My Citroen Xsara Picasso Camper Conversion has a minor problem today.
In the UK, there’s this pesky thing called an MoT (short for Ministry of Transport, as in, inspection on behalf of the Ministry of Transport) which means you can’t have a car on the road that doesn’t meet some specific criteria. It was actually a pretty good system, if a little annoying once a year, until the EU intervened 18 months ago. Basically, they changed the rules and added a bunch of things that were aimed at high-end car users, but which us ordinary people with cheap cars can easily fall foul of. My car is 10 years old, it cost £600 last summer, and it has taken us all over Europe last summer. I was rather hoping it would do the same this summer, and get us to Morocco.
1. Light alignment – this was because of all those cray cray bright headlights on expensive cars (you know, the ones that are always dazzling you when they pass, even though they don’t have their brights on). Instead of saying “these headlights are stupid, and cause accidents by dazzling oncoming traffic” they decided “these lights reduce accidents because drivers can see better.” Y’know, totally failing to see that most drivers don’t actually have these headlights (they’re even brighter than Xenon) and just get dazzled. So they decided that they might *might* be a problem if headlight alignment was slightly incorrect and decided to make that an MoT fail (regardless of type or brightness of lights). This, of course, means that anyone with a car that’s been accident repaired (like mine) now has an MoT fail on their hands. In my case, the headlight is literally millimetres out of alignment but the first garage I took it to deemed it an MoT fail.
2. LED anything – any LED in your lighting system has to work. It’s because of the propensity for these LED brakelights on fancy new cars. What this means is that if any one LED in any part of your car gets blown, you get an MoT fail now instead of an advisory. It used to be a common sense line, where as long as the lights were fit for purpose (i.e. lighting up your registration plate etc) they were good to go, but now, if one single bulb has blown, you have an MoT fail, because they didn’t know how else to draw the line so brake lights were 100% functional on all cars. This carries over to any LED so my car failed on a registration plate bulb.
3. Bush damage – any cover that is covering a part of the car has to be totally 100% ok. Previously, it could be damaged as long as it was preventing the ingress of dirt, Now, if it is damaged at all then it’s an MoT fail. BUT… if you have a fancy car with an under-car tray such as a lot of Volvo estates have, they can’t actually remove it to check the components so your car is exempt from being checked for this and a raft of other, potentially dangerous damage to components. How messed up is that??
It cost me just under £300 (plus a £40 MoT) to get my car fixed. A well known garage chain who advocate a rapid fitting service quoted me over £500 then refused to do the work because they said my car was dangerous (but they knew someone who could fix it) due to the accident damage under the front bumper. Thing is, my car is a category C accident damage.
Here’s the categories of accident damage:
Category A – must be crushed, no part of the vehicle can be reused.
Category B – some parts can be used, car will never be allowed on the road again.
Category C – car is unsafe to drive and must PASS A SPECIAL TEST BY VOSA once it has been repaired before it’s allowed on the road.
Category D – the car is damaged and the damage was too expensive for the insurance company to fix, but you can buy it back and fix it yourself.
As you can see, it’s actually safer to buy a Category C than a Category D, because the Cat C car must pass a special safety test whereas the Cat D can just be put straight back on the road no questions asked. My car was a Category C, so the repairs made to the car might not have been picture perfect, but they were certainly sufficient for VOSA to certify it as safe to go back on the road. Not only that, but its accident happened in 2008, six years before I bought it, and it’s been passing MoTs since then with no problem. I had this worry that my car would have to be scrapped if no-one would do the work to fix it. Luckily, I was worrying unnecessarily. I left it until 21st January (my MoT runs out on 27th) then realised I should take it to another garage for a second opinion. So I did.
For under £300, they fixed up the car so it could pass its MoT.
That should be the end of this story, but I have been left with a lot of questions about the garage industry. For example, why can one garage say “this car is unsafe, but my friend round the corner can fix it up for you” while another garage can say “well if it’s been certified legal by VOSA we’ll just do the work no problems.” I thought the whole point of an MoT was to make sure that cars all met the same standards, but instead it seems to be a reason for people to extract more money from you and fund their sidelines. I wondered how many other people with Category C cars had been told the same as me, had accepted it and gone and paid hundreds of pounds to get the unnecessary work done.
Before I took my car to a second garage, I researched it thoroughly online. Sites such as Pistonheads are really good (although they have a no badmouthing policy, but people get around this and if you’re vaguely intelligent you can work out what garages they’re talking about). The discussion I found on Pistonheads narrowed my search down to three garages in my area.
I dismissed one before I even went to make enquiries, because I used to live on the same road as them and they’d been really unhelpful about four years ago, when my first car was being pronounced dead, such as quoting me £200 for a new petrol tank when I could buy one myself for £70, then, when I questioned them on it, they said “but that’s not one of our suppliers and we couldn’t guarantee the quality of a repair if we didn’t order the parts” which is funny because other places quoted £70 for a petrol tank. Curiously I decided to fix the petrol tank myself, then found out the chassis was rusted through so badly that it was never going on the road again. I remember crying as the scrap merchants took it away, and I knew I would feel the same way about my current car if I couldn’t get it fixed up and had to scrap it.
The second garage was round the corner from my current house, so I tried there first. I went to talk to them, and the man I spoke to (who I think was the owner, I’ve seen him around) was less than helpful. You know that specific type of individual who won’t actually talk to you about mechanics/plumbing/construction/types of paint because you’re female, and that means you’re a) Stupid and b) Lack the capacity to understand something as complicated as car repairs. I’m sure that if you drive, you might have met someone like this. I smiled and nodded and said I’d get back to him and he was very surprised and confused when I didn’t hand over my car keys. I drove around the corner to garage number three and the woman behind the counter got it all arranged and calculated the price for me and booked it in for two days later. I brought the car back on the allotted day, and they finished two hours before they expected to, having done exactly what they needed to get it through the MoT, with no hidden complications. My car is on the road again for another year. Which means I can finally start planning my drive to Morocco.