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Cheap Council MOTs

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Paloma | Edited by Martin

Updated October 2016

MOT test

It's not the test fee but repairing 'fails' that can cost a fortune. But did you know you can get MOTs done by local councils? They generally don't do repairs, so there's no vested interest to fail you in the hope you'll spend. Thousands report a huge difference.

This step-by-step cheap MOT guide includes a full list of UK council test centres.

MOTs: the key rules

Originally called the 'Ministry of Transport' test, it's now just an MOT. Either way, it's a safety and legal must for cars, motorbikes or any other vehicle.

Ensure you know the rules to give your car the best chance of passing – and to give you the best chance of staying safe – for less.

Rule 1: It's your responsibility

The test information is held on a central database as well as on a paper certificate. It's the owner's responsibility to ensure their vehicle's certificate is valid, not for authorities to chase.

cheap MOT

Rule 2: Know when to go

You need a test when the car's three years old (four years in NI), then annually after that. Timing is crucial, though. Get a test in the month before the current certificate ends and the new one will expire exactly a year from the original's end date (the earliest date you can do this is printed on your test certificate).

But get it tested more than a month before the MOT's due, and it'll expire exactly a year later, meaning you lose out. To get a reminder six weeks before your test's due, use the Tart Alert.

There are slightly different rules and processes for MOTs in Northern Ireland, for more information see NI Direct.

Rule 3: Always book tests in advance if your certificate's run out

Council MOT

If your certificate's run out, you can drive it to the test centre provided the test's been booked. Plus, if it's failed the test, then to get the problems fixed you're allowed to go from the test station to a repair centre.

The vehicle still must meet a certain standard of roadworthiness, otherwise you can be fined. If your vehicle has failed you'll be given a 'refusal of an MOT certificate' and it will be logged on the MOT database- you cannot drive it other than to a pre-arranged test or repairs (even if the original MOT hasn't run out).

Rule 4: MOT test costs are limited

Companies can only charge up to the official maximum for an MOT. Many companies promote cheaper tests, which isn't surprising when you consider that often this guarantees they get the repair business too. The maximum test costs are £54.85 for cars or motor caravans and £29.65 for motorbikes. For a full list, see the Gov.uk website.

First do a DIY MOT of avoidable fails

Nearly 40% of MOTs fail first time, and far too many are due to a simple avoidable reason. Don't worry – this is common sense, not mechanical sense. Some of the fails you can sort yourself, others will need a professional. Either way, sorting it before the test is usually cheaper.

Almost one in five vehicles fail MOTs due to a bust light bulb. So walk around to check your car's indicators and headlights, front and back.

Beat the most common fails by following our nine-point checklist

Reason for failure What % of MOTs failed (1) Checks to do beforehand
Lights
MOT headlines
MOT 19% Are all lights fully working? Have someone sit in the car while you walk around checking every light. Front, rear, headlights and dipped, hazards and indicators. If any aren't working, buy a new bulb for a few quid and replace it. It's easy in most cars, though a few do make it more complex.
Suspension
MOT suspension
MOT 13% Check suspension. While a full suspension check is difficult, to see if the shock absorbers have gone, quickly apply your weight to each corner of the car then release. It should quickly settle back.
Brakes
MOT brakes
Is there tension on the handbrake? Not easy to test yourself, and it'll need a proper mechanic to fix it. But if your brakes feel loose and unresponsive, or the handbrake slides up without resistance and can't be ratcheted at a set level, it's likely there's a problem.
Tyres
MOT tyres
MOT 8%

Check tyre pressure. To check tyre pressure, look up what they should be, and fill 'em up at a petrol station.

Check tyre tread. This is the depth of grooves for road grip. The legal minimum's 1.6mm for a car tyre (enough to let surface water slip through). To measure, use the quick 20p tyre test detailed on the Tyre Safe website. Pop a 20p coin on its edge into the main grooves of the tyre tread. If the outer rim of the coin is hidden, your tyres should be legal. If you can see it, get them checked.

