These testing times!

It’s that time we all know and love again – yes, the dreaded MOT looms… 

Mike Humble 

The Project Drive reversal Rover 25 - Judgment Day

There are many things in the world that drive me insane with rage, hatred or fear, examples of which include: Jenny Eclair, Peterborough, BBC Radio One, woodchip wallpaper and unwittingly finding a chocolate raisin in a bag of Revels. However, ever since the age of 17 or, more to the point being (legally) able to drive, NOTHING gets me more wound up with stress than the wretched MOT test – I really do go into meltdown. 

I try to make a point of having my own cars tested a month early – that way, you have a cushion to fall back on and a little time to put items right. I have only ever had two of my own cars fail in the 22 years I have been driving and have had 30+ cars pass through my ownership – not, though, without a thorough inspection beforehand and leaving nothing to chance. By now, I ought not to get so worked up over this seemingly trivial annual event but I can’t help it and, besides, it keeps me on my toes. 

Anyway, as  I’m sure many of you will agree, finding the right MOT station is like walking through a mine field. When I resided in Northamptonshire there were many Testing Stations that offered a test while – u – wait service with no booking needed but, owing to the fact all they did was MOT and related repairs, the consensus of opinion often dictated that your car stood a higher risk of failing. Back in the days of old, before online testing and computer-generated certificates, everybody knew someone that would provide a pass for a sum of money- aka: a bent ticket, and there were quite a few Motor Traders whose cars never even saw the Tester’s lead lamp but were sold with a “fresh ticket” nonetheless. 

My idea of an MOT tester is one who is firm but fair – a Tester I used to use often would let an item such as a noisy wheel bearing or bit of slack in a CV joint go because he knew I would deal with it right away. However, when I spent a while “on the tools”, I was often amazed at the state some people would bring cars in for test. I worked in a workshop/MOT environment firstly for a large Ford Dealer and then for a Rover Main Dealer – in that environment, much the same as with any other large garage, you soon understand why the Tester often has that “seen it all before look”. It’s quite simply because they have. 

Time for a brake? Steve puts the 25's stopping ability to the test.

My current Tester of choice, Steve, has been in the game all of his working life and, like myself, tries to make a living while enjoying his work by being straight up and honest. I do still chain-smoke all the way through the MOT with stress but, after all is said and done, I love the ritual cup of tea and a chat. Indeed, only the other day, we were exchanging tales of some of the wrecks and ruins we have both had to work on and the way that people never seem care about the car until the ticket runs out. 

I fondly remember one man who had bought a Sierra from a sole trader with almost a full MOT. He brought the car into our premises as, everytime it rained, the car misted up inside and its carpets squelched. Not being the most mechanically-minded person, he hadn’t had the vehicle checked over before he bought it – a massive no-no in my opinion. The trader the car was purchased from had gone to ground and putting the car into the air, we found the floorpan to be riddled with holes and there were even signs of Testers’ yellow chalk from a previous MOT. Time erases the cost of the repairs, but it would be fair to say it was a few hundred pounds and one very disgruntled driver.  The issuing test station, was, to put it mildly, known for employing testers by the name of Stevie Wonder & Jordie La Forge – if you get my drift?

Time after time we would see cars with boots full of clutter or general tat strewn all over the back seat and floor. Some testers would fail a car on the former if the headlamp aim was too high as a result. The MOT tester makes his judgement on first impressions of the car ie: if it looks like a messy pile of rubbish from the outside, he’s bound not to be suprised to find all sorts of nasties underneath. My best advice to make the MOT less stressful and increase your chances of a pass is to, make the car clean & tidy inside and out – remove all tat or lucky charms etc from the rear view mirror and dash – have the car serviced by a reputable garage beforehand if you are not confident in crawling around under the car. And most importantly – the main causes of an MOT fail are down to matters even the most novice or technophobic car owner can easily spot – check your bulbs, tyres & wipers regularly. To have a car fail an MOT on items such as non working lights, split wiper blade or bald tyre is more criminal than a defective shock absorber owing to the fact its so basic and easy to remidy or spot.

Current VOSA (Vehicle Operators Standards Agency) rules limit the number of tests that one qualified Tester can undertake in one day. A Tester would knock out one after another in the good old days but nowadays alarm bells ring if a Tester tries to undertake the test too quickly. The test now has be completed in an alloted time and a log is recorded that works out your average pass, fail and average time. Standards now are ever higher and are set to get tougher in the none too distant future. 

Wheel Of Fortune - Tyres & bearings come under scrutiny

Why people take such a slack view over the MOT and car maintenance in general remains one of life’s mysteries. Mind you, neither Steve or I worry that much as both of us make a living out of it. A lot of hassle can be taken out of the annual test by taking advantage of the many combined servicing and testing offers many garages run at present. 

Well, all my worrying was over nothing. My dear little Silver Bullet passed with flying colours and only one advisory notice for two small chips in the windscreen – once again, many thanks to Steve Anderson and the team at  New Way Garage, Forgewood Industrial Estate, near Gatwick.

Mike Humble


  1. I usually use my local Co-op Garage – they don’t do servicing for the public (only do their own funeral/delivery vehicle fleet) and just offer (full price) MoT’s so they have no incentive to fail cars and get “repair” business.

    However, last year, Her Indoors used one of those outfits who discount, collect/ deliver the car, etc. – that resulted in a borderline fail with a huge list of advisories and I suspect they deliberately knackered the alternator to boot. Some of the nationwide chains are notorious for dodgy fails.

    I had a case some time ago when my car (a Japanese import) failed due its number plates – I ended up printing the VOSA Regulations off the Internet and proving to the tester that he had misread the regulations…

  2. Northern Ireland has had a computerised MOT for about 10 years. These are taken at Government-run MOT centres and not garages so the staff do not have much of an incentive to “find” failure points. MOT discs must also be displayed beside tax discs.

