Am I better off taking my car to a council-run Testing Station?

Council-Run MOT Testing Stations

Many money-saving websites suggest that motorists could save money by going to Local Council operated Testing Stations because they don’t do MOT repairs, and so have no incentive to fail cars. This clearly suggests that ‘normal’ Testing Stations do fail cars to get the work. Is that true? And what’s really happening here? First, let’s have a look at it from the motorists’ point of view.

Less likely to fail…?

  • Council-run Testing Stations  do not repair vehicles which fail
  • This means that they are unlikely to fail a vehicle just to ”drum up’ repair work (so the argument goes)
  • If the vehicle does fail at a council run Test Station, the owner must then take the vehicle away, have it repaired and bring it back for a re-Test, and probably pay another Test fee
  • DVSA statistics indicate that normal Testing Stations are more likely to pass a vehicle which should fail than fail a vehicle which should have passed
  •  Normal Test Stations are more likely to offer a discount, and will sometimes offer ‘failures free’ or ‘re-tests free’

The underlying basis of the suggestion that motorists will save money by going to ‘MOT only’ Testing Stations is that they will have a lower MOT failure rate than MOT/repair businesses. Without offering any evidence, it is assumed that most Testing Station owners corruptly fail cars that should pass the MOT, just to get the income from repair work which isn’t needed.

But looking at the evidence, it simply isn’t true. In all ‘MOT compliance’ surveys carried out by DVSA, they find that more MOT Testers pass cars that should fail than the other way around. For 2010/11, the last year for which accurate data has been published by DVSA, five times as many cars were found to have passed that should have failed the MOT than the other way around. It is a complete myth that MOT businesses fail cars to get more repair work.

That these people writing up ‘money saving’ websites make the assumption, (without, it seems, doing their homework to discover the truth) is as much an insight into how they think; a good job they’re not running Testing Stations, clearly they would indeed consider failing cars to get more work!

But why do so many Testers pass cars that should fail? If you think about it, it makes sense, given DVSA’s ‘Pass and Advise’ policy, which is where the MOT authorities tell MOT Testers that when in doubt as to a pass/fail decision, issue a pass and advise of the potential defect, in writing.

So, whatever people may believe, from DVSA’s own data, it is incontrovertible, that, on the available evidence there’s no difference as to whether motorists take their vehicles to the local Council for MOT, or to their local MOT/repair business, the pass/fail rate is likely to be exactly the same…

Time and trouble

Throughout the European Union, there are only two countries where private businesses both Test and carry out car repairs, Britain and Holland. And in both cases this is done specifically for the benefit of motorists. With a non-repair MOT site (whether private or Council run), if a motorist’s car fails the MOT, it then has to be taken for repair, and then returned to the Testing Station for re-Test. That’s extra time, trouble and inconvenience – and hence more cost.

There’s an interesting quirk here – the surprisingly different failure rate for European countries, as compared with Britain – it is generally lower. Which is strange, given that most of our European neighbours do MOT Testing every two years, and not annually. Yet the answer lies in their MOT Testing systems, and that most of them have only ‘stand alone’ MOT Testing Stations who don’t do repairs. If the Testing Stations don’t do repairs, three journeys, and bookings are needed to get a car though the MOT if it fails; a booking and journey for the first test.

Then a booking and taking the car to be repaired, and finally, another booking and trip for the re-test, plus, of course, another MOT Test fee – council Testing Stations are unlikely to offer free re-Tests or discounted MOTs for that matter. To avoid so much time, trouble and cost, both with the extra fuel required, and a further test fee, they have their vehicles fully checked out to make sure they pass first time. In Britain it isn’t like that.

A different culture

In Britain, however, that doesn’t happen because an entirely different culture has developed and this is mainly because both MOT and repairs can be done at the same premises. Many motorists see the MOT as a substitute for a service: “If it passes the MOT, it’s OK for another year” which is often false economy. On the other hand, they know that if it fails, they can leave it at the Testing Station to get it repaired, then and there, and it is highly likely that the re-Test is also free.


There is no evidence from any statistics available that there’s any difference in MOT failure rates between commercial MOT Testing Stations, and those operated by Local Councils. It is however, a matter of record, that whenever a vehicle is MOT Tested, if the Test isn’t done properly, the Testers are more likely to have passed cars that should fail than the other way around.

It is very clear that on the evidence, going to an ‘MOT only’ Testing Station is likely to incur considerably more cost and inconvenience than if the vehicle fails at a conventional MOT and repair business. Even if it passes at that Council run site, it’s unlikely that they would give a discount on the MOT fee, while it is quite likely for the fee to be discounted at commercial businesses.

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