What is the MOT?

A valid MOT is needed for vehicles more than three years old to make sure they’re roadworthy. You’ll also need proof of a valid MOT when you apply for your annual car tax. If it’s time for your car’s annual check-up, use our guide and MOT checklist to help boost its chances of passing.

A valid MOT is needed for vehicles more than three years old to make sure they’re roadworthy. You’ll also need proof of a valid MOT when you apply for your annual car tax. If it’s time for your car’s annual check-up, use our guide and MOT checklist to help boost its chances of passing.

Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
7
minute read
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Last Updated 26 OCTOBER 2022

What is the MOT?

The MOT is a legally required annual inspection of cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles that are more than three years old. The MOT (Ministry of Transport) test must be carried out at an authorised testing centre. It’s designed to make sure that your vehicle is roadworthy, in safe, working order and meets legally required environmental standards.

It’s illegal to drive on UK roads without a valid MOT unless you’re on your way to a pre-booked MOT inspection or you’re taking your vehicle in for repairs. You can be fined up to £1,000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MOT.

How do I know when my MOT is due?

Once your car reaches the grand old age of three, it will need an MOT test. From then on, it will need an annual retest at the same time each year.

If you buy a second-hand car, check it has a valid MOT and when the next one is due. It’s your responsibility to make sure it has an MOT inspection once a year.

If you’re not sure when your next MOT is due, you can easily check using the registration number of your car on the government website. It will also tell you when your vehicle tax is due to run out.

If you’re the forgetful type, you can sign up for free MOT reminders by text or email. If you live in Great Britain, you should get a text or email reminder one month before your car, van or motorbike MOT is due. In Northern Ireland you’ll get an old-fashioned snail-mail letter seven weeks before your MOT is due. Either way, this will give you plenty of time to get ready for the test and sort out any glitches that need fixing.

You can put your vehicle in for its MOT test up to a month (minus a day) before the expiry date without losing any days on the certificate. So, for example, if the MOT is due on 30 April and you have your car tested on 15 April, your MOT will run up until 30 April the following year, so there’s no need to delay getting it tested.

How much does the MOT cost?

There’s a maximum amount that MOT testing garages can charge:

  • Cars: £54.85
  • Motorbikes: £29.65

What is checked during the MOT?

The MOT is a comprehensive inspection and currently includes the following checks. Your vehicle must pass the checks to receive its MOT certificate, which is valid for the following 12 months.

  • Body and structure – to make sure the body of the vehicle isn’t excessively corroded or damaged, and that there are no sharp edges likely to cause injury.
  • Fuel system – to make sure there are no leaks in either the fuel pipework or the tank, and the fuel cap is secure and sealed.
  • Exhaust emissions – the vehicle must meet the requirements for exhaust emissions, depending on its fuel type and age.
  • Exhaust system – to make sure the exhaust is secure, complete, silences effectively and there are no signs of serious leaks.
  • Seat belts – all belts (both front and rear) are checked for condition, operation and security. All compulsory seat belts must be in place.
  • Seats – must be secure and able to be secured in the upright position.
  • Doors – all doors must close securely. Front doors should open from inside and outside the vehicle.
  • Mirrors  – the minimum number of mirrors should be on the vehicle, and should be in good condition and securely fixed in position.
  • Brakes – operation and performance will be tested.
  • Tyres – condition and security will be checked, including tyre size, type and thread.
  • Number plates  – condition, security and checks that characters have the correct form and spacing.
  • Lights – condition, operation and security. Headlamps are also tested for their aim.
  • Washers and wipers – condition, operation and a check that they leave a clear view of the road.
  • Horn – operates correctly and is of a suitable type.
  • Suspension and steering – condition and operation.
  • VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) – checked against the registration for vehicles first registered on or after 1 August 1980.

The government regularly updates the guidance that’s used to check your vehicle is safe and meets environmental standards. For example, in 2021 further guidance was added for testing electric and hybrid vehicles.

If you want to find out about the MOT in more detail, the government’s inspection manual is a comprehensive source of information.

MOT checklist

It’s a good idea to prepare for your MOT a couple of weeks before your vehicle’s booked in.

