Claims of serious NCT flaw to be investigated

The Road Safety Authority is set to investigate claims of a potentially serious flaw in the NCT system.

The RSA, which sets the NCT parameters, has written to Paula Murphy — the mother of Amanda O’Flaherty, who was killed while driving a defective car in 2012 — pledging to examine all circumstances surrounding her case and seeking all relevant information.

Ms Murphy is poised to forward a detailed report compiled by her motor assessor — and seen by the Irish Examiner — that suggests potentially serious shortcomings in how the NCT conducts suspension tests.

Ms Murphy’s plight was highlighted last month after she was refused access to the NCT report conducted on her daughter’s vehicle six months before the fatal crash. The car passed the test, and was driven for a further 1,237 miles before it apparently lost control on a bend outside Cobh, Co Cork, in December 2012.

A garda expert who examined the car found defects in its rear suspension. He said the defects would have made the vehicle unstable before and during cornering.

Ms Murphy’s motor assessor, Liam Cotter, is adamant the rear suspensions could not have degraded to such an extent with that mileage in just six months.

He said if it was accepted that the NCT on Amanda’s car was valid, the only clear inference was the defective rear suspensions had not been noticed when the car went through the test.

In his report, he states: “I believe that I have uncovered a shortcoming in the NCT testing process that could have allowed this omission to occur, the significance of this finding having a bearing on potentially thousands of other vehicles and not just Amanda’s car.”

The NCT rig examines vehicle suspension on a shaker or oscillator which puts a force into a vehicle’s suspension unit. The device takes a measurement on the suspension on one side and compares it to the measurement on the other side.

If the difference between the two sides is greater than 30%, the machine ‘fails’ the suspensions.

Mr Cotter believes if both rear suspensions are equally defective, and the test does not record a difference greater than 30% between them, the NCT’s equipment software can allow the defective suspensions to pass.

“The suspension tester machine in effect will ‘fail’ the suspensions on imbalance only, and it is up to the machine operator to take note when suspension damping is less than 50% and manually fail the suspensions under ‘suspension inspection’,” his report says.

“I am aware that testers generally only fail suspensions when the testing machine highlights the imbalance between left and right, but not generally otherwise.

“The problem here is that there is now no record for this vehicle (or any other vehicle for that matter) regarding rear suspension damping efficiency and the NCT cannot now provide the test data that the suspension damping efficiency test was carried out, observed, or the results actually recorded.”

He said he had no doubt the NCT system is deficient by recording only the suspension imbalance percentage.

“That is the reason why the poor condition of the rear suspensions in Amanda’s car was not picked up, because they were equally defective in my view and only a very minor difference of 2% between them existed,” he said.

The RSA was not in a position to comment further last night.

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