It’s the big day. The one I’ve been building up to for 9 months!
The test appointment is set for 8AM at the Avonmouth test centre… and I live in North Bristol, about 5 miles away. It’s about a 15minute drive at that time in the morning.
I got up in plenty of time to get the car out of the garage and to get to the centre.
I looked out of the window – rain!
I’d been watching the forecast all week and it had resolutely refused to stop forecasting rain for Thursday morning. The whole of the rest of the week was dry, but not the only morning I had a test planned in an open top car with no doors.
I’m taking the car to the test centre with no hood or doors. I didn’t want the extra complexity of presenting the car with either, and seeing as I’d not been inside the centre I didn’t know if there would be somewhere I could store them while the test happened. I didn’t want any risks here so decided to brave the rain and reduce the complexity.
It wasn’t set to rain heavily but it was definitely going to rain.
After getting ready, with obligatory hat and coat, I started the car and got it out of the garage. Imagine the scene: I’m sat on the drive with the garage now closed, it’s not really light yet, engine running, 4-point harnesses on and me ready to go. It’s raining and the windscreen is covered in water.
Wipers on. Err… no! Dead!
Wipers on. Err… no! Dead!
They worked last night when I gave everything a once over! Grrr!!
For the second time in 12 hours I’m wondering whether this is “meant to be” today. It’s going to be an interesting drive to the test centre. But much worse than that, there’s no way I can pass the IVA test with no wipers.
- Get the car back into the garage and do a once over: almost certainly going to be late for the test and I really don’t want to have the inspector started off on the wrong foot from the get-go with me being late.
- See if I can fix it in the rain on the drive: Hmm, sounds like a recipe to get really wet and probably still late
- Drive to the test centre as best I can and see if I can fix it there: I know from a rec’ie I did of the test centre a few days earlier (thanks Will) that there was a canopy in front of the test bays.
- Maybe the wiper drive mechanism was “bound up”: I’ve had cars in the past where the wiper mechanism can stop in a location where it can’t start itself again and the mechanism becomes bound. I gave the wipers a quick tweak as I sat in the car and the mechanism didn’t feel “locked”.
I decided to go with “drive it to the test centre and wing-it” strategy. It was either going to be a loose connection, a fuse, a relay or a dead wiper motor. I didn’t have any spare fuses and I couldn’t fix the wiper motor. My thinking was now heading towards “worst case scenario”… it was going to fail unless, in the most unlikely scenario, it suddenly fixed itself and there was a dodgy connection. I’m now also thinking that I might as well get the test done to find out what else is bound to be wrong and assume I’m going to have to do a second test.
Nothing for it but to brave the rain.
The Drive to the Test Centre
I’ve driven in some precarious driving conditions in the past. But this sits high up there along with:
- No working brakes on a Fiat Super Mirafiori as I drove it to be scrapped.
- A 1972 Avenger, which at 14 years old in 1986, threw a con-rod on the M1 whilst on a trip from Sheffield to Northampton, limping home on 3 cylinders.
- The time a ladder came loose on a roof rack as I was driving over the Old Severn Crossing.
- Wheels falling off, brakes seizing, car running away with itself and nobody in it… etc etc, you get the picture
All scary road trips, but a virgin drive of a self-built, brand new kit car, in the pouring rain, during Bristol rush hour, with no windscreen wipers certainly ranks up there.
Initially the rain was not too bad and I could just about see enough to make slow progress. Though I’m beginning to think this wasn’t such a good idea now. But I’m on the road and there’s not as much traffic as I was expecting. I’m also heading out of Bristol as everyone else is heading in.
As I got to about mile 3 of the journey the rain really started to pour. Nothing for it but to stop and try and clear some water off the screen. I was also working on a game plan I’d concocted: Once I’d got closer to the test centre I’d take another look at the wipers, give them a jiggle to see if there were mechanical problems. At least I could spend the time looking at things in the knowledge that I was closer to the test centre and therefore knew better how much time I had to play with. .
Back on the road again, it’s now properly raining and my only option is to drive while leaning out over the side of the car. My eye-lids are doing a way better job of clearly the falling water than the windscreen was.
But I got there. It was a real relief to pull into the covered bay outside the test centre. I’d been told to park in the SVA lane in the box marked on the road.
I took all the GoPro’s off the car and stuffed them into my rucksack, then went into the main building where a sign told me to wait by my car. So out I went again and waited for the inspector.
Here’s a video of my trip to the test station and realising at the end of my driveway that the wipers aren’t working!
Phew! I’d arrived!
The Test Begins
I was probably 5 minutes early, but the inspector turned up soon from the depths of the test lanes. The inspector introduced himself as Les and I took the car inside.
While Les was sorting himself out, I had a bit of a rummage around under the dashboard to see if I could see any loose wires – there were none in sight. Well… that’s sort of good I guess??
