MOT season – is it here to stay?

The luxury of booking in MOTs changed in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government’s introduction of a six-month extension due to the required lockdown at the end of March. Even when businesses reopened, the hiatus was left in place until the end of July that year, creating a season for MOT work. Two years later, the problem remains, and shows no sign of abating.

While some drivers are moving their tests forward to the quieter period between April and August, others have become stuck in the 12-month ritual, meaning that recovering work during this five-month period has been more difficult, even after two years of ‘normality’. However, it is not just driver attitudes that are continuing MOT season into the coming years.

Registration collapse aiding MOT season

One sure-fire way of increasing the number of MOTs between April and August is to rely on the influx of vehicle registrations that are three-years-old. In the past, the UK’s car parc has increased over time, meaning more vehicles on the roads and registrations not displacing all older models. 

However, the UK’s vehicle registration figures have been slowing significantly since 2016. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that in that year, 909,019 vehicles were registered in the five-month period, with these vehicles becoming eligible for MOTs from 2019 onwards. Registrations in the same period in 2017 totalled 811,205, while in 2018 the figure rose slightly, to 853,497.

The 2018 registrations came into the test pool in 2021, helping to alleviate some of the quietness of the new slower season. But any hopes that these vehicles would continue to displace late-year tests have been dashed by a dramatic slowdown. 

In 2019, 673,022 passenger cars were registered between April and August – these cars filtering into workshops this year. For next year, things stall as just 257,171 units will become eligible. These vehicles were registered in 2020 during the lockdown. 

But anyone hoping for a market bounceback will have been disappointed. COVID-19 changed the lives of many people. Some lost jobs, others began to work from home. Vehicle usage differed and economic issues led people to hold onto their vehicles for longer. Additionally, supply problems in the automotive market led to longer waiting times for vehicle deliveries, slowing registrations.

The upshot is that in 2021, between April and August, 552,481 passenger cars were registered, while this year the figure grew slightly to 565,251. That is down 343,768, or more than a third, from the 2016 peak. 

The ageing UK car parc

Alongside this, the UK’s car parc is ageing. Figures, released by the SMMT, show the importance of car ownership in the country is in decline. Although vehicles are more reliable, and therefore there is less requirement to replace them, the change in commuting habits during COVID-19, together with the shortage in supply of new cars, have played a part. 

In addition, the lockdowns of the past two years closed dealerships, meaning consumers were less able to buy new cars, instead choosing to hold on to their vehicles. This has contributed to the average car age reaching a record high of 8.7 years, more than a year older than that a decade ago. This means around 8.4 million cars in the UK are more than 13 years old, having been in service since 2008.

With people holding onto their cars, they are also seemingly holding onto their habits. Many drivers will wait until the MOT is due to expire, quite often within a month of the date before they consider booking their vehicle for its annual test.

How to convince customers to book earlier?

There is no easy way to convince customers that bringing their MOT forward is a good idea. Many will believe that they have paid for a year and intend to get the best out of it. So what can garages do?

There are some options. One idea may be to suggest to customers with tests booked in November and December that bringing them forward will reduce the financial hit should major work be required, at a time when most will be planning for Christmas. After all, would a £300 repair bill be welcome in the weeks when present-buying is a priority for most?

With earlier pay dates in December and therefore a longer period to make money last, highlighting to customers that spreading financial impacts out, especially when cost-of-living is a problem for many, may well be enough to convince them to bring their test forward, at least by a couple of months – or to a time when their financial situation is strongest. 

Another, and perhaps more obvious method, would be to ensure every service is offered with an MOT. If you reduce the cost when bundled with a major service, drivers may feel they are not missing out on the ‘full year they have paid for’, while you can also point out that as the vehicle is receiving a thorough check anyway, it will save them time and hassle booking later in the year. Recommending a service six-months after the initial test would bring that customer right back in line with their original dates, before the government’s extension. 

What is clear, however, is that it is garages that will have to convince customers to consider the date of their MOT. Circumstantial changes are unlikely to ease the seasonal MOT situation we currently find ourselves in, and as the automotive industry faces further challenges, with electrification becoming an increasing priority, registrations will be unlikely to improve for many years yet. 

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