MOT Workshop 43 – ‘Service’ versus the ‘MOT’

A ‘service’ – not to be confused with an ‘MOT’

When is a ‘service’ not a ‘service’, and how much, if anything,  inspected during a ‘service’ would be the same as an MOT?

In a Transport Research Laboratory report assessing the road safety affects of reduced MOT frequency, the authors made the assumption that half of all motorists would be conscientious regarding their vehicle’s condition in a non-MOT year. Yet all most motorists could do to achieve that would be to ensure their vehicles get a ‘service’ in that middle year, which is quite different from an MOT. And how can some garages offer a ‘service’ for just £50? We explore the complex world of vehicle servicing – and how it ‘sits’ with the MOT Test.

When a ‘Service’ is not a ‘service’.

MOT Workshop two-post-liftTheoretically vehicle servicing should ensure the vehicle is maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations. But it’s not that simple, the definition of a ‘service’ varies from one manufacturer to another, and when vehicles fall out of warranty and become serviced in the independent sector, what comprises ‘a service’ becomes very uncertain indeed. It’s then largely dependent on what individual independent garages offer to their customers, and how they ‘pitch’ their advertising.
For example, there’s a ‘short’ service – probably a simple cursory inspection and fluid check; an, ‘engine’ service – changing the plugs (petrol engine) oil and filter and that’s it; and, a ‘full’ service where the brakes are dismantled and checked as well as a host of other items.



Garages’ advertising offers, however, often only refer to a ‘service’. Few motorists know what these terms means, what’s being done to their car, and will have no idea that even a ‘full’ service still doesn’t check as many components as are checked during an MOT inspection – but, and this is the key point, most will assume that it is.
Then there’s those baffling, ‘special’ offers? “Service and MOT £50 all included…” How can they do that? We called one such local MOT garage with just such an offer. We said we’d got a BMW 5 series, and could they confirm that fifty quid price. “Well, no”, came the answer, “that doesn’t apply because your BMW has six cylinders…”, and probably, if you ask further you’ll find that the advert only offers a rudimentary check of fluids and tyre pressures. A ‘proper’ full service on that BMW will actually cost well over two hundred pounds (even more at a dealership); “that’s if we don’t find anything wrong with the brakes ‘guv”. Such practices are wrong, called ‘switch selling’, and are illegal, although its difficult to prove.

MOT and service – Problems and pitfalls

The customer has booked the car in, and there it is, awaiting attention – what do you do first – the service, or the MOT?

Service’ first…

One argument is, that the most sensible thing to do is to service the vehicle, and during that process make sure that all the extra MOT checks are done as well. If the technician doing the work is also a Tester, that’s OK, except…

If the service is carried out (as is most likely) on a two-post lift, a proper MOT inspection cannot be carried out, especially on the suspension.
However, if the service is completed, and then a ‘proper’ MOT done in an MOT bay, if an undetected defect is discovered, – the car’s then got to go back again into the repair/service bay for repair – which isn’t good for productivity.

After a service, it’s very tempting for the mechanic/MOT Tester to assume it’s OK for an MOT, and then to simply issue a certificate (leaving sufficient time on the computer) without re-inspecting the car for the MOT, or just check things like the headlamp check, and the brake test on an MOT lane – and nothing else, breaching the MOT rules.

So not only could carrying out the service first be inefficient, it could also result in disciplinary action if a full MOT examination isn’t completed afterwards and VOSA find out. We have it on good authority, that this is exactly what often happens in some busy workshops.

MOT first…

Yet conducting the MOT examination first also has its pitfalls – especially in terms of customer relations. What if the vehicle passes the MOT, and the customer has decided to await that outcome before leaving the car for its service, and goes to work happy with his MOT pass, expecting to pick up a fully serviced and Tested car later in the day? Then, during the service its discovered that the rear wheel brake cylinders are leaking, as well as other non-MOT items that need attention, or even advisory items that do need to be replaced by a ‘service’ criteria.

During the telephone conversation about the extra cost, the customer says, “but I thought everything was OK – it’s passed its MOT.” A difficult conversation about the MOT, the limitations of the MOT, and the difference between an MOT and a service then ensues…

Which, of course, takes us right back to where we started – managing ‘customer’s  expectations’!

Avoiding problems

So what is the best way to deal with these problems? First, when the car is booked in, explain to the customer the key differences between the service he is going to get, and the MOT check he needs.

Generally its best to do the MOT first, especially if it is an old vehicle, and the customer may be budget limited. Often when faced with the cost of repairing the vehicle to get an MOT, the customer can’t afford both MOT repairs and a service, and only has the MOT repairs done.

During the booking in process, always explain that even if the car passes the MOT, some of the service items will need to be replaced, and specifically note that during an MOT examination the Tester is not allowed to dismantle any parts of the car – which does happen during servicing. A few extra minutes in reception at the beginning of the day can save a lot of time, trouble, and frustration during a difficult telephone conversation later.

Customer expectations…

A key element in operating any car vehicle repair and service business is to make sure customers know exactly what they are going to get for their money before you even lay a spanner on the car. It’s not rocket science – it’s about making sure that you are providing what customers are expecting at a price they expect to pay – in short, ‘meeting customer’s expectations’.

Customer quality isn’t only about what happens inside the garage’s workshop, it also turns on the conversation at the reception desk when the car is booked in. Doing a good job is vital, but if your mechanics do the best job in the world, it won’t be good enough if the work done is less than the customer is expecting – and this applies especially if you are carrying out a Service together with an MOT Test.

Service and MOT…

Over the last five years or so there has developed an increasing trend for motorists to have their service at the same time as the annual MOT. Despite the uncertainties noted above, most in the trade would recognise a ‘full service’ as comprising at least the following ‘core’ items inspected and replaced if necessary, for example:

• Brakes dismantled, brake pads and/or brake shoes examined and replaced as needed, as well as other parts of the braking system, but at extra cost to the customer.
• Tyres checked for wear, but not necessarily to MOT standard as non-MOT Testing Stations may not have the necessary tread depth gauge or be fully conversant with the regulations (they can rely on the tyre’s ‘wear bars’) – tyre pressure will also be checked.
• Brake fluid level checked – and perhaps the fluid checked for quality, depending on the mileage or age of the vehicle.
• Light bulbs checked.
• Windscreen wipers/washers checked.
• Oil and air filters replaced as needed.
• Other filters changed – petrol filter, engine air filter and the pollen filter (if applicable).
• All fluid levels checked and topped up together with checking the anti-freeze strength in the cooling system.
• On more modern vehicles, the ‘service light’ re-set as required.
• Spare wheel condition and inflation pressure checked.

During a service, items are replaced if considered to be worn to an extent that they would require replacement in the relatively near future – say three to six months. For many components this is a subjective judgement of the mechanic doing the work, although in some cases, brake disc thickness for example, a set ‘service standard’ might apply. This would not apply during an MOT check – the condition then is ‘at the time of Test’. So how does an MOT check compare with a ‘service’?
A ‘Full service’ – both less than, and more than an MOT.

The MOT Test is a very comprehensive and highly proscriptive inspection of a defined list of specific so called ‘Testable items’ on a vehicle, judged to a minimum safety standard, with the pass/failure criteria only applicable ‘on the day of the Test’. This latter is why, during a service, a replaced item may be in acceptable condition to pass the MOT but is unacceptable by the ‘service’ criteria. No dismantling of components is allowed during an MOT. The following MOT checks would be unlikely to be inspected during a ‘full service’:

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