MOT Price increase – fact, or fake news?

MOT Test Price Increases

Rumours of a huge MOT price increase have been circulating on the internet recently – so what’s the story, and how reasonable is the current price for a car’s MOT inspection?

The current MOT fee – is it fair?

Several of those news items claimed that the cost of the annual MOT test for cars could soon exceed £300. That’s complete nonsense, there is not even a hint of that anywhere we could find. It is a fake news scare story. Who knows why these stories are created, and by whom – but unfortunately, they do get onto the internet and are believed by many as fact.

The only increase currently foreseen is the cost charged to Testing Station businesses by the DVSA for what is called a ‘Test Slot’. That’s what the the Testing Station must pay to DVSA for each MOT they carry out, to cover the cost of DVSA’s services, including the MOT Computer system. This fee is currently set at £2.05 for every MOT test a garage completes. However, we haven’t heard much since the government suggested that it might go up a few pence some while ago – so perhaps a rethink is going on, or inflationary pressures mean a bigger Test-Slot fee rise is needed!

So, to be abolutely clear, DVSA currently have no plans to increase the cost of the MOT Test to the motoring public.

IMI MOT Training

Recently the Government decided not to change the frequency (annually) of the MOT, or when it first applies at the car’s third birthday. Of course this is great news for the industry – as well as the motoring public, who will not now be endangered by unsafe vehicles on the road which haven’t been checked for two years!

It does beg the question though – is the current annal MOT fee of £54.85 for most cars a fair price? – and that means fair to both motorists and the companies carrying out MOT inspections.

In fact, that price hasn’t changed since 2010, and according to our calculations comparing the value of £1 in 2010, compared to 2024, owing to inflation the current MOT fee should be £87.76. So given most car repair businesses charge on an hourly basis for work carried out on customers’ cars, is the net amount received by MOT garages of £52.80 (after paying that slot-fee), reasonable?

Well that will depend on how long the MOT Test takes, and of course the not inconsiderable cost for MOT equipment and the administration required by the Government to operate as a Testing Station.

How long does an MOT Test take?

It is estimated that a properly conducted MOT inspection takes between 45 minutes to an hour. In practice, that will depend on a number of different factors like the layout of the MOT Test Bay in the MOT garage; whether or not one Tester is working alone using a specially designed test bay for one person operation. Or alternatively, if the Tester has an Assistant, enabling the inspection to be done more quickly, although at extra cost to pay that Assistant. On the other hand, some MOT bays have different aspects of the inspection conducted in different areas within the workshop which involves manoeuvring the vehicle between, say, the inspection lift, the roller brake test equipment, and so on – which inevitably takes more time.

It must also be borne in mind that if an ordinary garage where both services and repairs are carried out, decides to become an MOT Testing Station, the cost for specialised MOT equipment alone would be over £32,000 and probably more. And remember too, that MOT bays must be kept available for any motorist who wants an MOT inspection, so unless there’s more than one MOT bay in the business, the Government might not be too happy to find a vehicle on the MOT lift, half-way through a repair job when they turn up to check if that MOT Station is doing everything correctly! But purchasing the MOT equipment is only the start of the costs involved. The DVSA who regulate MOT Testing will also require some of that equipment to be periodically calibrated, and properly maintained –- which means more cost.

Remember too that the customer will need to be met and logged into the MOT computer system, and afterwards (especially if it’s a failure), time is needed to explain what’s wrong and why. And even MOT passes may have some advisory notes indicating that, for instance, one of the tyres is only just legal, and should be changed soon. All of which takes time, and in any motor vehicle service, repair and MOT business, time is money!

So the cost of buying the equipment, and employing a Tester is just the starting point. That equipment takes up workshop space, which may not be available for other work. There is also much administrative work to ensure the MOT business continues to comply with the DVSA’s strict rules, and every Tester must submit themselves to an annual online examination, which if they don’t pass means they must stop testing – more time, more cost.

Labour cost

How then does that £52.80 garages get for an MOT compare to the rate they get for service and repair work? It is difficult to find any definitive hourly costs charged by vehicle repair businesses for carrying out servicing and repairs on their customers’ vehicles. There is, however, generally a difference between labour hourly rates charged by so called ‘independent’ garages, and the franchised vehicle dealerships with the latter generally charging higher rates. It is reasonable, however, to assume that the vast majority of the 23,129 MOT Test Centres in Britain are smaller independent businesses, yet they all receive just £52.80 for each MOT. Is that reasonable? Whilst labour rates are bound to vary geographically, as far as we can gather the average figure is about £75 per hour, with the lowest at about £50, and some dealerships charging over £250 per hour!

