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Cheap MOT tricks Beat repair costs, use council MOT tests

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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.

  • Rule 2: Know when to go

    You need a test when the car's three years old (four years in N Ireland), 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.

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

    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.

  • 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.

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.


Ensure you beat the most frequent fails

Reason for failture 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
MOT 10%% 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.
License plates

MOT License plate
MOT 1% Can you read the licence plate? Make sure the plates are clean and easily legible from 20 metres away.
Fluids
- Are all fluids topped up? Check the brake fluid, windscreen washer and oil reserves.
The rest
- 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) Sources: RAC and VOSA

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

Next choose the right MOT test centre

For cars with faults, the MOT test fee is usually dwarfed by repair costs. While a cheap "MOTs 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 - see below for latest deals. Check your local garages to see if they will match the lowest possible MOT test fee.

Is your car in moderate to good 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. However it does mean there's a chance you'll have to pay a retest fee though. See council-run MOT centres below.

Is your car in poor condition?

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. However with a council MOTa> 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:

"After reading Martin's article on council MOTs I had a pre-MOT at my local garage. They said it would fail and cost £400 to put right. My nearest council MOT centre tested my car and passed it, saving me £400! Thanks."

"A huge thanks for bringing the council MOT test centres to my attention. Today I rang the Croydon test centre, my car passed with only the £50 test fee to pay (the tester also replaced a bulb for me). I'm so pleased considering last year I felt I had been ripped off by £400 repairs for my 12-year-old Micra."

"I took my 10-year-old Renault to my local council depot for a test last year, it passed first time. This has NEVER happened in my life. RESULT. "

"Took my Mini for a service at a dealership. They told me it needed £1,700 of repairs, many of which would be likely MOT failure issues. Having read this thread, I took the car to the Camden Council test centre. This has just saved me £1,700 - more than a month's pay. I can't tell you how happy I am!"

"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."

MOT Testing 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 VOSA's MOT enquiries phone line, and VOSA will re-test your car.

Local council MOT test centre finder

This regularly-updated finder lists all the council-run centres we know of that don't do repairs. Just click your region to see those nearest on a Google map. As it's compiled by public feedback, always check the details and the centre's MOT status before using it. Also it's worth making sure you book early.

No centre in your area?

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.

Alternatively, view test centres region-by-region

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Wales

Yorkshire & Lincolnshire

North East England

North West England

East Midlands

West Midlands

Western England

Eastern England

South West England

Southern & South East England

London

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It's not just council-run MOT test centres

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 this list.

  • Test done at a local council centre? Retests are up to half price 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 re-test'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.

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