Should I be worried about NCT delays?

There are plenty of stories circulating about delays in getting your car through its NCT test, with some testing centres returning booking dates many months away, and long past the expiry dates of your previous test. Should you worry about this? And why do we have the NCT in the first place? Hopefully, we can help with a quick FAQ…

What is the NCT?

The NCT is the National Car Test (or An tSeirbhís Náisiúnta Tástála Carranna) which was first introduced in 2000 as an equivalent to the UK’s MOT test. It’s a roadworthiness and safety test, which checks items on the car from the functioning of headlamps to the engine’s emissions to the condition of the brakes and suspension (among many other items). Previous to 2000, older cars could be driven on Irish roads with no set regulations on roadworthiness, and it’s notable how soon after the NCT’s introduction that deaths on Irish roads began to reduce.

When do I need to get my car checked by the NCT?

All cars will require their first NCT on the fourth anniversary of their first registration. So, if you buy a new car in January 2023, it won’t need an NCT until January 2027. After that, it’ll need an NCT every two years until it’s ten years old. Once your car is ten years old or older, it needs an NCT every year.

Why are there delays in getting an NCT test?

The NCT testing service is currently run, on behalf of the Irish Government and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) by a Swiss company, Applus. Applus runs 47 NCT testing centres around the country, and at the moment it’s suffering from many of the same issues that the rest of the economy is struggling with — a shortage of staff. This is what is causing delays, and giving Irish motorists a major shock when they log on to book their NCT. According to the Road Safety Authority, the current average wait for a test is 25 days. Nonetheless, a spokesperson for the RSA admitted that there are challenges. “The past year has been especially challenging for NCTS with the impact of Covid, which caused significant staff absenteeism levels at test centres and in the call centre” said the RSA in a statement. “In addition, over the past two years, despite regular recruitment campaigns, NCTS has found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient qualified mechanics to meet the demand for National Car Tests, as they have dealt with testing backlogs generated by testing delays in 2020 and 2021. This has been exacerbated by the related impact on the wider motor industry with regard to new car availability, leading to an increase in the number of older vehicles in the fleet requiring NCTs.”

Is it legal to drive a car without a current NCT certificate?

No, it’s not. If your car is of the correct age, then you must have a current NCT cert (along with valid motor tax and insurance) to be able to drive on the road. The regulations state that: “It is an offence to drive a vehicle in a public place without a current NCT certificate. This applies to vehicles from the fourth anniversary of their first registration. The initial fixed charge amount is €60 (increasing to €90 if you do not pay within 28 days) and you will also get three penalty points.”

What if I can’t get a test before my NCT expires? Will I have to pay the fine and take the points?

No, you probably won’t. The Gardai have indicated that they are taking a lenient and sensible line when it comes to checking people’s NCTs until the delays are sorted out. Speaking to The Irish Times, a spokesperson for the Gardai said: “An Garda Síochána is cognisant of the delays experienced by the Road Safety Authority in the provision of dates for the NCT. Where a motorist is detected driving a vehicle without a valid NCT certificate and no date of re-examination can be produced in evidence by the driver, the driver may be prosecuted for not having a valid NCT certificate and they are liable to have their vehicle seized. Where a vehicle is detected without a valid NCT certificate and the driver is able to produce evidence of a date for a test having been scheduled, a Garda will take this evidence into consideration.”

What about my tax and insurance?

You don’t currently need a valid NCT cert in order to be able to tax your car, so just apply and pay for your motor tax as normal. Insurance is slightly more fiddly, as technically if you’re driving without an NCT cert, your insurance may not be valid. Again, though, Irish insurers are taking a sensible line on this. A spokesperson for Insurance Ireland, the representative body for insurance companies, said: “Insurance Ireland members will be pragmatic and understanding in their approach to the current delays at the National Car Testing. Cover will continue to be provided where customers, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain their NCT due to backlogs at test centres. Motor insurance and road traffic legislation require that motorists maintain their vehicles in a roadworthy condition at all times and this remains the case. Under the current circumstances, provided motorists make every effort to book appointments in the normal way, insurance companies will recognise that the current issue is not the fault of the customer.”

Should I still try to book a test, even if the date for test is beyond the expiry of my current NCT?

Yes, you absolutely should, not least because having a booked test will likely be a minimum requirement for both the Gardai and insurers to give you the leeway they’ve spoken about above. Simply saying “I couldn’t get a test in time so I didn’t bother trying” won’t be a valid excuse. The advice from the RSA is to get a test booked for the earliest available date and then to try to get a slot for a cancellation or a ‘no-show’. The advice is to contact the NCT service directly on 01 4135992 and ask to be placed on a priority list for cancellation slots, and to try and be as flexible as you can be regarding times and testing locations.