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Part and parcel of owning a car is dealing with all of the government laws and regulations. Taxing your car and insuring it isn’t an optional extra; it’s a legal requirement for all vehicles on the road. The same is true for the MOT test. MOT stands for “Ministry of Transport”, and is a roadworthiness test for all cars on the road which are at least three years old.
Types of Vehicles Requiring a MOT Test
As soon as your car turns three it will need its first MOT test, and then another test every year it remains in the road. The age of your car is determined from the date of its first registration with the authorities. This isn’t necessarily the same as the date you first bought it. Over in Northern Ireland, the rules are different. Cars there don’t start having a MOT test until they are 4 years old. At the other end of the scale, cars which are classed as “vintage”, or over 40 years old, don’t need any more MOT tests although you do have to ensure that they are roadworthy. There’s a handy tool on the DVLA website which lets you input the car’s registration number to see when your MOT expires.
Finding a Test Centre
With a network of 21,000 MOT test centres across the UK, you won’t have to travel far to find one close to you. Not all garages are registered to provide the service, but those which are will have the distinctive sign with three triangles outside. There’s no difference between the MOT service at a small local garage or a large, national chain. Book your MOT test before your existing test certificate runs out to ensure that you get a slot which suits you.
It should take an inspector around an hour to work through the MOT test checklist and return your car to you. The law states that you are free to remain in the garage and observe – but not ask questions – if you like. If your car passes, then pay the test fee, pick up the paperwork and drive home. If on the other hand the car fails the MOT, they’ll usually give you a ring or text you to let you know. The mechanic will then explain why your car has failed, and what work needs done to rectify the faults.
All MOT test fees are set by the government. Or more accurately, the government sets the maximum charges for tests in each category. If garages want to charge less than the maximum, then they are free to do so. Lots of garages choose to reduce MOT fees to entice customers in at quiet times. Another option is using a Council-run MOT test centre, which does tests only and doesn’t offer repairs. If you’re sure your car will pass, this is cost-effective. However, if it needs repairs, you’ll then have to go elsewhere to get the car fixed, then re-tested.
If your car sails through its MOT with no problems, you can just file away the paperwork and forget about it all for another year. If on the other hand your car fails its MOT, then the next steps will depend on the reasons for failing,
In Spring 2018, the law was changed when it comes to MOT failures. There are now two different categories of failure.
- Dangerous – This means the inspector has detected an issue with your car which makes it unsafe to be on the road. If this is the case, then driving it will be illegal. Your options are having it fixed by the garage which did the MOT, or arranging a tow truck to take it elsewhere. There is a wide range of faults which could be dangerous, such as leaking brake fluid, missing wheel nuts or brake lights which aren’t working.
- Major – a major fault is still a fail, but doesn’t necessarily mean your car is unsafe. You might still choose to let the MOT test centre do the repairs, but you also have the freedom to take it elsewhere.
A retest is free of charge if you get the repairs done at the same garage which did the initial test, then immediately retested. They won’t re-run the entire inspection, just look at the components which failed first time round. If instead you’ve chosen to take it somewhere else to get fixed, you have 10 days to go back for a retest at a reduced rate. Any longer than that, and you’ll have to pay for a completely new inspection.
Faults when a Pass is Given?
The old MOT system used to have advisories – a list of minor things which the inspector had noticed but which weren’t serious enough to warrant a fail. Advisory meant that you were advised to have the car looked at. This system has now changed, with two new categories of fault potentially listed on the certificate. Remember that seeing either of these still means your car has passed its MOT.
- Minor – a Minor fault is something which the inspector has picked up, and which needs to be fixed before you bring your car back for a MOT next year.
- Advisory – A less important issue. These things usually don’t need immediate attention. It’s up to you whether you get them fixed or not, and even if you don’t get them fixed, your car may still pass its MOT in a year’s time.
It’s a legal requirement to have a valid MOT for any vehicle you take on the public roads. It’s your job to keep up to date with when the MOT is due, and to get it booked into the garage in plenty of time. Driving a car with an expired MOT is just the same as driving a car which has failed its MOT. If you’re stopped by the police, you can expect a fine and points on your driving licence too. Sign up to the text reminder service on the government website to get reminders 30 days before your car’s MOT expires.
