MOT test explained

The MOT test (Ministry of Transport, or simply MOT) is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom for most vehicles over three years old.

What is an MoT test?

The MOT test (Ministry of Transport, or simply MOT) is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom for most vehicles over three years old.

MOT tests are carried out at authorized test centers around the country, all of which display an official blue sign featuring three white triangles.

Details

  • The MOT test station list contains:
  • the MOT test station name
  • the address
  • telephone number
  • class of vehicle tested

What does an MOT test cover?

An MOT involves dozens of checks on your car, ranging from the brakes and fuel system to lights, mirrors, seatbelts, windscreen wipers and exhaust systems. It doesn’t cover the condition of the engine, clutch and gearbox.

How long does an MOT take?

An average MOT test takes between 45 and 60 minutes, but there are a couple of other things to take into consideration.

First, if your vehicle fails the test and repairs are needed this will take longer.

A test center isn’t allowed to let you drive away a car that has failed an MOT until the problems are fixed, unless your existing MOT certificate is still valid, or you’re taking the car to have the faults fixed.

Second, the test might take an hour or less, but, even if there aren’t any repairs, this doesn’t mean your vehicle will only have to be at the garage for 60 minutes.

Test centers can require you to drop your vehicle off first thing in the morning and collect it when ready.

This means you should be prepared to be without your vehicle for the day.

The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency sets the maximum fee official test centers can charge for an MOT.

It’s currently £54.85 for cars and motor caravans and £29.65 for motorbikes, but many garages charge less than this – sometimes up to 50% less.

Search online for “cheap MOT” or “MOT discount” to find out how you can save money on your car’s next MOT.

An MOT might also be included in the cost of a full service for your car. While servicing your car regularly is a good idea, a service, even if it includes an MOT, is likely to be more expensive than an MOT on its own. 

Checklist to help your car pass its MOT

Make sure you’re not caught out by any of the five simple reasons for a fail shown above, then inspect your car against our 11-point checklist below.

If you find any problems in the following areas, you can fix some yourself to help keep garage costs down.

  1. Headlights and indicators: front, rear, headlights (the main beam and dipped), hazard lights and indicators. If any aren’t working, first check for broken bulbs and replace them.
  2. Brake lights: ask another person to check the rear brake lights come on when you press the brake pedal.
  3. Tires: check all the tires have at least the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm, or they’ll be marked as an MOT ‘fail’.

Check for any damage such as splits in the tread, bulges, or cuts in the sidewalls.

Also check the tire pressure is correct – the car’s manual will list the right pressure and they might also be on the sidewall of the tire itself – and increase it at a petrol station if necessary.

  1. The handbrake: check the tension in your handbrake. If it slides up and down without resistance and can’t be ratcheted to a set level, there’s likely to be a problem needing fixing by a professional mechanic.
  2. Seats and seatbelts: check the driver’s seat adjusts forwards and backwards and inspect the full length of the seatbelt for any damage.

Check all the seatbelts latch and fasten securely, and lock when you give them a sharp tug.

  1. Windscreen: any damage wider than 10mm in the driver’s central view will cause an MOT fail, as will any damage larger than 40mm in the whole of the swept area.
  2. Windscreen wipers: make sure your wipers clean your windscreen effectively along with the washers.

Remember, any tears or holes in the wiper rubber can mean an MOT fail.

  1. Suspension check: check the shock absorbers by applying your weight to each corner of the car then quickly releasing it.

The corner of the car should quickly return to its original position.

If it bounces more than twice, this could mean the shock absorbers are faulty and need to be checked.

  1. Horn: give a short blast of the horn – if it doesn’t work or isn’t loud enough to attract the attention of pedestrians or other motorists, get it repaired.
  2. Exhaust: check for exhaust leaks by starting the engine in a well-ventilated space at normal temperature, then listen from the rear of the car for any unusual noises or abnormal smoke.
  3. Fuel and engine oil: make sure your car is filled with enough fuel and engine oil – you can be turned away from the MOT if there isn’t enough to test your car’s emissions levels properly.

If your car fails its MOT

If your car fails its MOT, the test center will give you a VT3O Certificate showing the reasons for the failure.

On 20 May 2018, the MOT categories for fails and passes changed.

If your car has a dangerous fault, you won’t be able to drive it away. Get a quote from the garage you got the MOT from if they do repairs, and then call around for some quotes from other local garages. You might be able to find the repairs cheaper even if they need to tow your vehicle to their garage.

If your car has a major fault you may be able to drive it away if it’s still roadworthy and your previous MOT has not expired yet.

If your MOT has run out and the car is roadworthy you can drive it to have the faults fixed and to a pre-booked MOT.

If you drive a car without an MOT under any other circumstances or drive a car with dangerous faults, you can be fined £2,500, be banned from driving and get three points on your license.

How can I prepare my car for an MOT?

Taking the time to get your car ready for its MOT test can save you money in the long run.

If you want to give your car the best chance of passing the MOT test, follow our pre-MOT instructions.

Check 1: Service history 

Check your paperwork (invoices, your diary, dealer stamps in the service book in your car) to ensure you can provide correct answers to the following questions: 

  • When was your car last serviced?
  • When did your car last visit a garage for an inspection or repair?
Check 2: Engine management lights

Do all your car’s engine management lights come on when you start the engine, then go out after a few seconds?

