Servicing vs MOT: what’s the difference?

  • Barrowford MOT Centre

In this blog, we answer one of the most common MOT questions asked: “what is the difference between a service and an MOT”


Let’s jump right in.


In theory, a vehicle service ought to ensure that said vehicle is maintained in accordance with the recommendations laid out by the manufacturer. However, it’s not all that simple. The definition of a ‘service’ actually differs slightly from one manufacturer to another, and when vehicles fall out of their warranties and become serviced within the independent sector, what constitutes as ‘a service’ can often become quite uncertain. It’s then largely dependent on what individual independent garages offer to their customers as a service.


Customer expectations…For example, ‘short’ services for many independent enterprises often comprise of a simple cursory inspection and fluid check whereas an, ‘engine’ service might entail changing the plugs (petrol engine) oil and filter and then a ‘full’ service means the brakes are dismantled and checked as well as a host of other items.
The problem for garages when it comes to advertising is that few motorists know what many of the technical terms mean, what’s being done to their car, and that even a ‘full’ service still doesn’t include as many components as are checked during an MOT inspection – but most will assume that it is and this is a key point. You must always check with your garage so you know exactly what to expect.

On this point, a key element in operating any vehicle repair and service business is to make you’re your customers know exactly what they are going to get for their money before you even lay a finger on the car. It’s not rocket science – it’s about making sure that you are providing what customers are expecting at a price they expect to pay – in short, ‘meeting customers’ expectations’.

Customer quality isn’t only about what happens inside the garage’s workshop, it’s just as important a conversation at the reception desk when the car is being booked in. Yes, doing a good job is vital, but if your mechanics do the best job in the world, it won’t be good enough if the work done is less than the customer is expecting – and this applies especially if you are carrying out a ‘service’ as well as an MOT Test.

Service and MOT…

In recent years, there has been a steep incline in motorists booking their service at the same time as the annual MOT. And whilst most of us in the trade would recognise a ‘full service’ and what was expected when booked, here’s what you should expect as a consumer:

  • Brakes dismantled, brake pads and/or brake shoes examined and replaced as needed, as well as other parts of the braking system, but at extra cost to the customer.
  • Tyres checked for wear, but not necessarily to MOT standard as non-MOT Testing Stations may not have the necessary tread depth gauge or be fully conversant with the regulations (they can rely on the tyre’s ‘wear bars’) – tyre pressure will also be checked.
  • Brake fluid level checked – and perhaps the fluid checked for quality, depending on the mileage or age of the vehicle.
  • Light bulbs checked.
  • Windscreen wipers/washers checked.
  • Oil and air filters replaced as needed.
  • Other filters changed – petrol filter, engine air filter and the pollen filter (if applicable).
  • All fluid levels checked and topped up together with checking the anti-freeze strength in the cooling system.
  • On more modern vehicles, the ‘service light’ re-set as required.
  • Spare wheel condition and inflation pressure checked.

During a service, items are replaced if considered to be worn to an extent that they are likely to require replacement in the relatively near future – say three to six months. For many components this is a more subjective judgement of the mechanic carrying out the work, although in some cases – brake disc thickness for example – a set ‘service standard’ might apply. This would not apply during an MOT check – the condition then is ‘at the time of test’. So how does an MOT check compare with a ‘service’?

A ‘full service’: less or more than an MOT?

The following MOT checks would be unlikely to be inspected during a ‘full service’:As highlighted in our previous posts, the MOT Test is a very comprehensive inspection of a defined list of specific so-called ‘Testable items’ on a vehicle, judged to a minimum safety standard, with the pass/failure criteria only applicable ‘on the day of the test’. This latter is why, during a service, a replaced item may be in acceptable condition to pass the MOT but is unacceptable by the ‘service’ criteria. The dismantling of components is strictly not allowed during an MOT.

  • Headlamp aim
  • Check of steering, suspension, and drive shafts including wheel bearings.**
  • Seat belt condition to MOT standard.
  • Brake performance measured on a ‘roller brake test’ machine
  • Rear view mirrors.
  • Driver’s view of the road. For exaple windscreen condition and any items obstructing the driver’s view.
  • Tyre check to full ‘MOT Standard’
  • Emissions check (including exhaust), although a blowing exhaust would probably be identified during a service.
  • Condition and security of seats.
  • Structural integrity and corrosion (to MOT standard)
  • Body and structural condition.
  • Electrical wiring.
  • Tow bar electrics (if fitted).
  • Steering/suspension dust covers.


It should be noted that some of these items may, in fact, be picked up during a full service when the vehicle is road tested – like a loose driver’s seat – but not necessarily inspected to an ‘MOT standard’ unless the mechanic doing the work is also an MOT tester.
During an MOT, testers only inspect an item as to whether or not it is safe then and there – ‘on the day of the test’. Yet during a service inspection, the technician is looking at whether or not those brake pads, tyres or any other ‘wearing’ item will be safe until the next service – a quite different criteria altogether. Thin brake pads, but thicker than the ‘MOT minimum’ would be replaced, as would tyres with asymmetric wear, and the steering ‘tracking’ checked at the same time.

Bridging the gap, MOT ‘Advisories’…

This is where the MOT advisories come in, you may have heard of them or experienced them. They bridge the gap between an MOT and a service and inform the motorist that whilst the car is safe – ‘on the day’, it could become ‘unsafe’ in the future, and maybe within a relatively short period of time. Whilst, due to the difficulties that testers and testing stations sometimes have with VOSA’s disciplinary system, they see MOT advisory notes as a way of covering themselves against future disciplinary action. The advisory items are there for the benefit of motorists, providing a crucial bridge between the benefits of an MOT inspection, and the value of a ‘full service’.


For further advice on servicing and MOTs, or to book your vehicle in for either, contact Barrowford MOT today on 01282 639381. Services start at £89 and MOT’s are on offer at £40 with a free hot wash and wax. An honest and reliable service come for free.

Related Post

  • September 30, 2020

Preparing for an MOT test

When your MOT is due this can be a stressful time. You're hopeful that there..

  • September 23, 2020

Are Your Car Lights Legal?

We are officially in autumn now so as the sun sets earlier and rises later..