    It was a novelty to move to Scotland, find a local garage, get them to MOT the car and fix any minor faults there and then. They, too, were bemused by the previous computer-printed MOT Certificate.

  3. The main issue with MOTs is the interpretation of the word “discretion.” One man might, for example, think a crack in the tail light was acceptable whereas others would not.

    I reckon that Government-run and staffed Testing Stations are a possible solution to the problem of those less than scrupulous garages which go for the kill by failing whatever they can. Unfortunately, that would surely render the many thousands of decent Testers surplus to requirements and put them on the scrap heap.

    The simple answer is to have more VOSA spot-check testing – that should ensure the rogues are flushed out and the over-lenient sharpened up.

    However, in fairness, if people took more care of their cars instead of burying their head in the sand until the day before test expiry (as many do), there wouldn’t be half the complaining going on!

  4. @Mike Humble
    I always offer the advice of never taking a dirty car to the Testing Station. I normally slide the seat back too because my chap’s about a foot taller than me (and, incidentally, everyone else)!

  5. @Andrew Elphick
    There’s something of a protocol here in Northern Ireland whereby we get the underside of the car power-washed before going to the Government-run MOT Test Centre.

    Most car washes will offer an “MOT Wash”, which involves driving onto a 45 degree angled ramp (without burning your clutch out!) so that they can then powerhose the underside.

  6. It’s high time the GB MOT test was overhauled as it’s nothing but a legalised racket to support the motor trade.

    Firstly, the MOT should be every two years, like in, say, France. Vehicle construction has changed out of all recognition since the test was introduced and testing a car every year is an expensive and unnecessary joke. That is not to say that a vehicle shouldn’t be kept roadworthy at all times – of course it should. I am also in favour of increasing the penalties for using an unroadworthy vehicle.

    Secondly, Testing Stations should be entirely separate operations, again à la française. There’s far too much abuse by garages claiming minor (but lucrative) repairs are needed for a vehicle to pass.

    Finally, let’s not go overboard on the standards set – they’re perfectly high enough as they are for a car to considered safe by any reasonable definition.

    I’m all for supporting the motor trade – but don’t take the…

  7. I have one other bit of advice with MOTs: get it done between April and September, as preparing the car for the test and carrying out the repairs should it fail is a far less unpleasant! That said my last two were November and January due to total lack of organisation on my part… It would not surprise me if the garages actually charge more in winter for repairs.

    Old cars and a new Tester is always fun – my 1959 Sprite was failed on the lack of seat belts at least twice! Its white front indicators have also caused some discussion a few times.

  8. I will never understand people who don’t take care of their cars – there’s an old granny going round Colchester in a Peugeot 106 on which two out of three brake lights aren’t working (the third one only works because its LED and practically indestructible).

    There are others who drive past with valve clatter that could wake the dead and probably clean cutlery at the same time. I thought recently that I had a problem with mine – it was making the most horrible wheezing noise but it turned out that the HT leads had degraded so much that the poor alternator was running itself ragged trying to produce current when the engine was hot…

    Cars and the systems within them only work if they are maintained properly – there should be a mandatory test along with the driving test so people at least know how to do a visual inspection (flat tyres etc).

    Mind you, garages are as bad – getting confused about what a horn ring is so pressing the centre (which won’t activate the horn) and failing the car on that… or another one which won’t be named (since their service was otherwise brilliant) which let a Renault 16 owner drive off down the road with no oil in the sump after a service… “It made funny noises and then stopped…” Quelle surprise!

  9. @Magnus
    Unfortunately, the general public here in the U.K. are too lazy and/or fickle to make your suggestion work. Most people regard the MOT as an annual “service” so every 2 years would be insane.

  10. @Magnus
    Well, I thought I would leave it for a couple of days to see what other people’s take would be on Magnus’ “interesting” slant on the current state of MOT rules and procedures.

    I remember that, whenever I argued with my father, I would open my mouth and, before a word could be uttered, he would raise his hand and say: “have you thought about what you are going to say?”

    My learned colleague Andrew Elphick rightly states that many people are too un-skilled/lazy /carefree /unaware of consequences.* (* Tick as required)

    I therefore pose these situations:

    – A sales rep running his own car at around 25.000 miles per year, bearing in mind how they sometimes drive?

    – Small car rental companies running fragile or lesser quality vehicles on the fleet with the average customer barely able to put the right fuel in the tank let alone check the oil and water – I know because, once upon a time, I would be the poor bu**er who would have to hammer the rims straight and suck petrol from the tanks of a diesel 214!

    – Joe Bloggs the sole trader builder who regularly overloads his Transit* by a tonne 6 days a week. (*other dropside trucks are also available).

    – Mrs Goggins who drives her old Clio three miles a week to church and the shops. Rotten exhausts, shot catalytic converters, perished tyres and rusty, pitted discs and drums??

    Incidentally, my experience of France was that almost every car I saw was bashed to hell and never cleaned or polished.

    An annual test is perfect – all that is needed is, as suggested in my article, more spot checks and tougher guidance/ education for savage or under leniant testers in order for everyone to be singing from the same hymn sheet – as t’wer.

    VOSA have acheived a degree of consistancy with PCV and LGV testing – with issues over pass or fail set almost in stone tablet so I guess it could be possible to do the same with cars.

    With me or agin me?

  11. Ireland, until recently, had no MOT-type test whatsoever. It was not uncommon to see old cars and vans hanging together.

    However, since 2000, they have a biennial (once every 2 years) NCT (National Car Test). This, combined with the Celtic Tiger economic boom, generated a lot of new car purchases in the last 10 years.

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