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The MC Watch – offroad classified passenger vehicles in Australia

Every vehicle in Australia is categorised according to its purpose, but some seem to be in the wrong category. That’s important for offroaders.

YOUR 4X4 WAGON will be officially categorised as either MA, which is not an offroader, or MC, which definitely is. Here’s why that’s important.

What the vehicle classifications are

Every vehicle in Australia needs to comply with ADRs, or Australian Design Rules. This is a list of categories:

  • L—Category Vehicles—Two and Three Wheeled Vehicles
  • M—Category Vehicles—Passenger Vehicles
  • N—Category Vehicles—Goods Vehicles
  • T—Category Vehicles—Trailers  

The specific category we’re interested in is M, and within that there’s MA – passenger vehicles, MB – forward control passenger vehicles (peoplemovers) and MC which is offroaders. MD and ME are small buses. Utes are classed as goods vehicles which is N, and within that, NA for light goods vehicle.

The difference between MA and MC categories

The official definitions of MA and MC are:  

4.3.1 PASSENGER CAR (MA) 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.  

4.3.3. OFF-ROAD PASSENGER VEHICLE (MC)

A passenger vehicle having up to 9 seating positions, including that of the driver and being designed with special features for off-road operation. A vehicle with special features for off-road operation is a vehicle that:

(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.

Alternatively, a vehicle that meets the definition of CATEGORY G – OFF-ROAD VEHICLES under Consolidated Resolution on the Construction of Vehicles (R.E.3) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and is in category M1.  

Source: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2012C00326  

The “not…” above is our highlight. It’s very clear that the rules make a distinction between offroad capable and non-offroad capable vehicles, and that’s what this article is about. So, here is a list of MC and MA classified offroad vehicles, as at the date of this post.  

MC and MA categorised 4X4 vehicles in Australia (October 2016)

Note that the list is subject to change without notice, and that there may be older or newer variants of the same vehicle that are rated differently. You can look up the latest on this link:  

http://rvcs-prodweb.dot.gov.au/pls/wwws/pubrvcs.Notify_Search

MC categorised vehicles

  • Audi Q5
  • Bentley Bentayga
  • BMW X3
  • Holden Trailblazer
  • Infiniti QX80
  • Isuzu MU-X (also available in 2WD which is MA)
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Land Rover Discovery
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport
  • Lexus LX570
  • Mazda CX-9 (also available in 2WD which is MA)
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Class
  • Nissan Dualis
  • Nissan Y62 Patrol
  • Mitsubishi Pajero
  • Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • Range Rover Sport
  • Range Rover
  • Ssangyong Rexton
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Outback
  • Suzuki Jimny
  • Suzuki Grand Vitara (also available in 2WD)
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser
  • Toyota Fortuner
  • Toyota Prado
  • Toyota LC200
  • Volvo XC60
  • Volvo XC70
  • Volvo XC90
  • VW Touraeg

Some surprises there. Lovely that Mazda made the CX-9 an MC, but it didn’t really need to be. Same deal for Volvos. But pat on the back to Nissan and Subaru for their good work.

Notable MA vehicles

These vehicles are categorised MA but arguably should be MC because all have low range, for example, so are clearly offroad-focused (again, this is based off the most current certifications for the vehicles. Older models may have different categorisations):

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee (also available in 2WD)
  • Jeep Renegade Trailhawk (versions also available in 2WD, full offroad test here)
  • Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk (versions also available in 2WD)
  • Ford Everest (also available in 2WD, test here)
  • HAVAL H9 (full offroad test here)

Note: as we said above, this is for current versions only. For example, the Grand Cherokee used to be MC, but vehicles after January 2015 are MA. The old classification number for the Grand Cherokee MC was 34419 and that has been surrendered by Jeep.

Note: the original version of this article did not differentiate between 4X2 and 4X4 Grand Vitaras – that has been fixed.

Grand Cherokee - MC and MA placards.
Thanks to an industry friend who happened to have two Grand Cherokees in the workshop at the same time! The photo on the rightd does not say “Grand” Cherokee, but it definitely is a Grand as can be see by the use of the WK series.

