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MA and MC classification and 4WDs: What you need to know.

The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee including Trailhawk models, will be somewhat hampered by MA classification.

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.

2016 Ford Everest, with MA passenger vehicle classification
2016 Ford Everest, with MA passenger vehicle classification

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.

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, with the new facelift
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, with the new facelift

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?

Jeep: No.

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.

The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee including Trailhawk models, will be somewhat hampered by MA classification.
The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee including Trailhawk models, will be somewhat hampered by MA classification.

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.

If you're wondering about utes, they fall into a different category.
If you’re wondering about utes, they fall into a different category.

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.”

Off-road tyres with a decent construction and pattern for 4WDing, technically shouldn't be fitted to MA-rated vehicles.
Off-road tyres with a decent construction and pattern for 4WDing, technically shouldn’t be fitted to MA-rated vehicles.

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.

11 Comments

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  • This is a little off the subject but I have 2017 ford ranger xlt 4×4 and I’m having brake problems as in a sinking brake pedal. I’ve been to ford and they tell it’s a European style of brake system and they are supposed to do that? Have you had any experience of this. And can you comment or suggest how I fix it nick.linda.jenkins11@gmail.co

  • Worse yet if you’re in QLD MA categories can only legally go 15mm bigger than std size but what will make you wonder is my forester is MC category but QLD gov have a disclaimer regarding AWD vehicles even MC ones as not being an off road vehicle going against ADR I put it to you my forester running 50mm bigger wheels will be safer than any big 4wd as My AWD allows 4WD on bitumen and the boxer engine has lower center of gravity giving more stability

  • If you take an MA vehicle off-road and have an accident, the insurance companies could back out of the policy because the driver used it in a manner it is not classified for.

  • Adding my two bobs worth is that MA and MC classification are different, that according to the design rules: not being an off-road passenger vehicle v’s being an off-road passenger vehicle, looking at the issue another way the classification is split between a lighter duty vs heavier duty construction. Another analogy would be to compare a Hilux ute with a 70 Series ute? In a mining environment the Hilux is more costly to maintain due to its lighter components.
    So having a MC classification would tell a buyer the manufacturer hasn’t dressed up a “not being an off-road passenger vehicle’ as an off road vehicle, and presenting the buyer with uncertainties of insurance / road worthiness / durability / warranty to the buyer to sought through.

  • Jeep have serious problems with their vehicles as far as reliability goes, so I would not expect much else from them but to take the cheapest options in all areas. Ford however have proven to produce a quality and durable product, yet seem to lack considerably in the Management areas of the business.
    In saying that I’ve known of vehicle manufacturing companies knocking back legitimate warranty claims because the vehicle was used on the beach as a 4wd, and yet their glossy brochure clearly promoted the use of the vehicle in the very same environment. If they are doing it tough economically, don’t expect to be successful with your claim.
    Life is a risk and so are most investments.

  • You did not mention the issue of lifting an MA rated 4×4 vs MC. MA the max you can go 50mm. And then only tyres or suspension. MC you can lift 50mm suspension and then lift a further 25mm + ,depending on the state, by fitting larger tyres. As we all know we want to do both lifts to get both the body and diffs as far out off harms way as possible.

    As someone in the market for a new 4×4 at the moment, and having the Everest in the top two, this issue is a deal breaker for me buying the Ford. If this issue was not there Ford would be getting my hard earned.

    But the biggest slap is a Chinese brand who has been in the market for 5 mins knows the 4×4 tourer segment better then one of the majors who actually designed the base of their 4×4 here.

  • Let’s face it no dancing around. If you advertise goods as suitable for a purpose you should classify it for the purpose. The advertising by Ford and Jeep is deceptive and like any other product there should be disclaimers indicated in the advertising.

  • The other issue is many people have already fitted out their Everests (also Grand Cherokees), assuming it falls under the off road classifications, making them unroadworthy. Before anyone starts about due diligence, remember that all but one automotive journalist missed this issue, even my dealer, where my all-terrain tyres were fitted (handing over an unroadworthy vehicle), was not aware of this issue. How is the general public supposed to have known about these issues.
    If these manufacturers are going to advertise these vehicles as off road vehicles they have a legal requirement to inform the public that they are, in fact, not off-road vehicles according to Australia.

  • I agree, I own a 2014 Grand Cherokee and have fitted LT offroad tyres, the compliance stamp on my car is MC (they went to MA after Jan 2015), and I’m very happy with it. Previously I have recommended the GC as a great city SUV that can also perform well offroad, its comfortable and capable. But with an MC compliance I’d hesitate to suggest it to anyone asking now.

    Another issue I can see is that rangers sometimes ban ‘SUVs’ from some tracks and beaches, like stradbroke island. Would an MA compliance SUV be subject to being banned from going somewhere other 4wds are allowed to go?

  • This is a genuine issue for those looking to use the Everest or Cherokee as a real 4wd vehicle. The differing requirements between states could also mean that your vehicle is OK in NSW, for example, but is defected in Qld. Anyone wanting a serious 4wd really can’t consider these models any more.

    I see that Haval had the same issue and so reclassified its vehicles to MC. The company said is wasn’t difficult or expensive.

    I expect in a year or so, this will be used as an example of incompetence in business/marketing courses. These companies are spending a fortune in advertising costs to position their products as proper off-road vehicles to have this undone by stories like these and comments on major car review sites. Surely it would be much cheaper and better for all for them to get one of their engineers to fill in and submit a new classification form. Any marketing manager that won’t spend a couple of $K to increase potential market by 25% needs to reconsider their career. Pretty sad when a budget newcomer, Haval, has to show the big companies how to manage correction of an error.

  • OK you glossed over the real story here: “What do the big insurance companies say about claims when AT tyres are fitted and you have an accident at any legal speed” I would stick my neck out and say some will do ‘anything’ to wriggle out of a claim’. A complete and utter uncertainty to buyers/owners which is unacceptable. Future sales value of these vehicles may be crucified by buyers.
    And here is another one: Will some Police take your vehicle off the road as unroadworthy when they have a blitz on the tyre mods and anything else?
    As an Industry player here (4×4 Mag) and us the buyers need to heap huge piles of pressure upon Ford and Jeep to change the classification OR IT WOULD CERTAINLY BE ENOUGH OF A POSITION FOR ME TO NOT CONSIDER THESE VEHICLES AT NEXT 4X4 REPLACEMENT.
    Club 4×4 Insurance interview on 4×4 Earth really did not do much other than mention that Club 4×4 would apply ‘reasonability’ to claims, sorry Kalin thats only one very small insurers position, this MA thing needs to be sorted and now.

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