MOT test centres – a shocking example of public sector efficiency and good service…

I am new to the old driving lark so when the car came up for its first MOT I had no idea what to expect. On Thursday I went to the NI Direct website to check what slots are free. The MOT booking site updates in real time so I was able to get a cancelation for 3:30pm that very day. That will do me, so I clicked the button, entered my debit card details and I was all booked in. If there are no cancelations at the most you would be waiting is a week or two.

Three times as many people now book their MOT online and I can strongly advise doing it online vs over the phone. Online you can see all the free slots for the upcoming weeks and you can even change your appointment if you need to, the site works really well.

Being warned that they would not take me if I was one minute late I was there for 3:10pm, and joined the queue of cars. At exactly 3:30pm one of the inspectors beckoning me in to the inspection hall. He was a very nice chap and answered my question as to why they pull cars out of the queue and don’t take them in order. He explained they monitor the car license plates as people come in and they take you as close to your booking time as possible.

So I drove in and the car was connected to all kind of test machines. It was prodded and poked, to within and inch of its bodywork, the mechanical equivalent of saying ‘aaah’. The whole process lasted just 15mins. At the end the car passed, the nice man gave me a certificate (you no longer need to put a MOT disc on your windscreen), and I was on my way.

We give the public sector a lot of abuse here on slugger, frankly much of it deserved. But it is important to highlight when things work well. The whole MOT process was surprisingly professional and well run. I was more than happy to pay the reasonable £30 fee to ensure I am not driving around in a death-trap. Well done lads.

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  • Nevin

    Brian, I’ll uprate this public service to excellent! There can be conflicts of interest in a privately operated one. My car gets an annual service and MOT preparation a week before the test.

  • aquifer

    Much safer than the deregulated system of private garages in England. The NI centres have all the proper testing equipment for the brakes and chassis and the online services are very convenient. If you get a test early and fail this gets you a shopping list to take to your garage to prepare for a re-test, so you only pay for what is needed.

  • Korhomme

    Amazing, isn’t it? Now, pay your road tax on-line. That too is so remarkably easy and quick.

  • Neil

    11 quid a month I pay now for tax. Hard to beat alright. Seems like there are more appointments in the MOT centre these days too, this time last year there was over a month wait for the first slots, but I checked the other day and there were same day appointments available. My car is old, 165k miles on it, so getting the MOT is always a sweet moment for me.

  • Turgon

    This service is indeed in general excellent. However, it is only fair to point out that I have had cars MOT’d in GB and the service there was also excellent in independent garages. At one stage I had an elderly BMW with a large engine and the tester patiently ensured the car was up to temperature before testing the emissions to maximise its chance of passing.

    On another occasion I put a newish 4×4 through and unknown to me a bulb had gone. The garage simply replaced the bulb and passed it when they would have been within their rights to fail it and retest it hence, charging twice.

    There are always horror stories about garages in GB ripping people off but I suspect there are many more cases of the work being done honestly and efficiently.

    On the motor tax issue remember that there was a long campaign fought against having all the motor tax done from Swansea – much of it about jobs in Coleraine. The online system now is vastly more efficient so that is not really an argument in favour of the NI public sector.

  • My heart sank the first time I had to book online – thinking it would be a handlin’ – but it was genuinely slick and straightforward, same goes for the test itself.

    Edit: I also had an experience when, taking an enthusiast car that was obviously preened and pampered, a fairly serious problem was found. Instead of failing the car the inspector could tell it was maintained extremely well and knew it would be taken straight to a garage. He passed it anyway and it was fixed immediately.

  • the rich get richer

    Down with this sort of thing ! Get a grip its not supposed to be like this !

  • barnshee

    Could not agree more £30+ for peace of mind (+ excellent on advice on a repeated failure ) And invariably courteous treatment The public sector at its best

  • Graham Parsons

    Yes good service. Now we need to slowly make it crap by underfunding it so the private sector can step in.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not sure about this I have to say Brian – I’ve been informed that the online booking system is in fact not real time, and that sometimes you can get a more convenient slot if you phone – which suggests that they reserve a few slots for callers who have some kind of emergency. This may have changed recently of course.