That’s about the only picture of the test process. From memory the test went something like this:
- Weigh front then rear on the red weigh scale in the floor (above picture). The results in the scanned docs at the bottom of this page will be slightly out – I hadn’t taken about 10Kg of tools out of the boot!
Static, Switchgear and Visual Tests
- Move car (by me) forward off scale
- Remove bonnet
- I noticed that the bonnet-catch covers weren’t attached. I went to get them from my box of tricks and showed them to Les. He said he didn’t need to see them on the car if I had them, he had a quick glance at them. He knew what they were supposed to look like.
- Emissions test – no problem, I think
- Les did various measurements including using a few different contraptions to measure things like the relative positions of steering wheel and seats
- It was at about this time that Les told me – “you know, almost nobody passes first time. They usually fail on the brakes.” Hmmm, that’s making me feel good!
- We discussed the need for the collapsable steering column. I’m glad I got Williams to fit it in the end, Les said it would have been a fail if it wasn’t fitted. He showed me his IVA bible where it mentions a deformable steering column. I think the wording could be interpreted a couple of ways – but I wasn’t arguing.
- He sat in the car and tested all the switches.
- Test wipers – bugger – no change! We had a discussion about what might be wrong. Les was turning out to be very amenable. Firm but fair. He genuinely wanted the car to pass if it could. We left the wipers for the time being.
- Everything apart from the wipers was working.
- He took a long look at my “milky” rear fog light, from the debacle the night before, but didn’t poke around at it and didn’t try to take it off. He made no comment.
With those tests completed, the topic of conversation (we were chatting all the way through) turned back to the wipers. Les went to make us both a coffee while I had a fiddle.
It didn’t look like there were any loose connections under the dash and the mechanical side of things seemed to be fine. That meant it was probably a fuse or a relay. If it was a relay then I was going to be in trouble. If it was a fuse, then perhaps there was a chance to salvage things. Now… both the washer pump AND the wipers weren’t working. So, it would have to be some weird wiring for a relay to cause both to be out. So lets assume the more likely problem that can affect both the washer and the wipers, a fuse… but which fuse.
We got the build manual out and turned to the wiring diagrams at the back. The 420R fuse layout seemed to be completely wrong. We tried reading the lists from different directions but neither made sense of the diagrams vs car.
While Les was cleaning a couple of cups for the coffee, I decided I’d take out each fuse in turn and have a look. Car fuses are usually very obviously blown when they go – lots of current. So… 50/50 chance of starting at the top or bottom… top first.
Bingo, the first, topmost fuse was blown.
Everything else was working on the car so this was almost certainly the wash-wipe fuse. Now, what to do, I still had no spare fuses – schoolboy error…!
ALWAYS TAKE SPARE FUSES TO AN IVA TEST!
I was wondering if I could “borrow” a fuse from another location in the fuse box and still have a car that Les was going to pass – did the whole car have to be in a pass configuration or could it pass “in pieces”. While I was musing over this, Les came back over and said: “hang on, let me see what I can do”. He trotted off to his car and came back with a spare fuse – top man! He GAVE me the fuse and we moved onto coffee… after I had confirmed the wipers and washers were now working.
At least the car wouldn’t fail for a wash-wipe fuse!
This part of the test probably took 20 minutes, plus about another 20 minutes on coffee and fixing the wipers. It turned out that Les gets to test some very exotic vehicles – often imports. There’s also a lot of Atoms he tests from the Ariel guys down the M5. Earlier in the year he got to test a Garden Shed, on a Sierra chassis – the owner wanted to make it road legal!
- Drive the car (by me) onto a ramp
- Ramp lifted about 5 feet in the air
- I stayed in the car while it was up on the ramp.
- Les asked me to apply the brakes a few times and to apply the handbrake as he inspected underneath the car.
- The ramp was lowered and I remained in the car
- Les did the headlight tests. Both needed a tweak (even though Williams had said they had adjusted them). Les was happy for me to adjust them while we watched the headlight test jig displays. It was at this point that I realised I didn’t have a spanner for the headlight nuts. Williams had adjusted them and I didn’t have the 26mm spanner needed. I also hadn’t brought an adjustable spanner. I eventually got them loose with a pair of pliers and I got them just about tight enough to satisfy Les.
That was about 15 minutes.
- Next we moved off the ramp and onto the rolling road brake test rig.
- Les sat in the car at this point and ran through front and back brake tests.
- The machine ran through a sequence and presented Les with results that he wrote down. The test included him attaching a pressure pad to his foot so he could check brake pedal pressure. He wasn’t giving anything away though – I had no idea if I was passing or failing. From what I could see of the readings on the machine, things looked ok – but I couldn’t tell.
About another 15 minutes.
