MECHANIC Graham Chilton got a slippery surprise when he opened a van bonnet to come face to face with a 3ft-long snake.

Mr Chilton was carrying out an MOT test when he made the startling discovery.

The strapping 6ft mechanic, who admits to being petrified of the creatures, said his heart almost stopped and he was left shaking all over.

He managed to grab a quick picture of the corn snake on his mobile phone before legging it out of Tyreryte Service Centre, in Marsh Road, Cowley.

Nerves restored, Mr Chilton returned with a torch and his colleagues to hunt down the slippery customer.

However, despite the help of an RSPCA officer, the orange and yellow corn snake could not be found and was last night still at large.

Van owner Anwar Khan, who had no idea he had been transporting the reptile in his 12-seater Ford Transit, reluctantly got back behind the wheel and drove home after the vehicle was given a clean bill of health.

Mr Chilton, 46, recalled: “It was my 11am MOT and I opened the bonnet and saw it. It looked at me and made its way across the engine into the passenger inner wing.

“I was in total shock to find it. My heart stopped, my hands were shaking and I ran off.

“If its head had come towards me I would have been a blur.

“We quite often find people who have left tools in engine bays but not snakes – especially when the MOT tester is so scared of them.”

Corn snakes are popular pets native to North America and are not harmful to people. They normally grow to five feet.

RSPCA animal collection officer Dennis Lovell, who came armed with a rubber glove and pillow case to catch the creature, said it was probably an escaped pet which had found comfort among the warm pipes of the engine. He said: “It will come out of its own accord eventually. It can survive in the engine, but it’s going to get hot and it could be bad if it touches the fan belt.”

Garage owner Martin Smith said: “I think we can safely say it’s the most unusual thing we’ve found in an engine. I hate them, I’m terrified. We are going to be looking at MOTs now in a different light. We will not only be looking at components that are dangerous, we are going to be looking for animals that could be.”

Father-of-nine Mr Khan, of Cumberland Road, Cowley, who uses the van as a family car, said it had been parked outside the front of the house for the past few days.

He had changed the battery yesterday morning, but had not spotted the creature, and feared he could be the victim of a prank.

He said: “I thought someone was trying to upset my family or trying to frighten me.”