    The staff at the test centres are consistently polite and professional, and I couldn’t say a bad word about them. As Chris noted below, they often use sensible discretion, so when I had a broken sidelight they said they’d pass it as long as I agreed to repair the light immediately. But my mechanic has told me that he’s had customers bring in cars failed with body corrosion when in fact the underside of the car was dirty – a powerhose and a quick inspection was done, and the car passed the next time. There is no serious prospect of redress if an inspector needlessly fails your car.

    Also, the system can be very inconvenient if you have a test failure. My Civic failed just before Christmas with a broken suspension coil spring. I didn’t fancy driving the car knowing this, so I had to run about during the Christmas rush trying to find a garage to fix it quickly and then get the re-test done. I’d much prefer to have the system in England where the certification is completed during the car’s annual service. This way if there is a fail, they can fix it immediately when they identify the problem. I have a hard time accepting that the more relaxed test regime makes cars elsewhere in the UK any more dangerous than they are here.

    I’d add that there is a common misconception that the MOT indicates your car is in good condition. It only indicates that it meets certain standards relating to road and environmental safety – brakes, emissions, suspension, signs of corrosion etc. There are no tests of the engine or the transmission, and no checks that the oil has been changed or the car has been properly serviced.

  • murdockp

    I don’t agree. Centralised government service restricts consumer choice and stops innovation and efficiency.

    The performance of our economy would be strengthened if local firms of mechanics were licenced to undertake the tests like in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

    I also don’t think the evidence I have see supports the view that it is a well run efficient organisation.

    Have you see the working practices they have, the staff spend more days off work that in work as they all work double shifts. I wouldn’t like my car to be the one tested by someone who has just worked a 13 hour shift.

  • murdockp

    Why is it safer then the UK deregulated service? I don’t remember reading any statistics that support this viewpoint. Is this spin from the NI test centres themselves to ring fence themselves from change?

  • murdockp

    Given many of the MOT assessors have thier own part time motor mechanic businesses it is fair to say the same potential conflicts exist here too.

  • Ernekid

    Why do you need choice? Surely having a single reliable and cost effective service is a much better option. I don’t want to choose when it comes to essential services like utilities and healthcare. I just want a dependable service that won’t rip me off.

    I really think we need to challenge the idea that more choices = a good thing. For instance I’ve stood in the yoghurt aisle in Tesco and I’ve thought why do we need to have to choose from 50 different brands of yoghurt?

  • murdockp

    Spoken like a true communist

  • Nevin

    It wouldn’t have applied in my case.

  • mickfealty

    I’ve never had a car fail the test in GB. The garage always fixes it. Very convenient, since the retest is free if it does leave the premises, but very open to abuse. I presume there’s a margin for the garage if there’s repairs to do.

    I also have a clear impression there’s far more new cars in in NI than GB because of the greater complications.

  • barnshee

    “I also have a clear impression there’s far more new cars in in NI than GB because of the greater complications.”

    Correct —I am a regular between NI and Cornwall roughly comparable areas the new car compare NI v Cornwall is stark

  • Old Mortality

    ‘I’d much prefer to have the system in England where the certification is completed during the car’s annual service. This way if there is a fail, they can fix it immediately when they identify the problem.’
    Brian. Has it not occurred to you that the examiner might have a material interest in discovering and repairing non-existing faults.
    Here, you can take the car to the MoT without preparation for just £30 and then present a list of identified faults to your chosen repairer.
    This is a rare example of a successful public sector service although I don’t know if it pays for itself out of fees. If not there is a good case for raising the fee as it seems to have been fixed at £30 for rather a long time.

  • Old Mortality

    I think your impression may be exaggerated because of the number of relatively new cars that are brought to NI and re-registered.
    I recall that when the tax was moved to Swansea, one taxi firm whined about the length of time it was taking to re-register and the supposed damage to trade because many customers could readily identify the age of their vehicles.
    I think it’s also the case that cars in GB do fewer miles and so can remain on the road much longer than in NI.
    Sadly, there are a lot of people in NI who would sooner drive 100yds than walk.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not Brian.