Final Rolling Road
- I moved the car off the brake test rolling road and onto a final rolling road which tested what I think was speedo and more brake tests – though I lost track of things at this point, not quite sure what all that was about.
- Next I moved the car outside for the noise test, it had stopped raining by now – thankfully!
This was probably another 10 minutes.
The noise test consisted of me sitting in the car and aligning the exit of the exhaust with the red line you can see in the picture above, running across the car – the red line under the front wheels in the picture above. Les then placed a “jig” to the side of the car. This jig allowed him to place his noise meter at 45degrees diagonally to the rear of the car and 1m away. The noise reading came out at a surprising 94dB (when measured at 75% of full revs – 5700rpm). I was expecting it to be much closer than that, but it was an easy pass in the end (pass mark is below 99dB).
5 minutes for this testing.
The final test was for Les to take the car for spin around the site. We’d had the car up to some pretty high static rolling-road speed, so by this point it seemed Les was happy to trust my workmanship with his life. He wasn’t hanging around but also wasn’t totally crazy. He took the car back around to the entrance of the hanger and I walked back to the weight scales through the hanger.
2 minute test.
That was it. The test was done. Les offered for me to sit down while he did his paperwork and he left me in suspense.
Here’s a not very in-focus selfie while I waited…
While Les was working through his paperwork, I made sure I absolutely did not leave 2 x £1 coins next to the kettle. It would certainly not have been appropriate for me to have made sure Les was not out of pocket for his gift of a wiper fuse 😉 . He was adamant that he couldn’t take anything for it and that such a payment might be construed as bribery! That absolutely did not happen!
Five minutes later, Les emerged from his yellow office and walked over to me. He presented me with a piece of paper and said “this is what you’ve been waiting for”. I did a double take… it looked like all the sections on the page said – pass. I couldn’t see any fails.
He said “it passed”.
I was just a little… over-the-moon. I was certainly hoping it had passed but I wasn’t expecting it. Especially after the trip there and his statement about not many passing first time. I must have thanked Les at least half a dozen times in the next 2 minutes. We talked about a few nothings and I said my goodbyes.
Here are redacted versions of the various docs I got…
I needn’t have worried so much about the formality of the test. There was plenty of opportunity for me to present the car how I wanted. I’m sure I would have been fine to turn up with doors and hood and to have taken them off prior to the test. The whole process only took about 3 of the 4 hours that were allocated. I’m sure other’s take longer, and I suspect that some would have been shorter, given the wiper diversion.
The inspector, Les, was knowledgeable and easy to get along with. He was firm but fair. I don’t think trying to con or kid him wouldn’t have worked – he’d been doing the job for over 30 years. You get to know a few dodges in that time.
I was pleased with the state of the car as I’d presented it. I don’t think I could have done any better. In the end, that was enough.
The Drive Home
I didn’t have a chance to set the GoPro’s back up as I left the test site and I wasn’t in the mood to stop and do so once I was off the premises, so sorry, no footage of that. It was certainly a less eventful trip than the ride there. But here’s a selfie looking back at the test centre with some blue sky and a very happy driver.
Needless to say, I took the long way home.
All in all the car had now done 14 miles. It had 2 miles on the clock when I’d left in the morning – being put on by Williams and by my trip to fill up with fuel the day before. It was around 5 miles there and probably 6-7 miles the way I went home.
Once at home it was time to get the beemer out and head into work. I had all my V5 application forms pre-filled so it was just a question of signing / dating and getting all the various docs in the post. I did that when I got to work.
In the meantime, I needed a selfie of me, the car and the pass certificate…
The hope is that with a following wind I could get the forms of to the DVLA straight away and get the V5 back before Christmas in 14 days. Then we could drive it over the Christmas break.
For those of you not familiar with the UK regulations: while I have a test pass I still need the formal registration documents for the car. Only then can I legally drive it on the road. This doc is called a V5 or “log book”. The DVLA website says it processes applications for new V5’s in 4 weeks. I’m hopeful that it will be quiet before Christmas and it’ll come sooner. On the flip-side, I guess DVLA will have people taking vacation at this time of year and that might make the processing longer.
We’ll have to see.
[ Note from the future: fat chance! DVLA took more than their 4 weeks ]
Of course… thanks goes to all those who helped and supported me. To all those people who “popped round” to have a chat and lend a hand – it was great to see everyone and a fantastic experience. Thanks to Harry and Joe for helping out. Thanks to Andrew Pepperrell who was a huge help via Facebook Messenger. Thanks also to the Facebook and BlatChat communities for their comments on my posts. Thanks to Ted, next door, for all those times he leant over the fence to offer support. And of course, thanks to my wife, Sue, who didn’t complain once about the amount of time I was spending in the garage. Awesome!
IT PASSED FIRST TIME!