Windscreen
MOT Windscreen
MOT 7%

Is the driver's windscreen damaged? Damage in the driver's central view should be no larger than 10mm. In the whole of the swept area, it should be no larger than 40mm. If it is, get it fixed pre-test (often this is included by fully-comprehensive car insurance policies).

Windscreen wipers? Front wipers are in the check. They need to clear the windscreen in conjunction with the washers.

Exhaust
MOT Exhaust
MOT 5% Is the exhaust leaking? To check, start the engine (in a well-ventilated place, at normal temperature) and from the rear of the car listen for any unusual noises or abnormal smoke. These indicate a leak, which you should fix before the MOT.
Steering
MOT License plate
MOT 1% Is your steering working properly? Again this isn't really easy to check for yourself, so if you think the steering is less responsive, or have noticed any other issues it's likely you need to get this looked at. Also check for a warning light.
Fluids
Fluids
N/A(2) Are all fluids topped up? Check the brake fluid, windscreen washer and oil reserves.
The rest
N/A(2) An all-over once-over. Make sure the fuel cap is secure, mirrors are in good condition, and seatbelts, etc, are all fully functional.
(1) Percent of first-time MOT fails. Figures released by the DVSA in January 2016 (2) There are no official figures, but we know these are common fails

Checks introduced in March 2013 under EU rules (they were already in place in NI) include some extra checks, looking at areas such as electronic warning lights, speedometers and electronic handbrakes. You can find more info on the individual changes on the DfT website. For a full list of each check type, see Gov.uk.

The DVSA has released a series of videos to help you check your car before an MOT.

Next choose the right MOT test centre

Council MOT

For cars with faults, the MOT test fee is usually dwarfed by repair costs. While a cheap "MOT for £20" promotion sounds good, it's irrelevant if you're shelling out £1,500 to get problems fixed. Thus, what type of MOT you should opt for is largely dictated by your car's condition.

Is your car in tip-top condition?

If your car is in perfect condition and you'd be surprised if it failed, look for offers to get it as cheap as possible. Check your local garages to see if they will match the lowest possible MOT test fee.

Some colleges also offer cut-price MOT tests as well as repairs and servicing to the public, such as Northumberland College which charges £25 for an MOT. If you've used a college MOT centre let us know in our General Cheap MOT Discussion.

Is your car in moderate to poor condition?

If it's likely or possible only minor repairs will be needed, local council-run centres come into their own. They generally don't carry out repairs, so there's no vested interest in anything failing. See council-run MOT centres below.

On the other hand, if you're pretty sure your car will need substantial repairs, there's a balance to be had. A garage that does repairs is convenient, and there's generally no retest fee, but with a council MOT there's a chance your car may fail on fewer points.

The best solution is to call a range of reputable local garages and tell them the likely problems, then ask for quotes so you can see which option is the best value.

Try hidden council MOT test centres

Council MOTMany local councils have their own MOT testing stations for their own vehicles, such as buses or vans.

By law these test centres (though not taxi or Crown stations) must be open to the general public. As they generally only carry out tests and don't do repairs (always check), there's no incentive for mechanics to find faults that don't exist.

Centres we've visited tell us this guide gave them a fourfold increase in members of the public visiting. They said they were grateful as it secured their jobs at a time when councils are cutting back. Good news, as it means you're seen as a welcome customer, not an annoying distraction.

Does it make a difference?

