Drivers old enough to recall when farmers drove new Holdens, and the rest of us drove ageing Austins and Vauxhalls, will remember the nerve-racking process of getting a warrant. Men in oily overalls too often delivered inspection sheets with lines of "fail" crosses that implied expensive repairs.
The arrival of cheap used imports changed the landscape and put an end to much of the anxiety; the introduction of tougher emission standards four years ago raised the average standard of vehicles further. So it's sensible for the Government to announce a review of the warrant of fitness system as part of an overhaul of vehicle licensing.
New Zealand drivers whose cars are older than six years already endure more frequent inspections than their counterparts in similar jurisdictions overseas. In the UK, the "MOT" is carried out annually, but in Australia, inspections are required only when a vehicle is sold or reregistered in another state.
Only 17 of the 50 US states require regular annual inspections - though 31 mandate regular emissions testing. That said, the inspections here are cheap by comparison with the biennial tests in Japan where you can shell out between $1000 and $3000 by the time the paperwork is done.
It is hard to argue for six-monthly checkups on safety grounds. Crash statistics compiled by the Ministry of Transport show that in 2010 barely 100 of 14,000 accidents were attributable to vehicle defects that a warrant check would have found - and driver behaviour will invariably be involved as well. Moving to annual inspections - and exempting cars that are less than five years old - makes sense, even if the inspections are tougher and the tolerances narrower.
At the same time, the registration process could do with an overhaul. In a user-pays world, the money raised by registration - particularly for ACC - should be raised by way of a tax on fuel, so that the more you drive, the more you pay. The price of registration, which quite properly keeps track of motor vehicles, should simply pay for administering the system.