A recent Halfords promotion has reignited the MOT discounting debate, with many independent garages calling for an urgent review of the test fee.
Available to customers in England, Scotland and Wales, the free Halfords MOT promotion was made available to customers that made a purchase from any of its retails stores or halfords.com between Monday 10 and Friday 14 September, with no minimum value stated.
The national fast fit stipulated that the test must be booked online at a Halfords Autocentre and must be redeemed before October 3, 2019.
GW reader Graham Cox echoed the thoughts of many independent garage owners when he commented on the news in the GW forum.
Devaluing the MOT
He said: “Yet again the MOT scheme is devalued by some idiot that is using it as a loss leader and of course a lot of car owners will think this is a good deal.
“When will somebody in the government put a standard fixed fee in place and remove the garages that do not uphold a good standard?
“Then those of us that do try our best and offer a fair MOT can get back to covering our costs as it used to be.”
It’s a point that GW has reiterated to the Department for Transport (DfT).
UK road safety records
Responding, a DfT spokesperson told GW: “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world but there is always more to do, and we are continuing our work to reduce accidents, regardless of how they are caused.
“The department continues to review fee levels, and the DVSA is focusing on where it believes there is a risk of the test not being carried out correctly – with test fees being an issue that can be considered.”
Admittedly, it’s a vague response but the Independent Garage Association (IGA) has confirmed that it is continuing to throw its weight behind the campaign.
Speaking exclusively to GW, director at the IGA, Stuart James said: “The fact is, the UK has one of the safest road safety records in the world and it’s thanks to the MOT because it’s certainly not down to the diligence of consumers to get their cars serviced or repaired.
“The fundamental point from a lobbying perspective is that the discounting of MOTs devalues what the MOT test stands for and every time this is presented to a government official the response is always the same – if you can afford to discount MOT’s at this level, why do you need a fee increase?”
Test station running costs
Back in 2015 the IGA surveyed its members on behalf of the DVSA to gather data on the costs involved in running an MOT station.
The survey achieved a huge response and the findings, which Stuart told us “certainly justified an increase in the MOT fee”, were submitted to the DfT.
Stuart added: “Any traction in this arena is very slow at the moment.
“Obviously there are other, greater priorities: Brexit.
“The MOT fee is an absolute priority for us.
“The levels of discounting at the moment are actually quite unnecessary.
“Three years ago car sales in the UK were at a high peak and the numbers of new MOT this year are therefore very high, so I’m surprised that there appears to be this level of desperation to deduce the cost of the MOTs.”
The good and the bad discounters
Terry Gibson, head of member services at the IGA said: “There is no restriction on MOT station locations.
“You may meet the requirements to be a testing station, have a qualified tester, a good customer base and charge £54.85 but there’s nothing to stop anybody from opening another MOT station next door and charging £20 and all of a sudden it’s caused a big problem for your business.
“You’ve then got a business decision to make – will you match or beat their prices or risk a significant reduction in your MOT business.
“From our point of view, there are no winners with the discounting of MOTs – certainly not the public who will not be able to tell the difference between a garage discounting as a commercial necessity and one whose motives may be less attractive.”
The DVSA welcomes anonymous feedback from both garage owners and members of the public to report suspicious activity.
The IGA also suggests independents should utilise its Trust My Garage message to help explain to customers why you charge more than the cut-price MOT discounters.
The debate goes on
The IGA viewpoint is clear – the association is lobbying for a minimum test fee.
But what if the test fee was to be scrapped altogether?
Stuart explains: “The other discussion we have regularly is to perhaps scrap the ‘fee’ as we know it.
“Why not let garages charge their normal hourly labour rate plus VAT for the product that are selling, which is the MOT.
“We have emphasised that the fee should be no less than £40.
“However, in reality, with it being capped at £54.85, perhaps it should be up to the garage to charge anything they want because it’s no different to an air conditioning service or changing a set of brake pads – it’s a service to inspect the vehicle that is mandatory by the government.
“They are the two alternatives we consider.”
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