Although these figures are inevitably somewhat speculative, it can be concluded that by getting just £52.80 for each Test, most MOT businesses are not getting a reasonable return from their MOT Test lanes compared to the other work they do on customers cars. That’s not at all surprising when the current MOT fee would need to be £87.76 if adjusted for inflation as previously noted. So why are there so many Testing Stations competing with each other when most MOTs are done at a loss?

A ‘loss leader’

It is not uncommon in the commercial world to sell a popular product at cost, or even less, to increase the number of people coming into the business in the hope that they will then spend money on other more profitable products – the so called ‘loss leader’. The losses are more than made up by extra sales. With the MOT things go further. Clearly, if the vehicle fails the MOT, many customers will ask for a quote, and have their car repaired at the MOT garage.

Which is why, despite the MOT not even breaking even at the current price, some garages even discount the current price, or perhaps offer a free MOT if they do the repairs. So that strict annual safety inspection is being used as a loss leader… somehow demoting an important road safety inspection to the status of a marketing tool. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Certainly, it benefits motorists financially, but not by much. But does it result in poor MOT Testing, with garages paying less attention to quality and more to quantity by carrying out MOTs in a less than perfect way? Now that’s an interesting question. What does the Government do to make sure MOTs are done consistently well?

MOT quality

Does offering discounted MOTs to attract more customers result in slip-shod MOT quality? Theoretically, and according to the DVSA the answer is probably “No”. In the past DVSA have done some analysis of the situation which didn’t show that those garages that heavily discounted the test fee did tests any worse than others – according, they say, to their computer data. So that must be absolutely true… Mmm.

But how does the DVSA police the scheme when over 30 million MOTs are carried out every year by 60,000 MOT Testers in over 23,000 Test Stations? Well, years ago they had their own staff throughout the country regularly visiting Testing Station to check for the quality of MOT inspections. Sometimes even taking a car into an MOT Testing Station posing as an ordinary motorist for an MOT with some failure items already set up on the car. These random (or targeted), so called ‘incognito’ tests were an important part of their disciplinary process. These days, however, the DVSA have fewer staff carrying out that process, and they claim that the computer analysis of a Testing Stations’ pass/fail ratio (and time taken per test) provide enough evidence for a planned visit rather than the many checks they did previously. It should also be noted that when DVSA’s suspicions have been raised that there are serious departures from carrying out correct MOTs, or even pass certificates being issued for cars that have not even been inspected, they have a department which conducts a discreet surveillance of the premises. They check the comings and goings of vehicles being inspected to gather firm evidence of serious MOT transgressions and have often raised successful criminal cases against the Testers and the Testing Station owners involved.

DVSA have fewer staff then in previous years, the number of Vehicle Examiners (VEs) who used to regularly check Testing Stations at the site has remained relatively stable at 135 officers for the whole of England, Scotland and Wales – but their Head Office support staff has significantly diminished so they now spend more time in the office and less being out and about checking MOT quality directly. Yet even so, imagine you are given the task of monitoring the performance of 60,000 MOT Testers working at over 23,000 Testing Stations – would 135 people be enough? Probably not… should the DVSA be spending more money on increasing staff numbers to properly enforce the MOT regulations? Probably!

Money, money, money…

There’s no definitive answer to the question posed above. The money DVSA gets from each MOT test isn’t huge – but of course, there are around 30 million MOT tests, so it soon mounts up – DVSA get around £60m from MOT Testing Stations. Whether that is all spent on running the MOT scheme is a whole different subject – but looking at the DVSA’s published accounts, it looks like it isn’t, with MOT Testing showing a significant financial surplus.

So perhaps, we should make the point that DVSA could easily do more to ensure quality – after all, it looks like they have the money; and doing more would help minimise the risk of garages discounting so much that they can’t do things right, thus improving road safety to the benefit or motorists and pedestrians alike. So rhetorically we ask, why don’t they?

And what of the MOT fee – what may happen?

