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Cheap Council MOTs

Plus more tricks to cut MOT costs

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Paloma | Edited by Martin

Updated May 2018

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 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 guide includes a full list of UK council test centres – plus full details of the recent rule changes.

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 one month before your test's due, go to Gov.uk.

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

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

Council MOT

If your MOT's run out, you can still drive your car to a test centre provided the test's been booked in advance. And previously, if it failed the test you were still usually able to drive from the test station to a repair centre to get the problems that caused it to fail fixed, provided it still met a minimum standard of roadworthiness.

Yet under the rule changes that came in on 20 May you can't drive away if a 'dangerous' fault is found when your car's being tested, regardless of whether your existing MOT is still valid. A dangerous fault means your car has fail the MOT and is deemed to be a risk to road safety or the environment, and mustn't be driven until it's repaired. If you do, you could be fined up to £2,500, get three penalty points and be banned from driving.

If a 'major' fault is found, you car will have failed the MOT but you can drive away provided it's to get the fault reapired immediately.

If your car fails its MOT, you'll be given a 'refusal of an MOT' certificate and the vehicle will be logged on the MOT database. If you don't think it should have failed, you can appeal the result via the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

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 Gov.uk.

How the MOT rules have changed

MOT rules

On Sunday 20 May the way the MOT test works in England, Scotland and Wales changed as the result of an EU directive.

Crucially, the new rules could mean your car gets stuck at the garage if it's found to have a 'dangerous' fault, as you won't be allowed to drive it away – you'll have to get it repaired at the garage or towed elsewhere. (This could happen under the previous rules if a car was deemed 'not roadworthy', but the new rules have brought in specific checks which can take your car off the road.)

Here's a round-up of what's changed:

  • New defect categories – if you get a 'dangerous' fault you won't be able to drive away. Problems are now be categorised as 'minor', 'major' or 'dangerous' – previously you simply passed or failed.

    Your car will still pass if a minor fault's found, though repairs should be made as soon as possible. A major fault means a fail but you'll be able to drive your car to another garage to get it fixed, if it can't be repaired where it's been tested. If you get a 'dangerous' fault though, you won't be able to drive it away – you'll have to get it fixed on the spot or towed elsewhere.

    It's worth noting you've always been forbidden from driving your car away from an MOT if it fails to meet a minimum standard of roadworthiness, so this isn't a complete change. But there are some possible 'dangerous' fails under the new rules which weren't tested for previously, such as if you have contaminated brake fluid or the floor's dangerously "deteriorated or insecure".

    There's no easy-to-use list showing the new defect categories unfortunately, but you can check how individual faults are categorised in the MOT inspection manual.
  • Stricter rules for diesel cars. Stricter emissions limits for diesel cars with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) now apply – check your car's handbook to find out if it has one. Your car will get a major fault if the MOT test finds there's smoke coming from the exhaust or any evidence that the DPF's been tampered with.
  • New checks as part of the test. These include whether the tyres are obviously underinflated, if the brake fluid is contaminated, if there are any fluid leaks that pose an environmental risk, brake-pad warning lights, if brake pads or discs are missing, engine malfunction indicator lamps, and if cars have reverse lights and headlight washers, if 'first used' from 1 September 2009 (the 'first used date' relates in most cases to when a vehicle's first driven out of the factory).

    A few elements of the previous test which resulted in a fail have been reclassified as minor faults, such as the brake fluid level being below the minimum mark. See a full list of changes here.
  • New-look MOT certificate. The MOT certificate now lists any defects found under the new categories – ie, as dangerous, major or minor faults. The Government service that allows you to check MOT history will also be updated to include them.
  • Some cars over 40 years old won't need an MOT. If your car's over 40 years old – ie, was first registered on or before 20 May 1978 (you can check this online with the DVLA) – it no longer needs an MOT as long as it hasn't been modified substantially.

For full details of the changes, go to Gov.uk.

First do a DIY MOT of most common 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 professional assistance. 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.

The table below, which lists the most common reasons for failing an MOT and what to do about them, has been updated to include new checks now included in the test.

The most common MOT failures – and how to beat them

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 and number plates.

