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.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
minute read
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Posted 4 JANUARY 2022

The MOT and the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting many aspects of driving and using your car. To help answer any questions you might have, see our coronavirus and motoring FAQs. For the latest on coronavirus restrictions, see GOV.UK.

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 and meets legally required environmental standards. 

The centre will carry out various tests that the vehicle must pass to receive its MOT certificate, which is valid for the following 12 months. 

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. 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 28 days 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 the 15 April, your MOT will run up until 30 April the following year.

What are the MOT rules? 

Five changes to the test were introduced on 20 May 2018. These changes were brought in to comply with EU directives but, although the guidance was withdrawn due to Brexit and the MOT instruction manuals were updated in August 2021 , it appears many of the changes made still apply. 

 1. Defects are now categorised as:  

  • Dangerous – an immediate risk to road safety or a serious impact on the environment. A dangerous defect will result in a fail. You won’t be allowed to drive the vehicle until it’s been repaired.
  • Major – it may affect road safety, put others at risk or have a serious impact on the environment. A major defect will result in a fail and your vehicle must be repaired immediately.
  • Minor – no significant effect on the safety of the vehicle or impact on the environment. A minor defect should result in a pass, but repairs should be carried out as soon as possible.
  • Advisory – a minor problem that could become worse in the future. Your vehicle will pass but you should monitor and repair the problem if necessary.
  • Pass – it meets the minimum legal standard resulting in a pass. You should make sure your vehicle continues to meet the standard.

 2. Diesel cars with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) will undergo more rigorous controls. If there’s evidence that the DPF has been tampered with or coloured smoke is emitted from the exhaust, your vehicle will get a major fault resulting in a fail.   

 3. Further controls have been added to the MOT inspection including more thorough checks of tyres , brake fluid , fluid leaks that could pose a threat to the environment , brake pads incorrectly mounted , reversing lights  and headlight washers  on vehicles first used from 1 September 2009. 

  4. The design of the MOT certificate has changed. It now lists any defects under the new categories, so they’re clearer and easier to understand. 

  5. Vehicles over 40 years old that haven’t been substantially modified will no longer need an MOT inspection. 

The government regularly issues amendments and updates to the manual that MOT testers use to check your vehicle is road safe and meeting environmental standards. For example, in 2021 further guidance was added for testing electric and hybrid vehicles and to reduce the circumstances in which a headlamp conversion can lead to an MOT fail. There have been no major changes to requirements for passenger vehicles since the 2018 rules were introduced, but if you have any specific queries on what will pass or fail the MOT, the government’s inspection manual is a comprehensive source of information.

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:

  • 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 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.

MOT checklist

It’s a good idea to prepare for your MOT a couple of weeks before your vehicle’s booked in. This will give you the chance to get it into tip-top condition and fix any problems. You’d be surprised at how many little things can result in an MOT fail.

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

1. Tyres
Check your tyre pressure. You’ll also need to 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.

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

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.

Also, 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 40 mm 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 before taking your car for its test.

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. Also, give them a good pull to see if they lock and retract properly.

While you’re there, 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. Also, make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before the test.

8. Check for rust
And we mean all over, especially the underside. Excessive rust can lead to serious safety problems and will lead to an MOT fail.

9. Clean your car inside and out
A dirty car full of clutter and litter could fail an MOT test. 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.

Once your car has passed its MOT, you’ll need to keep it in good condition until the next one is due.

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 the MOT for a defect in the dangerous category, 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 defect in the dangerous category 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 also invalidate your car insurance.

Frequently asked questions

How long does an MOT test take?

The MOT test normally takes between 45 and 60 minutes , although if your car needs repairs to pass it could end up taking longer. Many test centres will ask you to drop off your car at the start of the day and then give you a call when it’s ready to pick up. Remember that the test centre is not allowed to let you drive a car that has failed its MOT unless your current MOT certificate is still valid or you’re taking your car for repairs elsewhere. The test centre should not perform any repairs unless you’ve authorised them to do so.

Is the MOT test different for motorbikes and vans?

Motorbikes and vans also need valid MOT certificates once they reach three years old, but MOT testers will need to perform 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.

Does coronavirus affect me getting an MOT?

The current COVID-19 guidance from the government is that you’ll need to get an MOT for your vehicle as usual, but you shouldn’t go to a test centre in person if you are self-isolating or quarantining. If you’re self-isolating, some test centres may agree to pick up your car for its MOT and drop it off afterwards. Otherwise, you’ll need to ask someone to take your car in for you or wait until after you’ve finished self-isolating. If your MOT has expired and your road tax is due, you’ll need to register it as off the road until you have the all clear to leave self-isolation.

Can I appeal the result of an MOT?

Yes, if your car failed its MOT but you disagree with the result – or if it passed when you think it should have failed – 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.

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