Following consultation, we do understand that the government are now looking at how the MOT can be modernised – and that could mean new things in the Test (we have already heard about improved emission Testing for modern diesel vehicles), and perhaps requirements to photograph vehicles at Test and all manner of potential future change to better cover some of the safety technologies on modern vehicles. The detail of that is beyond this article – although will be something we will look at in the future – but the point for here is, all of that improvement will require investment both by both DVSA and MOT Testing garages.

So if the MOT is losing garages money today – then something will have to be done with the test fee to ensure it is profitable for MOT Testing stations so the MOT Test needn’t be used as a ‘loss leader’. And of course, that need for modernisation could be the thing that helps with the politics of a fee change – the motorist will get something ‘better’ for the higher fee, which could make the decision easier for politicians! After all, even if the MOT were increased to that £87.76 inflation equivalent price, that’s just 66 pence a week increase over the MOT year – surely a reasonable price to pay for better road safety!

And in other fake news!

In the same month that we saw this fake-news on MOT fees, we also saw some other noise on social media – suggesting a recent court case meant that MOT garages were breaking the law if they let vehicles with MOT failures leave the garage. This was also fake news! Let me explain….

As part of some of the non-MOT wider enforcement that DVSA does, they have been looking at vehicle products and services more generally, and especially modifications that cause vehicles to become dangerous and/or illegal.

In one example DVSA took a garage to court for was doing ‘pop and bang’ modifications to cars so the exhaust sounded as if the engine had been ‘souped up’, which meant they broke the laws for vehicle noise and, probably emissions. The garage tried to cover itself by having a disclaimer form that the motorist signed, saying that the vehicle was only going to be used off road. What the judge said, was that this wasn’t enough. After all, the vehicle didn’t appear to be solely for off-road motorsport, because it just drove away. The garage were therefore convicted of making the vehicle dangerous due to their modifications.

However, although this was unconnected to the MOT Scheme, recent social media speculation suggested that this judgement now meant that MOT garages were breaking the law in letting MOT fails drive away. That’s wrong! The situation is different. Testing Stations don’t render the vehicle dangerous by virtue of conducting an MOT Test – they have just pointed out that the vehicle has a dangerous defect. In fact, in those circumstances it is the vehicle driver breaking the law by driving a vehicle that is not roadworthy (and noted as such on the failure certificate), so even worse, that driver knows it! The key factor for MOT Testing Stations is to follow the guidance that DVSA provided back in 2018 when the formal ‘dangerous’ categorisation for certain MOT failures clearly stated on the failure certificate, was implemented.

So fake news again! But of course, what this story does remind us of is our responsibility to ensure that work we do on vehicles does not cause them to be unsafe or otherwise illegal. So, yes it is aimed at those garages doing these ‘sporting’ modifications, but it also has meaning for something as simple as changing brake pads.

Fake news – with a grain of truth…

So going right back to our original headline ‘news’ that the MOT fee could reach £300 is totally fake. Nevertheless, we have shown that to deliver a sensible and consistently correct MOT requires more investment from the Government via DVSA (and they’ve got the money to do it!) coupled with a fee increase for Testing Stations to ensure they get a reasonable return on their investment instead of the bizarre situation now wherein they use the country’s key road safety vehicle inspection scheme as a marketing tool.

Our take…

As well allowing a reasonanble increase to cover the real cost of carrying out an MOT, it should also be mandatory that the MOT fee is fixed, so Test Stations cannot discount to gain business from the Test Station down the road. Isn’t it strange that other Government’s set fees, like for passports driving licenses and the like are not discounted, but the MOT fee, set by the Government, can legally be offered by Testing Stations for free!

Surely it’s a ‘no brainer’? A better and more consistent MOT throughout Britain (excluding Northern Ireland with its totally Government run Scheme) improving road safety, a fair fee to Test Stations, more funding for DVSA to properly enforce quality and to work with Testing Stations ensuring that quality is maintained.  And it can be easily done by using all of the revenue from the MOT scheme which DVSA levy off Test Stations, instead of using MOT money to prop-up other inefficient aspects of DVSA’s work unconnected to the MOT Scheme. Will it happen? Well, it is the Government we’re dealing with here, not necessarily noted for common sense ‘win – win’ decisions…so don’t hold your breath!

Related posts

Comment on this article