Under the changes that came in on 20 May you need to check front fog lights too – plus if your car was first used on or after 1 Sept 2009, check the reverse lights, and if first used on or after 1 Mar 2018, the daytime lights.

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.

Under the changes that came in on 20 May you should check the brake wear warning light too if you have one – it's a light on the dashboard of some cars which comes on when the brake pads have been worn down. If your car's got one and it's lit, it could fail an MOT, so get it looked into first.

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 TyreSafe 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 with fully-comprehensive car insurance policies).

Windscreen wipers? Front wipers are in the check. They need to clear the windscreen in conjunction with the washers. Under the changes that came in on 20 May, if your car was first used on or after 1 Sept 2009 and it has headlight washers, check they're working too.

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.

Under the changes that came in on 20 May, if you've a diesel car with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), and there's smoke of any colour coming from the exhaust, it'll fail, so check it out before you take it to be tested.

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 than it could be, or have noticed any other issues, it's likely you need to get it looked at. Also check for a warning light.
Fluids
Fluids
N/A(2) Are all fluids topped up and staying put? Check the brake fluid, windscreen washer and oil reserves. Under the changes that came in on 20 May, check for fluid leaks too.
The rest
N/A(2) An all-over once-over. Make sure the fuel cap is secure and mirrors are in good condition, and doors, horn, seatbelts, speedo, etc, are all fully functional. Under the changes that came in on 20 May also check no other warning lights are on, and that bumpers and floors are in good condition.
(1) Percentage 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

There's a short series of DVSA videos to help you check your car before an MOT. Bear in mind these were published in 2016, so won't cover the changes which came in on 20 May.

Next choose the right MOT test centre

Council MOT

For cars with faults, the MOT test fee is usually dwarfed by repair costs. While an 'MOT for £20' promotion sounds good, it's irrelevant if you're shelling out £1,500 to get problems fixed. Therefore what type of MOT you should opt for is largely dictated by your car's condition – and all the more so after the new MOT rules came in on 20 May.

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 on our MOT Cost Cutting forum thread.

Is your car in moderate condition and likely to need only minor repairs?

If it's likely or possible only minor repairs will be needed, 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 MOT test centres below.

Is your car likely to need major repairs?

If you're pretty sure your car will need substantial repairs, the best solution is to do your research, find a garage you'd be happy to carry out the repairs and then get the MOT test done there. Ask family and friends for recommendations and call around – tell the garages the likely problems, then ask for quotes.

Remember, under the new MOT rules, a fail means you might not be able to drive away. Under the previous system, if your car needed major repairs there was a balance to be struck – while going direct to a garage that did repairs was convenient, getting a council MOT could sometimes mean your car would fail on fewer points and you could then drive it elsewhere to get it fixed.

However under the changes that came in on 20 May, if a 'dangerous' fault – eg, insufficient tyre tread or contaminated brake fluid – is found, you won't be able to drive it away until it's been fixed. If you go to a council test centre which doesn't do repairs, your only option will be to have it towed.

Try hidden council MOT test centres

Council MOTMany 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.

Yet if your car's likely to need major repairs, think twice about taking it to one of these test centres. Under new rules introduced on 20 May, you won't be able to drive your car away if it receives a 'dangerous' fail until it's fixed, which means you might end up having to pay for it to be transported to get the necessary repairs done.

Centres we've visited tell us this guide gave them a four-fold 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:

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

I honestly didn't know this was a service the council provided ... I received a fair and honest MOT test and they only charged me £45.
- forumite NAL16, 2018

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.

Council MOT testing: Let us know your experiences of council MOT test centres in our Driving down the costs of MOTs forum thread.

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 test centre in question, from Gov.uk or from the DVSA by calling 0300 123 9000, and the DVSA will re-test your car (but you'll have to pay the full test fee again).

Council MOT test centres near you

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 forum thread below, call your county or borough council, or take a look at its website. It should be able to tell you your nearest one.

And again, remember that under the new MOT rules you might not be able to drive your car away if it fails until it's fixed.

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 Cost Cutting forum thread.

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 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 the car'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 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.

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