It’s really easy to fall into bad habits where the car is concerned. So many of us keep going to the main dealer for our servicing and repairs when we know that with a bit of effort, we could probably find somewhere cheaper. We just renew our insurance cover with the same provider rather than shopping around to try to cut the cost. And when it comes to the MOT, it’s so easy to just keep using the same garage you’ve used for the previous 10 years. But is it really worth shopping around for your MOT test?
The idea behind the MOT is that the test is carried out in the same way, whether you are in Aberdeen or Southampton. All mechanics who are approved to carry out MOT inspections are trained in the same way and have to adhere to the same inspection guidelines. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) keep track of the results from each tester and each station so that any abnormal patterns can be quickly picked up. There’s also a “mystery shopping” program designed to ensure that mechanics are picking up on faults and not passing unroadworthy vehicles. So in theory, you should get the same test service wherever you decide to take your car. No tester should be stricter or more lenient than any other tester, and the result should be the same across the country. There’s not really an advantage to choosing one test station over another for this reason, but there are other factors that might come into play.
The cost of the actual MOT test is capped by the government for all types of vehicles. It’s up to the individual garage what they charge up to the limit. Many choose to reduce the price of the MOT test as a way of attracting customers through the door. But is saving £30 on the price of the MOT worth it? It’s certainly worth considering if you are driving a car which you know to be mechanically sound and which is likely to sail through its MOT with little problem. Why pay more for a pass certificate than you need to?
If you suspect that your car might need a bit of work to get through its MOT, it’s a different matter. Generally, the large dealer franchises charge more for both labor and parts than smaller independent garages. You might be saving a few pounds by choosing to use a dealer offering a special promotion on MOT tests, but if your car needs extensive work to get through the test, you might end up paying a lot more overall. It might be impossible to estimate what work your car will need to get through the test, but the key thing to remember is that the cost of the actual test should never be the deciding factor.
Most people like to drop their car off at the garage on the way to work in the morning and pick it up on the way home. This gives the garage all day to do the MOT and write up the paperwork. If you would prefer to wait, it might be better to look for a garage that can guarantee that there will be someone available to look at the car right away. If you work irregular hours, search online for an MOT station that is open late into the evening, or at the weekend. As the inspection process should be the same wherever you go, it makes sense to opt for the location which is most convenient for you. You can also use your flexibility to your advantage. Most people want a slot for an MOT in the morning. So if you’re prepared to take a 4 pm on a Friday slot, you might have more choice.
In some parts of the country, there are Council testing stations that offer MOTs for private vehicles. Although the MOT test is standardized, there’s a lingering suspicion from many motorists that garages will try to find as many faults as they can to convince you to pay for remedial work. Council testing stations don’t have a repair facility, so there is no such conflict of interest. The downside to this sort of station is that if your car does fail the MOT, you then have to scrabble around to find somewhere to do the repair work before taking it back for a retest. If your car fails its MOT on a dangerous fault, this could cause serious issues as you are not allowed to drive the car off to be fixed somewhere else.
The restrictions of the MOT system should make it impossible for mechanics to “do a favor” for regular customers and pass a car which should fail. Indeed, there are stiff penalties for mechanics who aren’t doing their jobs properly. But what is true is that it can be useful to use a mechanic who is familiar with your car and its foibles. A good mechanic will spot problems when they are servicing your car, or dealing with other break downs and point them out. Something spotted early and remedied doesn’t have the opportunity to develop into a larger, more expensive problem by the time the MOT test is due.
Even if you don’t have that sort of friendly relationship with the person servicing your car or doing the MOT test, you might be able to take advantage of some loyalty bonuses. You might be able to secure a preferential rate or get the best time slot for you if you book a service or have a couple of tires changed at the same time as the MOT. Several of the large chains sell “maintenance packages” which allow you to spread the cost of servicing and MOT over a year or more. It might not save you any money, but makes budgeting easier when you can pay a little each month rather than being hit with the whole cost all at once.