Back in the day when the only way to get a six-month warrant of fitness was to have your car checked out at a government testing station, Kiwi drivers became masters of deception.
In the 1950s and 60s, amid rigid overseas exchange controls, many of the vehicles on New Zealand roads were pre-World War II vintages, 20 years old or more and showing it.
Working families lucky enough to own a vehicle faced the constant threat of failing a warrant of fitness test. Steering was one of the bigger problems; it was not unusual to be able to move the steering wheel a quarter-turn before the worn-down teeth in the steering box picked up the slack.
Brakes were another common problem; as the cars grew older, the hydraulic brake lines began leaking and, when more fluid was added, developed airlocks, so to be ready to stop within a reasonable distance, drivers of cars with this problem - and there were many - would gently pump the brake pedal as they drove along.
Every six months, back at the testing station, various ploys were used to overcome such deficiencies. Heavy-duty grease and sawdust packed into the steering box was a temporary fix for the floppy steering and also worked with worn differentials.
The dodgy brakes were a matter of timing. Drivers would stop in the entrance to the station, watching the car ahead being put through its paces while pumping furiously on the brake pedal, building the pressure up.
There is no need for that sort of cheating any more with most of the vehicles on New Zealand roads and, really, no need any more for those six-monthly checks. The quality of vehicle construction and the safety features are light years ahead of earlier generations.
So the announcement that the Government intends to extend the warrants to 12 months for cars registered after January 1, 2000, is a sensible move that will save car owners considerable expense while also maintaining road safety. New vehicles will not need a test for three years, although those first registered before 2000 will still have to undergo checks every six months.
The new regulations, planned to be introduced next year, will put much more responsibility on vehicle owners, who will no longer be able to rely on the warrant tests to alert them to worn tyres, blown headlights and the like. More vigilant policing, promised as part of the package, will reinforce that personal responsibility.
- The Marlborough Express