Tim Walker on the Extended WOF

As a concept it polarised motorists; as a practise its results have yet to be discovered.

The carefree and careless saw it as simply an elongation of the period for which they could drive their car without having to worry about its condition; the caring and careful saw it as simply, portentous.

The facts: from July 2014 the frequency of WOF checks for all cars first registered after 2000 will be reduced to just one a year. A new car will undergo an initial inspection then not until three years later will it have another; from then on it too will require only annual inspections. Cars born before 2000 will maintain their usual six monthly checks.

Alright. Skip forward to July 2014. Now. Hypothesise with me.

Meet Tania. She’s the driver of a brand new Holden Astra. She has no mechanical understanding. Tania is a sales rep who is expected to clock up in excess of 100 thousand kilometres a year. As hers is a company vehicle she will have little regard for fuel conservation; engine, brake or tyre wear. Her Astra has already passed its initial inspection with new tyres measuring a healthy 8mm of tread, fresh brake pads, full electrics; in fact everything that one would expect from a new car.

In theory the typical motorist is sufficiently responsible to remain mindful of areas of deterioration such as tyres and brakes; to be aware of faltering wiper blades, indicator and brake lights, as well as all other degenerative components.

Hold up. Is somebody seriously giving people this much credit? Sure, some of us probably deserve it but the rest, the rest see their automobile solely as a tool – a means of transportation requiring little to no upkeep, aside from the occasional oil change…

In theory cars undergo a full service every 10 to 20 thousand kilometres where the mechanic will not only change/check filters/fluids, but also carry out an extensive visual inspection of all vital parts – especially those susceptible to deterioration. In theory, these worrisome areas – tyres, brakes, lights etc – will be periodically assessed by a qualified mechanic where the automobile owner will be notified if anything is awry or heaven forbid, amiss.

Now. Skip forward again.

Just under three years and just over 300 thousand kilometres later Tania is marvelling at what a great car her Astra has been: the company has had to absorb no maintenance costs, she’s had no breakdowns and as she pulls out of the petrol station only a few kilometres from home she realises, her only real motoring expense has been covered by the company fuel card.

What is playing on her mind however, is regarding that ‘oily stuff that goes in the motory thing’. Her bush-mechanic boyfriend had often said how it’s important to keep the oil fresh; he’d always told Tania to ‘make sure she had regular services’, and while she was pretty sure he was referring to the car, she didn’t even know how to tell when it needed servicing – did it make a funny sound or something?

Understanding of his girlfriend’s auto-ignorance and passionate about vehicle welfare, at monthly intervals, or just whenever Tania was scheduled to be home for more than two hours, her loving boyfriend would quickly drain the Astra’s engine oil and throw on a replacement filter…

Tania had been driving her Astra more or less continuously since it was allocated to her and while she was aware that her first real WOF was due – there was a sticker at the top right of her windscreen for that – there was no sticker to tell her when she should be servicing her car.

Her boyfriend used to tell her of the letters he received from her company reminding her to bring in the car for its service every ten thousand kilometres but then, where was ten thousand – what number did she start at?

So preoccupied is she that Tania scarcely notices the intermittent rainfall on her windscreen. Only once it has become a veritable deluge does she flick on the wipers. Alas at 100kph the three-year-old, stiff and perished wiper blades can’t keep up. Tania peers through the greasy appearance of a streaked windscreen. She doesn’t notice the blocked water-race to her left. She certainly doesn’t see the shallow pool of water stretching the next few hundred metres down the road.

Before she knows it the car is sliding sideways across the centreline on its way into a roadside ditch.

In the three years since her last safety check, courtesy of a wheel misalignment that should have been rectified two years ago, 8mm of tread has become 0.8mm. Courtesy of frenetic driving, fresh brake pads have also become perilously low.

Tyre tread is designed to disperse water by effectively sucking it from beneath the tyre’s surface into moulded grooves, then squeezing it out channels at the sides. Without adequate tread tyres are unable to perform this task. At speed, wheels skim over water in a process called aquaplaning. Realising she has no control Tania has instinctively hit the brakes – to no immediate effect. Then suddenly the front right wheel has found the road. With no brake material left on the pads the calliper grips. The floating vehicle is thrown into a vicious slide.

Minutes later, peering out a greasy windscreen from her roadside ditch, Tania is shaken but unscathed. Hoping to attract attention she has flicked on her hazard lights. Passing cars are sparse, still she can’t understand why no one’s stopping for her…

To oncoming vehicles Tania is simply nosing out of the drain waiting to rejoin traffic and in no need of assistance – at least according to her rapidly blinking left indicator.

For over 12 months a short circuit in the Astra’s wiring has rendered the car’s right hand side lighting, unblinking.

Three years is an insanely long time period for any car to not undergo rigorous scrutiny. It’s too long. It will end badly.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Tania Dink

Photography by Sihle Gall

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