So yes, you read this right. The Ford Everest and three of Jeep’s finest are categorised as non-offroad vehicles, but the BMX X3, Nissan Dualis and Mazda CX-9 are categorised officially as offroaders. You may comment below.

Why aren’t the offroaders in MA classed as MC?

Because the manufacturer decided not to apply for MC, not because the authorities knocked them back. The two standouts above are the Everest and Grand Cherokee, so we asked both manufacturers why their vehicles aren’t MC. Ford said:

“The Ford Everest was certified to a MA vehicle category for Australia due the product strategy, keeping all variants under the same ADR compliance plate approval. MA allows a 4×4 and 4×2, however a MC only allows 4×4 variants.” 

UPDATE 20/10/2016: We also asked Ford if they had any plans to change to MC and they said: “We have no plans at this stage to change the classification of the Everest.”

UPDATE 08/11/2016: After some delay, Ford have come back to us and said:

“The Ford Everest has been thoroughly designed and engineered, with extensive testing throughout Australia, as a fully-capable, off-road vehicle. Driving the Everest off-road will not void its warranty. We stand by the off-road capabilities that the Everest has been built to handle, and has been awarded for by numerous publications since its launch.

Everest 4×4 has been developed to meet, and does meet, the requirements* of an ‘MC’ off-road’ passenger vehicle. These requirements specify parameters for running clearance, suspension and axle clearances, as well as approach angle, breakover and departure angle. The Everest’s ‘MA’ homologation allows us to introduce the Everest 4×2 to showrooms under a common government approval, which we’re excited to bring to consumers as we expand our SUV offering.

Only 4×4 vehicles can qualify for the ‘MC’ off-road classification, and as we respond to consumer demands for more SUV choice, we’re delighted to be able to offer the ruggedness and capability of the Everest not only in 4×4 form, but also as a 4×2 and the availability of seven-seat and five-seat versions in the near future.”

This is exactly the same response sent to anyone who asks via social media. At least Ford are now not blaming the road authorities for choosing MA, and admit it was their idea.

We also asked Jeep why their vehicles are MA, not MC. Their response was:

“Firstly, 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.

The same applies to Cherokee Trailhawk & Renegade Trailhawk variants.”

We pointed out that while there may be no advantage to the manufacturer, there is to the owner and invited further comment from Jeep. None had been received at the time of publication.

So let’s cut to the chase. The answer appears to be that it’s cheaper and easier for the manufacturer to put both 4X4 and 4X2 under MA than it is to split out the 4X4 versions to MC.

Jeep do make a fair point; back in the day there was a significant tax exemption for 4X4 vehicles, which is why Australia never had any 2WD SUVs until several years ago because they didn’t get the tax break. Once that exemption was phased out we began to see lots of 2WD SUVs. However, while MA makes sense from the manufacturer’s perspective, it doesn’t help the offroading driver-owner. The desire to minimise costs is understandable, but if Isuzu, Suzuki and even Mazda can manage to get 4X4 versions of their 2WD vehicles MC-categorised surely Ford and Jeep could make the effort, particularly as both brands heavily promote their offroad credentials.

Two Jeep Cherokee Trailhawks, one Jeep Wrangler, one Subaru Outback and an Isuzu MU-X. Two of these vehicles are MA categorised, and clue - they aren't Japanese...
Two Jeep Cherokee Trailhawks, one Jeep Wrangler, one Subaru Outback and an Isuzu MU-X. Two of these vehicles are MA categorised, and clue – they aren’t Japanese…

What are the implications of an MA classed offroad vehicle?

This is Australia, and we have some of the most opaque road regulations in the world, and even worse, they’re all slightly different from state to state. So what follows is general guidance, and there’s three main things to consider:

  • Warranty;
  • Insurance; and
  • Modifications.

Warranty: A grey area, but in order to have any warranty claim approved you must be operating the vehicle within its design limits and for its designed purpose. If you drive an MC categorised vehicle offroad and have issues, then that is an easier case to prove than if the vehicle was MA categorised.

