Consumers' lack of confidence in repair standards is partly to blame for nearly half of motorists admitting they drive cars knowing they are faulty.
A survey by Brake and Direct Line revealed that almost half (45%) of drivers admit having driven with at least one risky vehicle problem or defect in the past year, with men and young drivers the worst offenders.
And, even if they notice a problem with their vehicle, many drivers admit to knowingly putting lives at risk by driving anyway, says the road safety charity.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter are not confident they know how to make essential checks like ensuring tyres are in safe and legal condition (27%) and brakes are working properly (26%), with confidence lowest among women and young drivers. For tyres, this is up from two in five (20%) three years ago.
In response, Steve Nash, chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry, believes the latest research simply underlines consumer fears about the service they will receive in garages.
“Clearly there is a serious safety risk if motorists are not taking heed of vehicle faults and don’t feel comfortable going to a garage for maintenance and repairs," he said.
“Our research suggests that the majority of motorists choose a garage or mechanic without sufficient information to verify their competence to do the job.
"The proliferation of hybrid vehicles and complex driver assist systems has already increased the skills requirements for effective and safe working on modern vehicles. But currently there is no industry-wide license in place to ensure service technicians are properly qualified.
“The template for licensing already exists through IMI Accreditation and our Professional Register, so there is no excuse for the Government to delay. Yet, by our calculations there are 148,000 mechanics whose skills and current competence we cannot verify. It is vital that this issue is addressed as quickly as possible.”
The IMI is calling on all the major political parties to include a mandatory 'license to practice' for the motor trade in their election manifestoes in 2015.
IMI research also shows that 90% of businesses in the sector are in favour of licensing to protect them from being undercut by rogue traders. The IMI is seeking meetings with the leaders of all the main political parties ahead of the General Election to put the case for licensing. It will publish the results of these consultations and advise its 500,000 members and associates in the sector, of appropriate voting choices, accordingly.
Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “It is shocking to see so many drivers both ignorant and wilfully negligent when it comes to basic and essential vehicle maintenance checks. It's especially worrying at this time of year, when drivers need to make sure they and their vehicle are prepared in case bad weather hits. You don't need to be an expert to carry out basic vehicle checks, and it needn't take long.”
The survey also suggests: one in three (37%) do not ensure their tyres have 3mm tread; only a minority carry some important emergency items in winter, like a high-vis vest (27%), food and water (20%) and blanket or warm clothes (38%); and one in seven (15%) do not make basic checks such as correct oil and water levels or working lights, indicators, or brakes before long journeys, with women less likely to make checks than men.
Younger drivers are most at risk, with a third (33%) of 17-24 year olds not confident they know how to check brakes are working properly and more than three in five 17-34 year olds (63% 17-24, 62% 25-34) having driven when they knew there was a problem with their vehicle.
Men performed better than women in terms of making and being confident about maintenance checks. However, men were also more willing to take risks by knowingly driving a vehicle with problems.