through to 1978.

All of the Government discussion documents, updated in December 2017 can be viewed here: you are advised to read the documents on this link, especially the one ‘Substantial change guidance’ which has formed the basis of this article.

As with all such legislative changes, it is early days, and we’ll aim to keep you up to date with what we find out. As the guidance document does point out, Car Clubs such as ours, as members of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) are here to provide advice on such matters, though such advice will not be binding on the authorities and they will not be obliged to go along with our observations to you (we cannot enter into a discussion with the authorities on your behalf). Obviously, it is important not to try and ‘hoodwink’ the licencing authorities, as this might mean they change their mind and become stricter in the application of the exemptions, so if in our opinion your car is not exempt, we are not in a position to advise otherwise.

What if my vehicle is not classified as a Historic Vehicle already?

By now, all Fiat 500s will be tax-exempt because they are ‘historic vehicles’. When the car tax needs to be renewed, or preferably before, find your V5C, and in the change section alter the Taxation class to ‘historic vehicle’. This changes the status on the system. Without this, you will not be asked to self-certify your vehicle as being MOT exempt from May 2018 onwards. As with all documents, make a copy before sending to the DVLA. Any subsequent V11 reminders will have the status as ‘Historic’.

An incentive to get this done sooner rather than later is that any unused months of tax will be refunded to you within 6 weeks once the status has been processed, if relevant.

If your vehicle is already exempt from an MOT (i.e. declared manufactured before 1960) but the system is saying it isn’t, you will need Form V112 and you will need to state it as class ‘O’ (vehicles manufactured or registered before 1st January 1960). It’s possible that this form will remain after May 20th 2018, and that it will be just a simple date change to the definition.

In Summary

  • The Fiat 500 (1957-1975) is considered to be a Vehicle of Historic Interest
  • As it is over 40 years old, it will be exempt from the annual MOT provided
    • It is already classified as Historic Tax class
    • It has not been significantly modified in the last 30 years with
      • No major changes to bodywork
      • Engine is still 2 cylinders and 695cc or lower
      • Motorcycle engines, mid-engine changes, sequential gearboxes are not allowed
      • No changes to braking, steering or suspension unless due to safety, environmental or efficiency purposes
    • The responsibility for declaring this is the owner by self-certification
    • If a vehicle pays vehicle excise duty, it cannot be MOT exempt
    • Changes to your vehicle taxation class is not automatic, and requires a declaration from the owner on the V5C, as this then triggers the MOT exemption on Tax renewal.

Finally, just because your vehicle becomes MOT exempt, doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to get your car MOT’d, for as long as that is possible and keep your car roadworthy. Cars found to be in a dangerous condition risk the owner a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points.

Happy motoring!

Julian Wakeley