War­rants of Fit­ness Are they re­ally nec­es­sary for older clas­sic ve­hi­cles?

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As many readers will un­der­stand, one of the down­sides to clas­sic-ve­hi­cle own­er­ship is the War­rant of Fit­ness ( WOF) check. Even if you have a pris­tine ex­am­ple of a mar­que, it can be a frus­trat­ing process — which is why many own­ers en­deav­our to find a user-friendly ex­am­iner. In my at­tempts to in­crease the over­all age of the coun­try’s ve­hi­cle fleet (cur­rently it is just over 14 years! — congratulations every­one!), I have spent the past 10 years or so re­turn­ing mainly older mo­tor­cy­cles to the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Reg­is­ter. To achieve this, it was nec­es­sary to find a user-friendly fa­cil­ity, which I man­aged to do. How­ever, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween a nor­mal WOF and a re­cer­ti­fi­ca­tion check. This sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence is (in my hum­ble opinion) sim­ply the price of the check, as the items cov­ered in both tests/in­spec­tions are ba­si­cally the same. One of the mo­tor scoot­ers I com­plied back in 2005 was a 1960 Nzeta (made in Auck­land in the early 1960s), and I re­cently dis­cov­ered that, in the last 11 years, I had cov­ered just over 645km. Now, ac­cept­ing that, for much of the time (pre earth­quakes), it was in our pri­vate mu­seum, the reg­u­la­tions as they cur­rently stand re­quired me to present it for a WOF ev­ery six months, for a to­tal cost of ap­prox­i­mately $55. So, you can imag­ine I got pretty ex­cited when, a cou­ple of years back, there was dis­cus­sion on ex­empt­ing pre-1960 ve­hi­cles from the an­nual WOF check. While the UK went down that path, New Zealand did not — for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. While I have no di­rect ev­i­dence as such, it is my be­lief that the main rea­son was sim­ply the loss of po­ten­tial rev­enue to the test­ing fa­cil­i­ties, be­cause, at the same time, the re­quire­ments for six-monthly checks of newer cars were changed to an­nual tests, and the howls of protest from the fa­cil­i­ties fi­nan­cially af­fected could be heard from one end of the coun­try to the other!

Ad­e­quate ev­i­dence

As part of a le­gal case I took against the NZTA to the District Court (an ap­peal against a de­ci­sion not to grant me an ex­emp­tion from one of their rules), I needed to es­tab­lish the crash sta­tis­tics for ve­hi­cles of a sim­i­lar age to mine, in which me­chan­i­cal de­fect(s) were a fac­tor. As part of my re­search, I dis­cov­ered that there was just the one recorded — for a 1953 ve­hi­cle for which me­chan­i­cal fault was the at­trib­ut­able cause. While not re­lated to that par­tic­u­lar case, this statis­tic is ad­e­quate ev­i­dence that older ve­hi­cles (that is, pre 1960) do not fea­ture promi­nently in ve­hi­cle crash sta­tis­tics (and, in par­tic­u­lar, where a me­chan­i­cal fault is con­sid­ered the cause), and, thus, the ar­gu­ment that older ve­hi­cles are some­how more dan­ger­ous/un­safe and need reg­u­lar safety in­spec­tions doesn’t wash with this scribe.