Insurance: Two aspects here – first, any modifications must be legal (more on that below), and that’s definitely easier with an MC than an MA for your typical offroad mods. Second, appropriate use of the vehicle. Insurance companies require the vehicle to be used as designed, and as per the warranty example above, that’s an easier conversation if your vehicle is classed MC instead of MA.  

We asked Affinity Insurance Brokers, which specialises in offroad insurance, for their view and a spokesperson told us: “With the policies that Affinity provide there are no implications of the rating of the vehicle in response to claims.

“In many policies there will be exclusions worded in a variety of ways, this could mean that in some cases the rating could be used to deny a claim.

“If the vehicle has any modifications these would need to be declared to the insurer but this would be the case irrespective of its classification.”

The summary is that MA vehicles can be used for offroad purposes, but modification, insurance and warranty become easier if it classed as MC. There’s enough red tape in the Australian automotive world as it is and the last thing owners need is another complication when dealing with a difficult situation. Therefore, the advice has to be to preference MC classed vehicles over MA.  

Modifications: The road regulations permit limited modifications to any vehicle. The extent of the modifications permitted is greater for MC than it is for MA, and there are two areas in particular that are of importance:  

  • Tyres and wheels
  • Suspension lifts  

Below are some representative excerpts from various state road authorities. You will note that many cover the same ground using slightly different words because that’s just the way Australia rolls, life isn’t meant to be easy for those law-abiding owners who want a legal, safe vehicle. But I digress, so read on:

The original speed rating of the tyre casing must be at least:

For vehicles with a GVM of 4.5 tonnes or less with four or more wheels, the lesser of:

  • 140km/h for a passenger car with special features for off-road use such as 4WD;
  • 180km/h for any other passenger car;
  • 120km/h for any other motor vehicle not descrbed above; and
  • the vehicle’s top speed.

[ Source: Vicroads VSI 26 ]

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The overall diameter of any tyre fitted to:

  • a 4WD passenger vehicle specifically designed for off-road use (MC ADR category other than a ‘soft roader’);
  • a 4WD goods vehicle and its 2WD equivalent if the chassis and running gear are essentially the same as the 4WD version (N ADR category); or
  • medium weight goods vehicle (NA2, NB ADR category);

must not be more than 50mm larger or 26mm smaller than that of any tyre designated by the vehicle manufacturer for that vehicle. Tyre diameters of a vehicle fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) may be modified without certification provided it is not combined with any other lift (i.e tyre and suspension, tyre and body block, etc).

[ Source: Department of Transport and Main Roads, G19.6 released March 2014, updated Feb 2016 ]

————————————

4.2.4 Overall Nominal Diameter The overall diameter of any tyre fitted to a passenger car or passenger car derivative must not be more than 15mm larger or 26mm smaller than that of any tyre designated by the vehicle manufacturer for that model. The overall diameter of any tyre fitted to:

  • 4WD passenger vehicles specifically designed for off-road use (typically MC ADR category). All wheel drive (AWD) vehicles including those AWD vehicles that may be certified as MC ADR category, (also commonly known as soft roaders) are not included in this category;

[ Source: Section LS, Tyres, Rims, Suspension and Steering, VSB 14, NCOP Version 2.1 Nov 2015 ]

4.2.11 Off-Road and Goods Vehicle Wheel Track The wheel track of off-road four wheel drive vehicles and goods vehicles (MC, NA, NB ADR category) must not be increased by more than 50mm beyond the maximum specified by the vehicle manufacturer for the particular model. If a solid axle from another manufacturer is used, the wheel track may be increased by 50mm beyond the maximum specified by the vehicle manufacturer for that particular axle, provided all other requirements such as clearances and the tyres do not protruding outside of the vehicle bodywork. Note: This clause does not apply to passenger vehicles that are four wheel drive or all wheel drive and certified as MA ADR category.

