Everyone knows that running a car isn't cheap. On top of the cost of buying the thing, you've got insurance, road tax and fuel costs - all of which seem to be heading skywards.
But critical running costs - like a basic service and an MOT - are often overlooked. An MOT for a car with up to eight passenger seats currently costs £54.85, which isn't a horrendous annual expense in itself.
Passing the test is a different matter though, and if your car is to stay on the road then it needs to meet a series of strict safety standards. However, many elements of the test can be as simple as working headlamp bulbs, so giving your car a quick once over before it heads to the garage for its MOT can save you a small fortune in repairs - and the cost of a re-test.
It's the same story for a service. Costs and regularity vary depending on what kind of car you have and how much you use it, but the formula is the same: a brief inspection and a few small checks before you head for the garage can make all the difference.
Our top five tips take a matter of minutes - and they're well worth it before you head to the garage for your next service or MOT.
Top up your screen wash
Sounds silly, doesn't it? But some garages, especially main dealer outfits, will charge you for topping up your car's screen wash during a service. What's more, some will use what they claim is a top brand of screen wash, which, to them, justifies extra figures on your final bill.
Filling up your car's screen wash reservoir takes seconds and an off-the-shelf bottle of fluid costs next to nothing, so it's more than worth the effort. If the garage still tries to charge you for fluid even after you've topped up yourself, then it could be time to take your business elsewhere.
Test the lights
All of the lights - including the indicators and brake lights - need to be fully operational for the car to pass its MOT. If one or more fail, then you could either be looking at a re-test, or a bill for the garage to supply and fit a headlamp bulb, which will no doubt be more expensive than a quick and easy DIY fix.
Get a friend or family member to stand in front of and behind the car while you sit in the driver's seat and test all the lights. If one of the bulbs isn't working then simply buy and fit a new one. Halogen light bulbs usually cost peanuts (xenon items are more expensive, but it's still cheaper to fit one yourself if you can) and they're very simple to change on most cars.
Fit decent wiper blades
You might not think it, but the wipers are also subject to scrutiny during an MOT. They need to operate correctly and give the driver a clear view of the road ahead when it's raining.
If you've been relying on a ratty set of ancient blades that create more muck than they shift, then there's no guarantee that your car will pass. New wiper blades can be found for around £10 and they're a cinch to fit, so there's no excuse.
Check the tread depth of the tyres
A car with bald tyres won't make it through its MOT. What's more, crafty garages may try and convince you that some new rubber is in order during a service - even if that isn't necessarily the case.
A simple tread gauge will tell you how much life your tyres have left and whether they're legal or not, so you'll know the score before you visit the garage. A tread gauge costs around £3, so there's no reason not to.
Test the handbrake
It's easy to miss a dodgy handbrake if you live in a flat area, so it's worth finding out if it works or not - before you're told otherwise. Take the car to a safe, clear slope and see if it rolls backwards with the handbrake on.
If that's not possible, test it by attempting to drive off slowly with the handbrake on. If it stops the car then there's no problem, but if the car moves forward easily then something's up. As with any other problem, it's worth getting a dodgy handbrake sorted out before the car goes in for its MOT, rather than suffer the consequences of a repair on the spot and the cost of a re-test.