Cou­pled with that is the in­con­sis­tency in test­ing regimes, which many of you will have ex­pe­ri­enced. For ex­am­ple, when I lived in Auck­land some years back, the process of get­ting a war­rant for my Ze­phyr con­vert­ible in­volved my driv­ing down to the lo­cal garage. The young me­chanic would jump in, drive down the al­ley­way to where his mates worked, stop for a chat while hang­ing over the door, and then re­turn to the fore­court, say­ing “Sh*t this is a great car!” sev­eral times be­fore writ­ing out a war­rant. Need­less to say, I al­ways car­ried out my own safety checks on that ve­hi­cle and my other cars, as, back in the day, I used to drive them to many clu­bre­lated ac­tiv­i­ties any­where from Kaitaia to the Bluff. On an­other oc­ca­sion, I took a Mor­ris Eight Sports to the lo­cal test­ing sta­tion only to be failed be­cause it didn’t have a sun vi­sor. I was aware that the then-reg­u­la­tions stip­u­lated that an MG TD did not re­quire a sun vi­sor, and I ar­gued un­suc­cess­fully with the tester that, as a Mor­ris Eight Sports had an iden­ti­cal wind­screen to the MG TD, the ex­emp­tion should ap­ply (he didn’t seem to grasp that MG stood for ‘Mor­ris Garages’ and thus iden­ti­cal parts were likely to be used across some mod­els!). I was told to fit one and then re­move it once I had the war­rant! A fiveminute in­ter­ac­tion with the man­ager, which in­cluded com­ments from me about in­volv­ing a news­pa­per, re­sulted in a war­rant be­ing is­sued. This same test­ing sta­tion once had me weld the steer­ing-box bracket to the chas­sis of the MKI con­vert­ible, claim­ing that there was a crack in the chas­sis. Only some years later, when I at­tempted to re­move the steer­ing box for re­pair, did I dis­cover that there was no crack — it was just the gap be­tween the two parts be­fore I welded it closed!

Dis­ap­pointed

Fast-for­ward to the present, and I re­cently took my Mor­ris Ox­ford to a dif­fer­ent tester, as my pre­vi­ous one had re­tired (how in­con­sid­er­ate of him, I thought at the time!). While I ac­knowl­edge that the Mor­ris had been in stor­age for much of the post-quake pe­riod, I was some­what dis­ap­pointed in learn­ing that it had failed, as I had given it a rea­son­able go­ing-over be­fore­hand. How­ever, over­haul­ing a wheel cylin­der, re­plac­ing a brake hose that wasn’t cracked, and re­plac­ing some spring-shackle rub­bers that weren’t dam­aged didn’t seem too high a price to pay for an­other six-month war­rant. The other down­side was that one of the front tyres was sup­pos­edly worn down past the limit, so I had to re­place two of them be­cause of a re­quire­ment that you can­not have two dif­fer­ent types on the front or rear (more on that in an­other ar­ti­cle!)

Need­less to say, I will not re­turn to that fa­cil­ity when the Ze­phyrs are due, and the main rea­son for that will be that this par­tic­u­lar fa­cil­ity raises the ve­hi­cles up on one of those hoists that have the four arms placed un­der the chas­sis, which, when the ve­hi­cle is lifted, leaves the front suspension dan­gling down. Fine for check­ing wish­bone sus­pen­sions, but not the Mcpher­son struts fit­ted to the MKI Ze­phyrs. Back in the day, I got sick of be­ing failed for worn lower ball joints sim­ply be­cause of the in­cor­rect test­ing pro­ce­dure be­ing ap­plied. For­tu­nately, the NZTA test­ing in­struc­tions now re­quire that Mcpher­son Strut ve­hi­cles be lifted un­der the track arms to prop­erly check the lower ball joints. But many of you will know that ar­gu­ing the toss with an in­com­pe­tent tester does not nor­mally re­sult in a ‘pass’ on the day!

Fol­low the lead

Which brings me to the point of this ar­ti­cle — the NZTA needs to fol­low the lead of the UK and ex­empt (for ex­am­ple) pre-1960 ve­hi­cles — or, bet­ter yet, pre 1966 (which will in­clude my Mor­ris Ox­ford), and ac­cept that older clas­sic ve­hi­cles are by and large not un­safe (ever tried us­ing a cell­phone while wrestling with ‘Arm­strong’ power steer­ing?). If they are/were, why is this not recorded in the crash sta­tis­tics? Last time I checked, 80 per cent of ve­hi­cles less than 10 years old are dereg­is­tered ev­ery year, which gen­er­ally means they are writ­ten off. So, why do the au­thor­i­ties per­sist with the be­lief that older cars are some­how much more dan­ger­ous? An­swer: be­cause the lob­by­ists for the Mo­tor Trade are try­ing to get rid of old cars, so, sup­pos­edly, we will re­place them with newer ones, and thus keep them in the life­style to which they have be­come ac­cus­tomed. Well, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen on my watch! Time to write to the min­is­ter again, me­thinks!

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