The SVA test
Home Up


Well, I've heard a bit about the SVA test but to be honest, I thought how hard can it be? I've re-built cars before and never had a problem. I wasn't underestimating the task but there is plenty written up about the potential pitfalls, there is a comprehensive manual available and that covers everything.

I was wrong! There is a manual but there is still quite a lot of interpretation by the man from the ministry. I also found, to my cost, that just because something is not specifically in the manual, doesn't mean you don't need to do it. The SVA inspector produced an A4 folder, almost twice as thick as the manual itself, with amendments, test cases and so on to prove his point on one particular aspect of the build. It doesn't really matter it seems, no matter what, his decision is final! Just because somebody else passed, doesn't mean you're going to get away with it. 

As a first step, I took the car for an MOT and it very nearly passed. Failed on a side light bulb, headlight aim (not surprising) and no number plates. Emissions were marginal but it managed a pass, non cat test. The side light bulb had just wobbled lose (sealed unit, I'd never touched it!) and the headlights we did at the MOT centre, so onto the SVA

I turned up at Chelmsford SVA, the man comes out and starts fiddling with the bottom of my dash, mumbling 19mm. I think it's fine, it's a Westfield supplied component, can't fail. Anyway, he carries on looking around the car, tutting and generally appearing to be negative, asks a few questions and asks me in for emissions test. Now I'd played after the MOT and I thought I'd made things better but no, a spectacular fail! CO of 8.85%. I ring my engine builders and they can't believe it, saying the car should hardly be running! 

So, the failure list was eventually quite long

bulletBrakes, rear locking first.
bulletDashboard, not radiussed to 19mm at the bottom.
bulletHeadlight brackets, not radiussed.
bulletBottom edge of nose not radiussed.
bulletBrake warning light not clearly identified.
bulletAlternate cable likely to chafe.
bulletPetrol pipe likely to chafe.
bulletRocker cover fouling on brake banjo.


I was allowed to 'fix' the covers on the front suspension, I'd foolishly taped them up, this does not represent a permanent solution, even though it was a solution I had taken from another build site! A cable tie sorted the problem out...

The brake test was a complete disaster, the car would not go onto the rollers (to low) despite the fact that it had gone on the MOT man's rollers. The SVA man messed for some time, doing the speedometer test, and managed to get the throttle pedal stuck, I've no idea how, not done it before or since but the engine was chuffing away at 2000rpm. I think a quick blip would have solved it but no, he plodded on regardless. Outside to the brake test area, engine still doing 2000rpm, back and forth he goes, somehow oblivious to the over temperature warnings on the Stack dash, the light on the stack and the warning light right in front of his eyes! Anyway, the inevitable happens and the car overheats, I've not sealed the scuttle yet so the hot coolant poors through into the drivers foot well.  The SVA man leaps out, killing the engine on his way. I stroll over to see a recorded peak temperature of 125%degC - thanks for that!

We had quite a long debate about the speedometer, I thought I was going to get a fail on that too. The maximum design speed of the car is 120mph, as stated on the paper work. The speedometer is digital, it has to be capable of reading greater than the max deign speed but there is no way of proving what it will read up to! All this despite the fact that I cannot drive the car at more than 70mph on the road legally, so I'm not sure why it matters! I'd taken the instruction manual just in case I'd messed up the speed setting (I hadn't) so I gave that to the SVA man for him to look through. Nowhere does it mention the maximum speed it will read! I was about to suggest he sat in the passenger seat and I'd show the guy 120mph, and some... When he found a picture of the dash in the manual displaying an arbitrary 135 mph - which he seemed to think was satisfactory proof it could read that high! 

I ring up Westfield about the 19mm radius, they say that the same dash has gone through countless SVA's and not had a problem. but the man is adamant. I put Mark Walker on to him and they reach a compromise, if I can conjure up some padding then it'll be OK. Mark promises to send me some vinyl, velcro and padding!

I then went on to question the CO test, well why not? They apparently have another tester so they agree to test it again. The SVA man is quite pleased because this has just come back from calibration. I run the car up and go through the same procedure, this time recording 7.34% CO, that is a whacking 1.5% difference, representing a 20% margin of error in two DVLA machines! The car was tested twice on both machines and nothing had changed on the car!

So, onto the retest, luckily booked for only four days later... 

I spent Sunday doing the emissions, on the phone to my engine builder (V8 Developments) and I finally get it down to 2%. This is on my own tester which seems to tie up quite nicely with the SVA second tester and two local MOT testers.