Check 3: Glass, mirrors and lights 

With the engine running, turn on your hazard lights, fog lights and headlights, then walk around the car and check they are all working.

If there is no one available to walk around the car while you are inside, wait for the evening light, then park the car near a wall.

With the engine running, press the brake pedal, and you should be able to see the brake lights reflect on the wall. You can repeat this process for the indicators; turn each indicator on separately, and check they work too.

Check the windscreen and rear-view mirrors for any damage.

Check 4: Tyres

Ensure that:

  • All tires are free from any bulges, lumps or tears, and sit neatly on the wheel rim. 
  • All four wheels are the same size (a ‘space saving’ spare wheel is a failure). 
  • Each tire is the same size, type of structure and aspect ratio, as the tire on the opposite side of the car (left to right). Each tire has its size marked on the sidewall.
Check 5: Drivability and other checks

Is there any smoke at any time? Are there any strange smells from the engine, exhaust, or around the wheels, especially when hot? Start your car and go for a drive with the radio off.

  • Are there any roars or growling noises from the car when you start the engine, or at any time? 
  • Are there any droning noises when cornering, or any loud clunking noises when braking or going over bumps? 
  • Have you noticed the car is using more oil or fuel (petrol or diesel) than it used to? 
  • When waiting at a junction or traffic lights, do the car’s revs seem unusually high? 
  • When braking, (especially from high speed):
  • Does the car start to move from one side of the road to another? 
  • Can you feel any judder in the pedal, steering wheel, or car? 
  • Can you hear any noise (especially a metallic noise)?
  • Does the pedal feel spongy, or travel more than it used to?

 Are there any other faults you are already aware of on your car, or is there anything wrong with how the car drives, looks, or sounds?

Book MOT with servicing:

Save up to 40% by booking both your MOT and service at the same time. Many checks overlap, and these savings should be passed on to you. Be wary of garages not offering a discount if you book your MOT and service simultaneously.

Arrange another test:

These minor repairs can be retested at the same test center free within 24 hours: 

  1. Bonnet 
  2. Horn
  3. Sharp edges/projections
  4. Boot lid 
  5. Lamps 
  6. Steering wheel
  7. Brake pedal anti-slip
  8. Loading door
  9. Tailboard 
  10. Indicators 
  11. Mirrors 
  12. Tailgate
  13. Doors 
  14. Rear reflectors 
  15. VIN
  16. Dropsides
  17. Registration plates
  18. Windscreen and glass
  19. Fuel filler cap
  20. Seat belts
  21. Windscreen wipers and washers 
  22. Hazard warning lights 
  23. Seats
  24. Wheels
  25. Tyres

When do I need to get an MOT test?

When your car is three years old from the date of its registration it will need its first MOT test – and then it needs to be retested every year on the anniversary of its last MOT test.

Once passed, you’ll get an MOT test certificate with the date of the test on it, and the date of expiry so you know when the vehicle requires a new MOT. If you choose, you can get the vehicle retested up to a month (minus a day) before it expires and keeps the original renewal date.

How can I find out when my MOT is due?

If you’ve lost your MOT certificate you can simply use the GOV.uk tool to enter your registration number and vehicle make.

This will check both your MOT status and tax status in a matter of seconds. You’ll also be able to have a fresh MOT certificate sent to you for free to replace the lost one.

Can I drive without an MOT?

No. You can’t drive a vehicle without it having a valid MOT certificate. The only exception is that you’re able to drive your vehicle to its MOT test, so long as the test has been booked.

If you own a vehicle and are not planning on driving it you must keep it off the road and will have to declare it SORN.

Find out the risks of driving without an MOT in our full guide.

How can I prepare for an MOT test?

Many vehicles fail an MOT for small issues which could easily be prevented before the test. You might be surprised at what can fail an MOT – some problems are relatively minor.

It’s a good idea to prepare an MOT checklist a couple of weeks before the date of inspection to make sure your vehicle is in the best possible condition it can be, this will allow you to proactively fix the issues and avoid any inconvenient circumstances if the vehicle fails the test.

It is worth clarifying, however, if your car fails its MOT, then you cannot keep your renewal date.

Pre-MOT checks:

There are some quick things you can do as a driver to give your vehicle the best chance of passing its MOT. We go into more detail below.

Keep your car clean, inside and out. A boot full of clutter and an excessively dirty car could lead to an examiner refusing to carry out the MOT.

Give number plates a clean as they need to be readable to pass the MOT.

  • Check the windscreen wipers are in good condition, with no tears. Check all lights are in working order. Ask a friend or family member to stand outside the car and confirm lights function properly.
  • Check tire tread using the 20p test, and tire pressure too
  • Top up all fluid levels – screenwash, brake fluid and oil.
  • Check that the horn works – give it a quick honk!
  • All of your mirrors should be intact and secure to ensure you can use them safely.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in your car’s V5C logbook should match that marked on your car’s bodywork.

Do council MOT test centers have better pass rates than normal garages?

Council MOT centers are council-run test centers that do not carry out repairs. For this reason, many people believe they are a better place to get an MOT done as they do not have a vested interest in failing and charging for repairs.

However, the data to support this is purely qualitative. By which we mean here are only written testimonials expressing that people, from experience, have had better luck getting their car to pass its MOT at a council test center than at other garages.

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