There has been a bit of a problem pop up with new 4WDs lately, and it comes down to MA and MC classification. This is a story first exposed by Practical Motoring’s Robert Pepper, a little while ago. We wanted to do a little follow-up story, and get a response from the manufacturers once the dust had settled.
In a nutshell …
New vehicles in Australia are classified under a handful of different categories: Two and three-wheeled vehicles (L), Passenger vehicles (M), Goods vehicles (N) and Trailers (T). What we are worried about in this instance are passenger vehicles. Vehicles in the passenger category break down further into sub-categories; there are ones that pertain to small buses and other people carriers, but the two that we want to focus on is MA and MC classification:
MA Passenger Car: A passenger vehicle, not being an off-road passenger vehicle or a forward-control passenger vehicle, having up to 9 seating positions, including that of the driver.
MC OFF-ROAD Passenger Vehicle: A passenger vehicle having up to 9 seating positions, including that of the driver and being designed with special features for off-road operation.
Dig a bit deeper, and the MC classification also has a few other guidelines that define ‘special features for off-road operation’.
(a) Unless otherwise ‘Approved’ has 4 wheel drive; and
(b) has at least 4 of the following 5 characteristics calculated when the vehicle is at its ‘Unladen Mass‘ on a level surface, with the front wheels parallel to the vehicle’s longitudinal centreline, and the tyres inflated to the ‘Manufacturer‘s’ recommended pressure:
(i) ‘Approach Angle‘ of not less than 28 degrees;
(ii) ‘Breakover Angle‘ of not less than 14 degrees;
(iii) ‘Departure Angle‘ of not less than 20 degrees;
(iv) ‘Running Clearance‘ of not less than 200 mm;
(v) ‘Front Axle Clearance‘, ‘Rear Axle Clearance‘ or ‘Suspension Clearance‘ of not less than 175 mm each.
So, in other words, the vehicle needs the basic tenants of a 4X4 intact: Drive to all four wheels, and decent ground clearance for the body and driveline. It’s all fairly academic, but when vehicles that are designed and marketed as off-road vehicles, but are also sold with a two-wheel drive option, the manufacturer has a tricky decision to make. Do they classify the vehicle as an off-road or on-road vehicle, or do they go through the extra trouble (and expense, presumably) of double classification.
The two vehicles that have come under the most scrutiny is the Ford Everest and Jeep Grand Cherokee. There is also the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Renegade vehicles that have big claims of off-road ability, but are MA-classed. The Everest and Grand Cherokee are two vehicles that habe off-road ability as one of their core tenants, and are fairly popular 4WD tourers. This video shows how the Ford Everest has been marketed to Australia. We have driven these vehicles off-road, and can attest to their capability. But, they are stamped MA: In the eyes of the law, they are an ‘MA Passenger Car: A passenger vehicle, not being an off-road passenger vehicle or a forward-control passenger vehicle, having up to 9 seating positions, including that of the driver.
Is this a problem? We consulted the vehicle manufacturers, as well as 4X4 insurance specialists, Club 4X4, to try and get a clear answer. Here is our Q&A with Ford and Jeep.
Do you think that classifying the Grand Cherokee/Everest in the MA category is a problem?
Ford: The Everest was homologated as MA, which is typically a more stringent set of requirements than MC homologation, in order to allow the 4×4 and 4×2 models to be produced under one compliance approval. MA classification does not change the way the Everest can be driven, and in no way affects its strong on-road or off-road credentials. Other 4×4 competitors including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder are also MA-classified.
What were the main reasons for Jeep choosing MA over MC classification?
Jeep: The benefit which used to exist for off-road (MC) category vehicles was a lower duty rate for parts on an MC category vehicle – this no longer exists.
Secondly, the requirement to have 4WD would automatically eliminate the Laredo 4×2, meaning we would need to certify the Grand Cherokee as two approvals (one MA and one MC category). Given there is no longer any advantage to certify as an MC category vehicle and the applicable ADRs for a vehicle of this type are largely identical, it does not make any sense to certify the one model under two vehicle categories.