    Yes, car mechanics have a material interest in discovering and repairing non-existent faults. If they are that sort of mechanic they will find those faults on your annual service anyway. And in either case they expose themselves to the possibility of legal action.

    MOT test centres also have a material interest in ensuring that cars come back to be re-tested.

  • Brendan Heading

    Taxi drivers elsewhere in the UK, and until recently in Ireland, have to put up with plates that showed the age of the car. What a bunch of whingers NI taxi drivers are. I hope someone told them where to get stuffed with those ridiculous complaints.

  • mattwardman


    So they pass cars which should have failed.


  • Good point, I’ll explain better…

    I’m not handy enough to know if it was a fail but I felt they could have made more of it.

    The car clearly had thousands spent, it was practically a showcar, my point was that a bit of common sense was applied and advice was given.

    This was a while ago, I think before the system was updated with ‘advisories’

  • Disdain

    Really like the way you engaged with Ernekid’s response there, murdockp. Spoken like a true single-minded capitalist.

  • OneNI

    ‘£30+ for peace of mind’ except its much much more the UUP Minister Sam Foster signed a deal in 2001 to refit the MOT centres and that cost the taxpayers £57m over 17 years. Cost effective? I don’t think so!
    How many MOTs are carried out in a year ? You need to divide the £3m+ the contract is costing each year by the number of MOTs and add that to your £30
    Hopefully when the contract lapses in 2018 the private sector garages will be allowed to compete for this work

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And by someone who has not perhaps had a lot of direct experience of the “free enterprise” system over there..,…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    They only expose themselves to the “possibility of legal action” if you know enough about what they are doing to detect such a scam. In which case you’d probably be doing the work yourself. Has it not occurred to you that the threat of law is very hollow when the offence will amlost certainly not be detected? This strange idea that “law” is a deterrent to someone squeezing a hundred quid or more out of a service by “detecting” problems astonishes me in a world where burglary has almost been decriminalised, and the legal proofs required to prosecute serious crimes such as rape ensure that the sword and scales are long, long going and only the blindfold remains on “Justice”…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Very pleasant to find myself fully in agreement with you, OM! Excellent comments, especially for anyone who has had a lot of experience of both systems.

  • Brendan Heading


    I understand the principle behind the person doing the test being different from the person carrying out the repair work. The thing is that cars need to be serviced annually anyway, and the likelihood that unnecessary work will be done is a risk that you are already running.

    I’ve used the same mechanic for a long time, whom I completely trust – any good businessperson knows the value of trust in keeping repeat business, and I’d much rather have the choice to get him to carry out the test while doing the service which would save me a hell of a lot of trouble.

    The arrangement of the mechanic doing the test seems to work fine in England. I hear no serious calls for the system there to be reformed.

  • Lucy Taskin So efficient and fast. Can almost always book you in and do walk ins AND don’t do repairs so have nothing to gain from failing you!

  • Mic Craig

    This is the one public service which is not as good as its counterpart in England. I firmly believe in public services but this one is not a god example of fairness, honesty or good value for money.
    M.o.t. garages in England have exactly the same equipment as the test centres here – that is a prerequisite to getting a testing licence. While our tests cost £30.50 and £18.50 for a retest, the English version can cost anything up to £48, but most charge £25 and there is no retest fee. If you present with a minor fault here like a bulb failure, or a poor wiper blade, you will fail and have to pay the retest fee. In England these will be noted on an ‘advisory’ and you may be asked to return and show that you have put the faults right, at no further cost.
    Suspension parts which wear on bad roads over time such as ball joints and track-rod ends should be measured for ‘play tolerance’ according to the manufacturers data, yet our test centres do not have this data. They will fail cars on supposed wear on these parts, based on no engineering evidence – just the word of the tester. since this is the grey area where no actual measurement takes place, this is a handy reason to fail cars to target and justify the existence of the test centres!
    If the government want to test our cars why don’t they foot the bill? I don’t remember ever voting for this.
    Since 73% of the price of the fuel at the pumps is tax, should this not be used to keep the roads up to the ISO standard that they’re required to meet and pay for any vehicle testing.