Most of the other things are pretty trivial, here are the solutions -

New dash bottom from some 42mm waste pipe and some fibreglass Fitted to the car with some velcro Covered in vinyl, lovely!
Rocker cover pretty easy to deal with, a file sorted that out! Luckily I had some spare rocker covers so I didn't have to mess up my nice powder coated one!
Headlight brackets, I already had the covers but some extra protection was clearly needed! The white line points at the metal bracket though which the headlight bolts, this now has some additional rubber edge strip!!!
Dodgy sharp edges, again highlighted with white line, around the rear of the nose. Clearly a hazard to pedestrians

Other fixes included ensuring the brake pads were bedded in! I actually changed the fronts to DS3000 pads (higher co-efficient of friction) just to be sure and bedded them in well, on the way to the retest. The rear pads have a significantly smaller contact area so bed in much quicker, my original  front pads were less than 1/3 bedded in when I got back from the failed SVA, a total of 30 miles on the clock. This was probably all that was actually causing the problem. 

A cable tie for the alternator cable and tweaking the fuel pump round a few degrees so the hose was no longer anywhere near the diff bolt, it wasn't touching before (nor do I suspect it could have touched) but it was close. Which just leaves the contentious area, the brake warning light! My first approach was to use an LED, exactly the same as all the other LED's on the dash, so when I was told it wasn't clearly marked, I was not to surprised. Afterwards, I read my SVA manual and it said a clearly marked warning light, with a recognisable symbol, I printed out a lovely symbol and clearly marked the light with some double sided tape.

At the retest, after being kept waiting for an hour or so, the man finally came out. He takes one look at my brake light modifications and makes the strange noise in the back of his throat that I'd come to associated with a point of failure. I ask him if there is a problem and he says, rather annoyingly, we'll come back to that. 

Emissions next, the cable is still poking out from the DTA because it's a complete nightmare to get it on due to the silly padding I have around it in case I get the sharp edge thing! Anyway, pass with flying colours even though it's about 1% higher than I was seeing at home, of course, we're on the dodgy out of calibration tester, still, who cares, it's a pass! Until another tester shows up and pitches in - what's that cable? he asks. I explain and he started off about it affecting the test and having to do the test again, I point out that it isn't and he's welcome to re-test if he likes at which point, he starts on about unsupported cabling! I look at him in absolute disbelief and remove the offending cable. Much tutting between the two guys and they finally decide they're actually getting a bit petty!

We quickly dispense with the other fixes, he looks at the bizarre padding on the bottom of the dash and nods his head in approval! Off to the brake test area and it sounds like there is a problem, they can't lock the front - I'm feeling annoyed now so I point out that I was locking fronts all the way to the test station, suggest they press the pedal a little harder and offer to do it for them (not allowed) but they decide it's not a problem because we're getting the required braking force and the rears are not locking either.

So, as far as I figure it, everything has passed, took about half an hour, this is the bit where I get my MAC I think... but no, he starts off about the brake warning light again. He says it's the symbol that has got to be illuminated, as in the light has actually got to come through it! So, I ask to see the manual, he goes and gets one and I point out it doesn't say that in the manual... It says a light, it says clearly identifiable symbol, it does not say the light has to come through the symbol. He tuts, grunts and agrees! Then off he goes... no word of explanation, just away through the little door marked staff only. Some ten minutes later, he's back with an A4 folder bigger than the SVA manual! This is amendments and test cases! He refers to an amendment where it quite clearly says the light must come through the symbol! So it's of to the scrappie. A Sherpa van comes to the rescue, the dash hastily cracked open and the little sheet of symbols is removed, the man from the scrappie asks for a pound and assurances that I've not damaged the dash, which I give him (yeah, right!). Back to the SVA centre, stopping for a sharp knife at the local art shop and this is the result...

First attempt - Failed. The sherpa dash, in bits. The solution - Passed!

I call the man out again and he gives it a look. He pulls on the handbrake to light it up, it is rather dim - an LED through a piece of heavily tinted plastic! But there's nothing in the rules about how bright it has to be so he has to finally give in and pass the car!

Interestingly, in the new SVA, in draft at the time of my test, dated March 2004, they have re-worded the spec for the brake warning light to what the guy managed to dig out from round the back. They have now added an extra note saying 

"'Labelled in a recognised form' means displaying a symbol recognised by the motor industry (e.g. a circle containing an exclamation mark with brake shoe segments on either side) on the illuminating surface'.