Ford: The Everest was homologated as MA, which is typically a more stringent set of requirements than MC homologation, in order to allow the 4×4 and 4×2 models to be produced under one compliance approval.
Is there any discussion around changing the classification of of the Grand Cherokee/Everest in the future?
Jeep: Not at this time.
Ford: We have no immediate plans to do so, however we are constantly looking at improving our product appeal across all models, and are always listening to consumers to deliver vehicles and technology that they want. We take customer feedback seriously. The MA classification does not change the way the Everest can be driven, and in no way affects its strong on-road or off-road credentials. It has been independently awarded and recognised on its abilities.
What do we think?
Reading between the lines here, it seems the single MA homogolation was an easier and cheaper method for getting the vehicles certified as both 4X4 and 4X2 models. There isn’t really a straight answer to what it means, but the wording does of the Australian Design Rules is a cause for worry: “not being an off-road passenger vehicle”. The cynical bastard in me sees an unscrupulous manufacturer attempting to wriggle out of a warranty claim because of that wording. But at the same time, these cars are marketed heavily as four-wheel drive vehicles; you’d certainly have a leg to stand on in a court of law. But, so would they. There isn’t really a clear answer for this, as it depends on the temperament of people involved, their opinions and the context of the greater situation.
Truth be told, Australian design rules are a strangle concoction of strangely worded, conflicting, overriding and unclear words on many different pages, from many different sources. When you start drilling down into each state and territory, the problem only compounds. Getting a clear answer on this is very hard work. We’ve had a recent big win with suspension laws in certain states, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
At the end of the day, however, owning, using and modifying an MA-rated 4X4 does give problems over an MC-rated one. You might not have trouble down the track, but you also might. Does this colour my opinion of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Everest? Absolutely. This whole MA and MC classification thing no-doubt slides these two models down the imaginative list of good 4WD vehicles in my head, especially if you’ve got an eye to modification and fairly serious off-road use.
When softroader vehicles like Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s X3 are off-road MC rated, but actual 4WDs are not, salt is rubbed into the wound.
The Insurance Angle
For this story, I sought the advice of Kalen from Club 4X4, who specialise in insuring modified 4WDs for off-road use. Here is his take on the MA and MC classification conundrum.
“To me, the most pertinent piece seems to be the issue of tyres. So technically under these new regulations the tyre fitted to an Everest must be of the same speed rating denoted by the manufacturer; ruling out any sort of serious off-road tyre. Lets say for example that the owner did put off-road tyres on, limiting the vehicles legal speed to 160km/h. Going back to our stance on modifications, it would need to be determined that the vehicle was travelling beyond 160km/h at the time of an accident for it to become an issue.”
Note: MA-rated vehicles are more restricted with what tyres can legally be fitted, because of speed ratings. You can’t fit a tyre with a lower speed rating to an MA-based vehicle … There aren’t any LT-construction, off-road biased tyres out there with high speed ratings available, so you’d be technically running an illegal tyre if you went to a decent all-terrain or mud-terrain.
“Anyone travelling that fast in a vehicle the size and dynamics of the ones in question here is on a path to one place really. However, I would imagine such an incident would require a police investigation. If this investigation uncovers that the vehicle was travelling beyond the off-road tyres rating then there will be an issue because they were contributory to the accident.”
In other words, if you’ve got an MA-rated vehicle, with off-road tyres, and you crash whilst travelling over 160km/h, you might have some hairy questions to answer. But let’s be honest, you probably won’t be answering any questions, because you’ll be either in a coma or a casket, an vehicle insurance will fade into insignificance.
At the end of the day, how exposed you are to your insurance company backing out of a claim depends on their own internal rules, and how ‘reasonable’ they are towards 4WDing and negligence. Our advice? Get on the phone, and ask some hard questions. You’re better off knowing.