What’s the Difference Between a Service and a MOT?
If you’re new to the world of car ownership, then a lot of the terminology can be fairly confusing. It’s a common dealer tactic to offer all sorts of maintenance packages with never-ending checks and options to keep your car on the road. Not all of these are essential, and the trick is to try to see through the marketing and work out which of the checks really are essential for keeping your car on the road. The two main essential checks are the MOT and servicing, and there are important differences between the two.
A service is a check on your car, along with replacement of items such as brake pads or oil filters as needed. There are no hard and fast rules about when a car needs serviced. Each manufacturer sets its own servicing schedule and how often you need to take your car in will depend on the type of engine and how many miles you drive annually. Most service schedules will say something like “every 20,000 miles or annually, whichever is sooner”. Modern cars often have an automatic notification function which tells you when the next service is approaching.
Having a service done isn’t a legal requirement. It’s just the advised way of keeping your car in best condition. You don’t have to have your car serviced at a main dealer or a chain garage; you can also either do the servicing yourself or use your local independent garage. When you come to sell your car in the future however, most buyers will want to make sure that you have been looking after your car properly, and will want to see evidence such as a stamped service book. Ignoring servicing is rarely a good idea and will often cost more in the long run.
What’s Checked in a Service?
Each car will differ in what exactly needs checked during a service, and what needs replaced. Many cars also require a basic service every year, with a major service only every two or three years. Most services, whether basic or major, will include:
- Checking the brakes and replacing pads or shoes if necessary
- Draining the oil from the engine and replacing
- Replacing air filter
- General checks on condition of bodywork and engine function
- Topping up windscreen wash
- Replacing wiper blades if needed
Cost varies depending on what type of service you need. A basic service on a small car could cost as little as £75. However, if you need a big service on a brand known for being expensive on parts, it could easily run into the hundreds. The key advice is to shop around and don’t assume that your only option is the expensive main dealer’s servicing department.
Servicing might be recommended but not compulsory, but MOT checks are a wholly different matter. It’s a legal requirement that nearly every vehicle over the age of 3 has an annual check to make sure that it’s fit to be on the road. There are a few exemptions, but this doesn’t apply to most cars, vans or motorbikes on British roads. Driving an unserviced car might make you more likely to break down, but driving a car without a MOT certificate is illegal and will cost you at least £100 in a fixed penalty fine.
The MOT doesn’t involve replacing things on your car or bringing it up to scratch. It’s assumed that you’ve done all of this work before taking it into the garage for the checks. During the MOT, the inspector runs through the checklist set out by the government and checks everything from seatbelts and tyres to suspension and lighting. If your car doesn’t reach the standards set in each category, it fails. The garage may then give you the option of getting it fixed and retested. If you take your car in for its MOT knowing that, for example, it needs two new tyres, the garage will usually do this work first before the MOT test.
As the MOT is a quicker job than a service, the cost is usually less too. The price of a car MOT is capped by the government at £54.85, but many garages choose to charge less than this as a marketing tool. A MOT test usually takes about 45 minutes. You also have less flexibility over when you have your MOT done. Each MOT certificate expires on a given date, and has to be renewed before that date. When it comes to servicing, you have more flexibility over when it gets done and a few weeks before or after isn’t going to make much of a difference. Many garages will offer a reminder service to notify you when your annual service is due.
Combining MOT and Servicing
As many drivers want to have their car serviced annually, and the MOT is also done once a year, it often makes sense to try to get the work to coincide. It’s less hassle, and less time off work to take the car into the garage. Many garages know that drivers want the “one stop shop” solution for both and therefore will run special offers. As the price of a MOT is not fixed, it’s fairly common to see offers for a free or reduced price MOT when you have the car serviced at the same time. You’re in a strong negotiating position so don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything a garage can do on the price.
If you have your car serviced before it is presented for its MOT, this also ensures that your car isn’t going to fail on simple issues such as not having enough windscreen wash or a broken lightbulb. Any bigger faults will usually be picked up during the servicing so it’s usually best to ask the garage to give you ring if there’s anything they spot. You can then make the decision when and how to get things fixed, perhaps delaying the MOT test until a later date.