By Mark Cartwright, head of LCVs, FTA
It's a scary headline. But that’s exactly how the almost 50% first time MOT failure rate for vans going through the Class 7 test translates. Admittedly the Class 7 test is only for vans between 3.0 and 3.5 tonnes; the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) finds it difficult to separate vans from cars in its figures, but let’s accept they are probably broadly similar.
For an industry that prides itself on compliance and safety these are shocking numbers, which do little to shake off the image of ‘white van man’.
They are figures that have galvanised DVSA, Department for Transport and the Traffic Commissioners into seeking a remedy, with increased and better targeted enforcement. There has even been talk of increasing the MOT charge.
A recent poll of FTA members paints an interesting story. The respondents to our survey operate almost 70,000 vans overall, with about a quarter being of MOT-ready age – a little less than the national average. Almost all take their vans from new, with only around 8% divesting before MOTs are due. Not surprisingly, given the economic conditions and the increasing reliability of vans, almost 40% of operators report that they are keeping their vans for longer, a figure reflected in the short supply of the second-hand market.
While the increasing age of the vehicles and mileage aren’t necessarily reasons for non-compliance, they do make you wonder. These market indications imply the ‘butcher, baker, candlestick maker’ one-van-man, or SME, is keeping their van longer and that, where they are buying second-hand, the quality of vans available is diminishing.
How do our respondents fare at MOT?
Almost half (44%) ‘never’ failed, a further 31% ‘rarely’ failed and 22% ‘occasionally’ failed. We’d interpret that as 97% doing pretty well at getting their vans through first time. These are the operators who also operate trucks and have a planned preventative maintenance (PPM) system – of which more later.
John Moore, fleet maintenance manager at Scottish Power, summarises this approach: “None of our fleet vehicles are allowed to be presented for MOT without first being inspected. Failure is a concern and every failure is investigated.”
It’s a view shared by Neil Fearn of LBS Builders Merchants: “I do not accept any MOT failures without subjecting the maintenance provider to an investigation into the reasons for the failure. This, along with regular performance meetings, has kept our failure rate exceptionally low. I have had just three failures in my total fleet in the past five years.”
Interestingly, these figures corresponded with the responses received when we asked operators about their attitude to the MOT. The vast majority saw the test as “an opportunity to present my vehicles in the best light and prepare accordingly”, with just 5% admitting they didn’t check vans prior to submitting them to MOT.
Many respondents said they relied on maintenance providers, often on behalf of lease providers, to manage the process, and insisted on their vans going through a similar preparation process to trucks (all were aware of the impact failure could have on their operator licence).
“We expect a 100% pass rate”, Vince Dignam, business improvement and performance manager for the City of London says.
“We have rigorous maintenance procedures and examine our pass rates regularly. We see no reason why any of our vans should fail.”
However, it is worth noting that a small percentage of respondents assumed they had a (very) low first-time failure rate because that was what was reported back to them by their lease and finance providers.
A little digging identified that this wasn’t always the case and failures weren’t being reported back to them; suffice to say, they are now.
Our experience with most of the operators we deal with through Van Excellence is that they understand the benefits of preventative maintenance.
Those in the civil engineering sector will often put the cost of having a vehicle off the road into thousands of pounds per day.
There are two requirements at the heart of any PPM process: pre-use defect checks by the driver and regular ‘duty of care’ inspections – 96% and 81%, respectively, of respondents needed these to be carried out. Interestingly, more than half serviced their vehicles more regularly than the manufacturers’ guidelines.
What does this feedback tell us about the high first-time failure rate?
The feedback seems to support our initial thoughts on the subject, insomuch as the operators who ‘get’ the safety and compliance issue are more likely to run their vans along the same lines as a truck fleet.
It also suggests that it is the requirements for pre-use checks and duty-of-care inspections that ensure roadworthiness and which greatly improve pass rates.
The feedback tells us that the cost benefits are good once the processes are in place with better mpg, reduced damage and less downtime as well as the overwhelming moral obligation for a safe working environment and to reduce road risk for others.
It highlights the need for greater involvement and education for the smaller fleets, including SMEs.
How should greater compliance and improved standards be achieved?
Many felt those lagging behind should better understand the benefits of getting it right and that it fell upon us all within the industry to get this message across.
Something that struck me in looking at the survey results was that 52% of operators worked as a contractor for other businesses with a similar number regularly using contractors – is it too much to hope for a little encouragement from these contractors?
More and better targeted enforcement activity seems to have a place. DVSA has been very successful with intelligence-led enforcement in the truck and bus sectors and although it is difficult to see how this could be replicated in the van sector without enormous investment and additional legislation, perhaps operators can play their part by ensuring vans are clean and tidy and by being seen to be taking their responsibilities seriously. I guess I would say this, but surely a nice Van Excellence Accredited Operator sticker on the van would do no harm.