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