[ Source: Section LS, Tyres, Rims, Suspension and Steering, VSB 14, NCOP Version 2.1 Nov 2015 ]

————————————

The overall tyre diameter can be increased to allow an increase of 7.5mm in vehicle height for passenger vehicles and no more than 25mm in vehicle height for four wheel drive vehicles (typically MC ADR category).

[ Source: Section LS, Tyres, Rims, Suspension and Steering, VSB 14, NCOP Version 2.1 Nov 2015 ]

————————————

13.3 Raising of Four Wheel Drive Vehicles – Alternative to VSB 14 Modification Code LS

In the case of raising the height of an offroad type 4WD of ADR Categor NA, NB1, MC or MD, and only in this case, the following two options apply as alternatives to meeting the requirements of Section LS of VSB 14.

(the options are 75mm total lift, tyres and suspension, or 1/3 of suspenction travel and restrictions on tyre diameter)

[ Source: VSI 8 Guide to Modifications for Motor Vehicles ]

UPDATE 15/11/16: To draw attention to this clause – this is of particular note as it clearly states MC vehicles may be lifted 75mm in Victoria.  It does not say MA vehicles may be so lifted, so you cannot lift a MA vehicle as you would an MC.

————————————

Speed and load ratings The speed rating of all tyres must be at least:

  • for an off-road passenger vehicle – 140km/h
  • for another car (sedan, station wagon, etc.) with up to nine adult seating positions or a car derivative – 180km/h
  • for another motor vehicle – 120km/h
  • the vehicle’s top speed, if lower than the speeds referred to above

[ Source: Department of Transport and Main Roads, G19.6 released March 2014, updated Feb 2016 ]

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As you can see, there is specific mention of MC category vehicles, but also the regulations do leave a bit of wiggle room…in some instances. But, there’s no question life would be easier with an MC classed vehicle.

The tyre issue is perhaps the most important. Let’s use the Everest as an example. Ford told us the Everest can do 175km/h, so naturally they fit tyres rated to above that speed to the vehicle – T and H rated, 190km/h and 210km/h, respectively. This is very sensible, the right thing to do and in line with every other manufacturer.

However, offroad tyres are stronger (thicker) construction and are not typically rated for high speeds. Therefore, as 4WDs were developed a problem arose where 4WDs had top speeds the offroad tyres couldn’t handle, and the higher speed rated tyres became increasingly offroad-weak as they had to handle greater and greater heat dissipation. That is why every Australian road authority permits offroad vehicles (usually defined as MC category) to run N rated tyres, irrespective of the placard, in a very rare example of actual government thought and intelligent design on behalf of real-world users. So while the Everest’s top speed is 175km/h according to Ford, the road authorities allow you to fit N-rated tyres which are good only for 140km/h. Or would do, if it was a MC/offroad vehicle.

Some of the text in the excerpts above says that “typically” an offroader is MC, so again there may be some wiggle room. However, wouldn’t it be nice to just have one less bit of red tape to worry about?

Offroad tyre
This is the sort of tyre you’d fit to your 4X4 if you want it to work in the bush. Light-truck (LT) construction, and an offroad pattern. The speed rating is Q, or 160km/h. That’s plenty, but if the placard on the car says T (190km/h) then you must run T, unless the vehicle is classified as an offroader.

What about utes?

Utes are classed as NA or light commercial, not MA or MC. There is nothing in the N categories about whether a vehicle is offroad capable or not, i.e. there is no equivalent of the MC category in the Nx category. Remember, the MA category specifically says the vehicle is *not* an offroader. The NA category does not have any such exclusion. Some of the text excerpts above mention N category vehicles with offroad features.

So what do I do?

  1. If you buy a 4X4 for offroad use, preference an MC class vehicle for the reasons listed above.
  2. If you just want to tow or don’t intend to drive offroad, then either MA or MC will work.
  3. If you already own an MA vehicle that you use offroad, then be careful with modifications and ensure your insurance company is aware of what you do; good practice anyway, but even more so with MA.

Further reading

We will update this post as more MC vehicles come on the market, and also list any MA vehicles that should be MC. We’re also investigating further with the road authorities.


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper