There is sometimes confusion, even within the MOT trade, over the type of MOT test that motorhomes are subject to. Motorhomes are registered with the body type 'motor caravan', in the past this description was applied quite loosely but recently the DVLA and VOSA have been more rigid in aplying the regulations. In fact anyone registering a change of vehicle type after carrying out a conversion, or registering an imported motorhome, is likely to be required to have the vehicle checked at a VOSA Testing Station before DVLA will issue a new registration document.
We asked VOSA about the regulations that apply to motorhomes, as far as the MOT test is concerned., with particular reference to motorhomes with garages, or other storage areas. The issue being that some Testing Stations were insisting that such motorhomes were 'Living Vans' coming under goods vehicle testing regulations, and as such, if between 3000 and 3500kg GVW require a Class VII test after 3 years, if over 3500kg GVW, they require an HGV MOT test every year from new.
The matter has now (17/11/06) been resolved by VOSA who state that it is up to the motorhome owner to declare if goods are to be carried, when submitting the motorhome for an MOT test. If a declaration is made that goods are not carried the Testing Station should accept that the vehicle is a 'motor caravan' and that a Class IV test is appropriate for any weight of motorhome.
Motor caravans are subject to an annual Class 4 MOT test from 3 years old, however we heard that some larger motorhomes with garages were being classed at 'living vans' by MOT testing stations. This has potentially serious implications, as you will see below.
We asked VOSA about the regulations that apply to motorhomes, as far as the MOT test is concerned. This was their reply:
"A 'motor caravan' is "a motor vehicle (not being a living van) which is
constructed or adapted for the carriage of passengers and their effects and
which contains, as permanently installed equipment, the facilities which
are reasonably necessary for enabling the vehicle to provide mobile living
accommodation for its users". Motor caravans are not classed as goods
vehicles for MOT test purposes and are therefore in class IV or V depending
on their seating capacity but regardless of their size or weight.
A 'living van' is "a vehicle, whether mechanically propelled or not, which
is used for living accommodation by one or more persons and which is also
used for the carriage of goods or burden which are not needed by such one
or more persons for the purpose of their residence in the vehicle". 'Living
vans' are classed as goods vehicles and, depending on their weight, are
therefore in either class IV or VII within the MOT test scheme or are
subject to HGV plating and testing.
A 'living van' up to 3000kg dgw (Design Gross Weight) would require a class IV
test, and the first MOT would be due on the third anniversary of first
'Living vans' over 3000kg and up to 3500kg dgw require a class
VII test and would require an MOT when the vehicle is 1 year old.
(NB This statement was later corrected - see below)
If the 'living van' is over this weight then it would be a HGV MOT test that the
vehicle would require and this also would be due when the vehicle is 1 year
We then asked about their definition of 'living van' and the phrase:
"... used for the carriage of goods or burden which are not needed by such one or more persons for the purpose of their residence in the vehicle."
When we asked about carrying a small car or motor cycle in a motorhome we had this reply:
"A small car or motorcycle would be classed as goods as it is not needed by
such one or more persons for the purpose of their residence. When it
states "for the purpose of their residence" it refers more to things that
are necessary for the vehicle to be lived in, e.g, cooker, refrigerator,
So it seemed that a motorhome adapted to carry a motorbike or scooter could be classed as a 'living van'. If so it would be regarded as a goods vehicle and, if over 3500kg GVW it would be subject to a HGV MOT test EVERY YEAR FROM NEW.
We regarded this as patently ridiculous and asked where the line is drawn between possessions that may be carried for this purpose, and those that VOSA deems to be 'goods'. One assumes that a motorhome owner may carry some personal possessions 'for the purpose of their residence', eg clothes and food!
The matter was then referred to the Department for Transport, who replied as follows:
I refer to your follow-up e-mail message of 18th October to colleagues in the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) which has been forwarded to me at the Department for Transport as we have responsibility for the legislation governing roadworthiness testing.
First of all, I should mention that there was a slight error in the second message that you received from the enquiry team at VOSA. To clarify, vehicles which require a class VII MOT test (goods vehicles between 3000 and 3500kgs design gross weight (DGW)) are only required to undergo a first MOT three years after the vehicle was first registered and not from the first year following registration as stated in the e-mails from VOSA. I’m sorry if this has caused confusion.
To clarify further, I can confirm that all living vans are regarded as goods vehicles. This is because such vehicles are used primarily for living accommodation but are also able to carry goods which are not needed for the purpose of residence in the vehicle. Section 192 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 defines ‘goods’ as ‘goods or burden of any description’. As such, ‘goods’ is not a term restricted solely to items carried for gain or reward. It is our view, therefore, that bikes or cars carried in a designated area on a vehicle should be regarded as goods and that vehicles which have the capacity to carry such items within them have to be regarded as living vans and not motor caravans.
Smaller living vans (under 3,500kgs) can be MOT tested as Class IV or Class VII vehicles depending on their weight. The first MOT test would be required from the third year following registration and then every year thereafter. However, many living vans are outside the scope of MOT testing as they exceed 3,500kgs in weight. These heavier living vans should be tested at a VOSA goods vehicle testing station under the Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) Regulations 1988. Such vehicles must be tested annually from the first year following registration.
I hope this clarifies the position. "
We didn't think that clarified the position at all and we asked a series of further questions, in particular concerning the properties of a 'designated area' which determine whether the motorhome is classed as a 'living van' or not.
We received a further reply from the DfT:
[Letter dated 17/11/06]
Following your further e mail of 1st November I have discussed these, matters further with colleagues in other parts of the DfT.
One point we thought should be clarified is that different legislation governs the requirements for the registration of vehicles with the DVLA from the roadworthiness testing of vehicles under schemes managed by VOSA. This is why the definitions used for vehicles vary according to whether we are talking about the registration or the testing of a vehicle. Whichever way DVLA classify motor caravans has no bearing on the matter of the testing of the vehicles since the term "motor caravan" is defined in the 1981 Motor Vehicle Tests Regulations [page ref 7998/210/3 ] which governs the roadworthiness testing of vehicles.
We take your point that a "living van" looks just like a motor caravan but the important difference is that it is used to carry goods and is therefore classified as a goods vehicle. The consequence is that if the living van is above 3500kg gross vehicle weight it falls under the goods vehicle plating & testing regime and will need to have an annual roadworthiness test, once the vehicle is a year old, carried out at a VOSA test site.
The view of my colleagues is that whether a motorhome has a locker of a particular size is not really relevant to this issue because all motorhomes have room that could be utilised to carry goods. The question is whether or not the vehicles are used for carrying goods rather than items that are needed for the purpose of their residence in the vehicle. It is up to the vehicle owner to declare whether the vehicle is used for carrying goods or not. VOSA would not be in a position to determine this at the time the vehicle is presented for test as they will not know the use to which the vehicle is being put. If the owner tells the test station that the vehicle is a motorhome and has it tested as such and then subsequently a Police check reveals that the vehicle is being used to carry goods then it would seem to us that an offence would have been committed.
However, the interpretation of what constitutes an offence is of course down to the Police and then ultimately the courts to determine. In our replies to you we have tried to indicate what we thought the intention was in introducing the legislation. In fact though we have no remit to say what effect the legislation, as drafted, actually has - or indeed whether or not an offence is actually committed under the different scenarios you have described. Our main function needs to be limited to pointing people to the relevant sections of the legislation.
We have not seen any evidence that there is a problem at present with people having motorhomes which they then use to carry goods and are subsequently prosecuted on that basis. So perhaps your interpretation of "goods" as being "items not in the possession of the vehicle occupant" is closer to the way that the enforcement authorities are currently choosing to interpret the carriage of mopeds and bikes owned by the drivers of motorhomes.
However if you are aware that there have been cases of the Police prosecuting any of your members for carrying items which the Police deem to be goods and therefore require the vehicle to be tested as a class VII vehicle or even a goods vehicle required to be tested under the plating and testing regime then certainly you could put a warning on your website to cover the issues that have been raised in your correspondence with us.
You did mention in one of your earlier e mail messages that some people would be carrying a small car from their large motorhomes. It really is quite difficult for us to see how the definition of items "needed for the purpose of their residence in the vehicle" could be stretched to include small cars. Nevertheless interpretation by the enforcement authorities is a matter of both fact and degree and we can offer no further advice on the specific point of what would or would not be treated as "goods".
To amend the definitions in legislation, as you have suggested, may seem straightforward to you but would in fact require changes to primary legislation and there are no plans to do this. Partly this is due to the other priorities that exist with a busy Parliamentary schedule, but in any case there appears at this stage to be no evidence that the Police have found a problem with people having vehicles tested as motorhomes which are really being used to carry goods. It would therefore be difficult to justify the need for these changes which would inevitably be time consuming and costly.
To conclude we would suggest that the best advice to give your members is that if they are carrying goods on a vehicle that is over 3.5 tonnes it is very likely to need a goods vehicle test carried out annually at a VOSA test station once the vehicle is a year old. Beyond that if you need advice on the effect of carrying a small car or any other specific items we suggest that you seek independent legal advice.
Well, in our view the statements contained in that letter indicate a shift in the aplication of the term 'Living Van' to motorhomes. It now seems that it is up to the motorhome owner to declare to the Testing Station whether their vehicle is used to carry goods. If a declaration is made that goods are not carried, then the vehicle will be accepted as a motorhome and be subject to a Class IV test every year from 3 years old.
I would like to express our thanks to Rob Haggar, from the Department for Transport, for his time and patience in responding to our questions.
(Last updated 17/11/06)