I’VE already touched on the changes that are imminent to the MOT test in this column, but it seems that one of my biggest concerns is already coming to fruition.
Under the new test criteria, which come into force on May 20, a car will instantly fail the MOT if the engine management light is illuminated. This, in my
view, is utterly bonkers.
Yes, of course an EML shouldn’t be ignored – it’s your car’s own on-board diagnostic system telling you that something isn’t right.
But in the vast majority of cases, if the light comes on and stays on, is orange rather than red, and doesn’t flash, then chances are the fault with your car is a minor one – a misread signal to the ECU detecting that the engine is over- or under-fuelling, or a reading from the crank or temperature sensor that’s outside of the electronic brain’s comfort zone.
In no way does this mean your car is unsafe to drive, which is what the MOT test is supposed to determine.
Usually, a quick read of the fault codes via a hand-held OBD reader (for EMLs only, these can be bought very cheaply indeed) will tell you what fault codes are stored and what they mean.
Often, simply cleaning up the sensors is enough to put things right. Quite often, simply clearing the code fixes things – all it takes is one erroneous reading to switch the EML on, and that can come from something as simple as a dirty plug, or even the engine running too rich or lean based on atmospheric conditions.
It could be that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your car.
I’m not saying we should all go around with our warning lights illuminated, I hasten to add. If it comes on, get it checked out. Most independent garages will do this for you very cheaply. For my best customers, I don’t even charge.
It takes two minutes, and if there is an underlying fault I know I’ll get their business when it comes to repairing the car, so I see it as a service I’m happy to provide to keep my paying customers happy.
But there are other unscrupulous outlets out there who see this change to the MOT rules as a pure and simple profit opportunity.
A couple of the high street chains are already offering a ‘full diagnostic check’ for £25, citing the new MOT rules as a need to get this ‘essential check’ carried out. Technically, they’re right.
But at £25 for two minutes’ work, they’re on almost the same hourly rate as a premiership footballer, and I don’t think that’s right.
Sure, it’s a way of maximising profit, but when you consider that the vast majority of motorists have no mechanical knowledge or interest in cars, what you’re essentially doing is preying on their lack of knowledge.
Finding and fixing a fault is what you should be charging them for, not using a hand-held gadget to read the codes off the ECU.
In addition, I’ve heard a few unpleasant rumours circulating that certain garages or fast-fit centres are using the EML rule as an excuse to create extra revenue.
It’s reasonable to expect that an illuminated EML could mean you have a dodgy sensor, grubby spark plugs or a failing coil pack, but because most motorists have no idea how much (or little) work is required to replace these items, they’re using it as an excuse to charge extortionate amounts.
I won’t name the brand or the dealer, but a neighbour of mine was quoted £420 (£105 each) for parts and £240 labour to replace the coil packs on her compact hatchback.
That’s £660 plus VAT for a job that would take my apprentice less than an hour, using parts that – even if you insist on original ones – would be less than £30 per plug.
In the end, we did the job for her – £150 all in, including OEM-spec pattern coil packs and a new set of plugs while we were in there. And I still made money on the job.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that we all need to charge properly for our knowledge and labour, and it’s perfectly reasonable to add a small service surcharge on parts, as we have to make the phone call to order them, check they’re right and have to offer a standard guarantee, meaning that if a supplied part is faulty, it’s our duty to replace it, which can sometimes be labour-intensive.
But using a new MOT rule as an advertising gimmick to prey on customers who have no mechanical knowledge is unethical. Put it this way – we all have our skillsets, and there are people who do jobs I have no knowledge of, the same way they have no idea of how their car works.
I couldn’t be a nurse, for example, but I’d like them all to be able to get to work and continue to provide the amazing service they do without being fleeced by a greedy fast-fit centre or main dealer.
Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we’d have to kill you… What we can say is he’s been around for longer than he cares to remember so certainly knows his stuff…
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