Drivers win in WOF changes

VERNON SMALL & PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2013

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Warrant of fitness changes announced by the Government yesterday will be welcomed by motorists - but are sure to lead to layoffs among car mechanics, according to a Wellington business owner.

Six-monthly warrants are to be phased out, and only annual checks will be needed for cars registered after January 1, 2000, under reforms announced yesterday by Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

There will also be a more lenient regime for new vehicles, which will need an initial WOF but will then not have to be retested for three years.

The change will affect about 1 million of the 3 million cars in the country, and will come into force in July next year or earlier.

But Hutt City Auto Services owner Paul Bassett said the changes were "atrocious".

"Without doubt we'll be laying off staff. I think there will be a lot of mechanics looking for work very shortly. That's pretty scary."

Safety was also a concern, he said. Faults that led to recalls in new cars were sometimes picked up by warrant checks.

"It's unbelievable that some cars are going to be driven around for three years with no checks."

He was supported by the Motor Trade Association, which has fought strongly against the changes, with a campaign fronted by supercar champion Greg Murphy. Spokesman Ian Stronach said the Government's decision would cost an estimated 2000 jobs among those checking and repairing vehicles.

But motorists were keener on the changes. Wanda Faury, of Wellington, gave them the thumbs-up yesterday, saying: "They'll save people a lot of money."

Mr Bridges said the new system would also save time, and would focus on road safety.

The new regime recognised concerns about older vehicles by making sure those registered before January 1, 2000, remained on six-monthly inspections, he said.

It also recognised that the quality of vehicles and their safety features and performance were improving.

Ministry of Transport research showed the package of changes would benefit motorists and businesses by $159m a year, and by at least $1.8 billion over 30 years.

That included savings on inspection, compliance costs, justice, enforcement, and time spent by motorists getting their WOF.

"These changes bring us more into line with other countries," he said. "New Zealand currently has one of the highest inspection frequencies in the world."

AA spokesman Mark Stockdale welcomed the changes, saying they would bring savings of $45m to $70m a year for motorists without compromising safety.

Seventy per cent of AA members supported a reduction to annual testing for vehicles up to 12 years old.

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"A million motorists can't be wrong," he said. "With only 2.5 per cent of accidents involving a mechanical defect, and just 0.4 per cent where it's the sole cause, the evidence does not support testing all vehicles every six months, or four times as often as most other countries."

Motor Industry Association chief executive Perry Kerr said the move was pragmatic.

But Dog and Lemon Guide editor Clive Matthew-Wilson said that, despite what people had been "conned into believing", the six-monthly check was a major lifesaver.

"To dispense with this system will inevitably result in more deaths and injuries."

Mr Stronach said the decision was disappointing but entirely predictable. The Government had not listened to data and arguments against the move.

Politicians believed they could mitigate the risk, but police resources were already stretched and they were unlikely to have the time to "jack up your car and check the brake linings" on the side of the road.

In a random survey of 500 cars the MTA had found only 39 per cent of vehicles were serviced on time.

Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford said the move was bold but had to be backed up with investments in safety and enforcement "or Kiwi lives will be lost".

KEY CHANGES

An initial inspection for new cars, followed by annual inspections once vehicles are three years old. Annual inspections for vehicles three years and older and first registered on/after January 1, 2000. Six-monthly inspections for vehicles first registered before January 1, 2000. Information and education to increase people's awareness of regular vehicle maintenance. Extra police enforcement. 

- The Dominion Post

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