Thousands of savvy MoneySavers have used these test centres and the vast majority report their cars either consistently pass the test, or need fewer repairs compared with MOTs done at other garages. Here are a few examples:

I had a pre-MOT at my local garage. It failed and it was going to cost £400 to put right. I booked my car into my nearest council MOT centre and it passed. Yes!
- Glen7, 2013

I took my car to a dealer for an MOT. Failed. It was going to cost £798 to fix it. Next day I took it to my local council test centre and paid £30 (which I found out on MSE). Car passed MOT! This is one of my greatest achievements to date and it’s thanks to MSE for inspiring me. Cheers!
- Ermantrude, 2006

Thanks to your advice our MOT was £37 this year on our camper van from a Council MOT garage, last year it was nearly £400.
- Fed up hippe, 2013

Took my 4x4 to the local garage only to find out it had failed with a £1,200 bill. My council's MOT centre passed it... Massive thank you.
- Katiepatie, 2011

We always use a council MOT centre and in five years I've never had a car fail an MOT! Everything is very efficient and cheap
- @CatLamin, 2016

@MartinSLewis How useful! I didn't even know they existed. I'm sick of worrying myself sick about the MOT costing £500/600 plus. Thank you!
- @CeCe_3000, 2016

MOT Testing: Let us know your experiences of council MOT test centres in our discussion area.

While you may miss out on a special 'cheap MOT testing' deal, the money you save in repairs should make up for it. Of course, there are no guarantees, as the council test centre may say you need repairs. But that's good, as it's for your safety and you should always want to know if your car has a problem.

Is it a safety compromise?

MOT logoThis isn't about getting a shoddy quick MOT that passes your car. Council-run MOT centres are often some of the best out there, and they run the safety tests stringently.

One MoneySaver tells how, after being quoted £700 for MOT repairs from his local dealer, he took it to his council test centre where it passed without any need for repairs.

He then reported the dealer to his local Trading Standards department, which had it re-tested; it passed with no need for repairs. So he wrote to the dealer requesting his test fee be returned for "non-compliance with the Road Traffic Act", and got a refund.

If you're not satisfied with the way a test has been carried out, get an appeal form, either from the garage in question, from Gov.uk or DVSA's MOT enquiries phone line 0300 123 9000, and DVSA will re-test your car (but you'll have to pay the full test fee again).

Local council MOT test centre finder

This list shows all the council-run centres we know of that don't do repairs – click your region below to see those nearest. As it's compiled by public feedback, always check the details and the centre's MOT status before using it. Also it's worth booking early.

If you can't find a local centre, check the discussion links below, call your local county or borough council, or take a look at its website. It should be able to tell you your nearest one.

Test centres region-by-region

London

Southern & South East England

South West England

Eastern England

Western England

West Midlands

East Midlands

North West England

North East England

Yorkshire & Lincolnshire

Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Let us know your experiences of Council MOT test centres or share any you'd like us to add to the list in our MOT testing discussion.

It's not only council-run centres that don't do repairs

Quite a few private garages also only do MOTs and not repairs, so the same logic should apply. Of course, there are many garages that do MOTs and repairs completely honestly and fairly. If you use one, that's great.

But if you're new to MOTs or not happy with what you get now, then this is an alternative route. You can also check your local council's website to see if it has a list of vetted garages.

If your car fails: MOT retest fees

If your vehicle does fail its MOT, then once the repairs have been completed it needs to be retested. Retests can be free or discounted, depending on where you had your vehicle tested in the first place.

Retest info's printed on the refusal certificate – what you'll need to do depends on what the defects are, but generally:

  • Retests are free when repaired at a test centre and retested within 10 days...

    Handily, retests are free when the repairs are done at the test centre and it's retested within 10 days. If repairs are done elsewhere, it's free if returned to the test centre by the end of the next working day. But to qualify for this all the failure points must be on the list below.

    See the full list of failure points which qualify for a free retest

  • Test done at a local council centre? Get up to half off retests when...

    ...the repairs are done elsewhere, provided the vehicle's brought back to the original test centre for a partial retest within 10 working days (applies to any test centre, but primarily relevant for council test centres). One partial retest's allowed per full test.

  • All other cases – it's a full fee test.

    In all other circumstances, the retest fee is at the same maximum rate as the full test.