Here’s a quick checklist to help get your car MOT ready:

1. Tyres
Check your tyre pressures are correct and be sure the tread depth is at least 1.6mm around the central three-quarters of the tyre. An easy way to do this is to use the 20 pence check. Also check for any signs of damage to your tyres – for example, bulges, cuts or embedded stones or nails.

2. Lights
Check that the headlights, number plate lights, hazards, indicators and brake lights are all working properly. Ask someone to stand outside the car to check.

3. Windscreen and windscreen wipers
Check the wipers for signs of wear and tear, and make sure there are no windscreen stickers blocking the view. Check the windscreen for any chips or cracks, especially on the driver’s side. Even the slightest damage – more than 10mm in the driver’s line of vision or 40mm on the rest of the windscreen – will mean an MOT fail.

Did you know?

Stickers might be considered a car modification and could bump up the cost of your car insurance.

4. Screen washers
Even something as simple as a blocked screen washer or an empty screen wash container could mean an MOT fail. Make sure the container is topped up and the jets are working.

5. Seats, seatbelts and doors
Move the seats backwards and forwards to make sure they’re working properly and try each seatbelt to see it clips and unclips. Give them a good pull to see if they lock and retract properly. Check that all the doors, including the boot, can be easily opened and closed.

6. Horn
Give it a good blast to make sure it’s working.

7. Fluids
Check your levels of screen wash, brake fluid and engine oil. And make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before the test.

8. Check for rust
And we mean all over, especially the underside. Rust within close proximity to essential systems, like steering or brakes, could cause a fail. Excessive rust can lead to serious safety problems and will lead to an MOT fail. Older cars are more susceptible to this.

9. Clean your car inside and out
A dirty car can’t fail an MOT as such, but litter and clutter could cause it to fail if that grime creates a hazard, obscures your VIN number or makes it difficult to see through the windscreen. Give it a good going-over, inside and out, and don’t forget to clean the number plates; they need to be grime-free and visible to earn a pass.

10. Make sure you have legal number plates
See the GOV.uk specifications for number plates.

Save this checklist and use it regularly. Not only could it help keep your car in a safer condition, but it might also help prevent small problems developing into more expensive repairs further down the line.

What happens if my car fails its MOT or the MOT has expired?

If your car fails because of a dangerous defect, you won’t be able to drive it until it’s been repaired. You’ll be issued a ‘refusal of MOT test certificate’ and it will be recorded on the MOT database.

Driving a car that’s failed its MOT because of a dangerous defect can result in a fine of up to £2,500, three penalty points on your licence and even a driving ban. You can drive your vehicle away to be repaired if no dangerous defects were listed and your current MOT is still valid.

If your MOT has expired, you can still take your vehicle to a pre-arranged MOT test appointment or drive it to another garage to be repaired. Driving without a valid MOT in any other circumstances is illegal and will invalidate your car insurance.

Frequently asked questions

How long does an MOT test take?

The MOT test normally takes between 45 and 60 minutes, but if your car needs repairs to pass it could take longer. Many test centres will ask you to drop off your car at the start of the day, then give you a call when it’s ready to pick up. The test centre should not perform any repairs unless you’ve authorised them to do so. Once the repairs are complete, they can run a second test and the vehicle should pass.

Is the MOT test different for motorbikes and vans?

Motorbikes and vans also need valid MOT certificates once they reach three years old, but the test will involve different checks to make sure they’re safe to drive and comply with environmental standards. For more information, read our handy MOT checklists for vans and motorcycles.

Can I appeal the result of an MOT?

Yes, if your car fails its MOT but you disagree with the result, you can appeal the result with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Your first step should be to speak to the test centre to see if the issue can be resolved. If you still feel that the decision was unfair, you’ll need to fill out the DVSA’s complaint form and send it to them within 14 days of the test. They’ll then contact you to discuss your complaint. It’s important that you don’t do any repairs on the vehicle until you’ve heard back from them.

Do classic cars need an MOT?

It depends on the age of the car and whether it’s been altered. Vehicles built or registered more than 40 years ago that haven’t been substantially modified (chassis, bodies, axles or engines) don’t need an MOT.

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