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MOT Test Explained - A Comprehensive Guide And Advice

According to UK law, if you own an over three-year-old vehicle, you must take an MOT (Ministry of Transport) test annually to determine its roadworthiness. While you may know about MOT, you might not understand what exactly this MOT test cover. In this guide, we will discuss the MOT test in detail, the complete MOT checklist, why most vehicles fail the test, and much more.

MOT FAQs

What is an MOT Test?

First things first, an MOT test includes assessing your vehicles over three years old to make sure they meet the government's legal standards. The test covers vehicle safety, roadworthiness, and exhaust emission standards, and you must take it once a year.

During the test, you may view the valuation from a watchable distance but cannot interrupt the tester in any way that could disturb the test.

When do you need to take an MOT Test?

When your vehicle reaches three years from its registration date, it’s time for the first MOT test. After the first MOT, you need to get your vehicle tested once a year.

When you successfully pass the MOT test, you receive an MOT certificate that shows the date of the examination taken and the expiry. At the expiry date, you must retake the MOT check. If you wish, you can take the MOT test a month before the expiry date as well.

Upon failing the test, you cannot drive the vehicle unless the current MOT is still valid, and the failed examination report does not mention any ‘dangerous’ problems. If the report includes severe issues, then you must repair the car before you can drive.

However, bear in mind that driving to a garage for fixing requires your vehicle to meet the minimum roadworthiness standards. You can learn more about these here.

When is Your MOT Due?

To find out when you have to take your next MOT examination, you can refer to the MOT certificate for the expiration date. However, if you have lost your MOT certificate, you can use the UK government's vehicle inquiry tool to discover the next MOT due date.

Enter your vehicle registration number and make to know the MOT due date as well as your tax status. If you have lost the MOT certificate, you can request a new one without any cost.

What if your MOT expires?

When your MOT concludes, you have no other choice but to renew it. You get a grace period, though, but you cannot drive the vehicle legally without a valid certificate. Driving a vehicle without a valid MOT certificate can lead to a severe penalty. You cannot even pay tax on the vehicle without an effective MOT certificate.

When can you drive without an MOT?

You cannot drive a vehicle without an indorsed MOT. However, driving to an MOT test location is an exemption given that you have booked it.

Every vehicle on the road must have an authorised MOT certificate to drive legally. If you have a vehicle that you do not plan to drive, you must declare it Off-Road Statutory Notification (SORN).

MOT Tests and Car Recalls

The manufacturer may issue a recall on your car if it does not meet the safety standards. Currently, there are about 2.3 million vehicles in the UK with a recall notice. If your vehicle is one of them, it is illegal to sell it. However, there is no time limit for owners to fix their recalled vehicles.

The authorities are working on connecting the recall system with the MOT test. You will not pass the MOT if you fail to fix a recall issue within 12 months after the previous examination.

To know more about the recall status of your vehicle, use the Vehicle Recall Check tool.

How to Prepare for an MOT Examination?

You can prepare for an MOT in advance to avoid failing the assessment. Most vehicles that fail an MOT have minor issues that you can prevent before appearing for the examination.

A good method to prepare is by creating an MOT checklist some weeks before the test. List the major areas and keep an active check to ensure proper functioning. If any issue arises, you can simultaneously fix it before the test.

The goal is to appear for the check fully prepared and confident that your vehicle meets the required standards. It will also avoid inconvenient experiences if your vehicle fails the MOT test, as you would be aware of the issues and have them solved.

MOT Checklist

Let’s look at the major things you need to focus on in the checklist to prepare for the car assessment. To start with, make sure you meet the following requirements before appearing for an MOT examination:

  1. The vehicle registration number (VIN) mentioned on the bodywork is the same as in the V5C logbook.
  2. The number plates are clean and readable.
  3. Ensure that the vehicle is clean and presentable, both inside and outside.
  4. Make sure the horn is working properly.
  5. The windscreen wipers work well without any sign of wear and tear.
  6. Using the 20p test, check the tyre tread and pressure.
  7. Make sure all lights in the vehicle are functioning properly.
  8. Refill the fluids to an acceptable level, including brake fluid, engine oil, and screen wash.
  9. Ensure that the mirrors are properly attached and useable.

After you’ve made sure you meet the above prerequisites, let’s dive into the major components your checklist should have to prepare for the MOT test.

Bodywork

For the safety of the pedestrians, sharp and pointy edges on the bodywork are not permissible. These edges may occur due to corrosion or accidents. You must have them fixed or smoothened out before appearing for the test.
You must also make sure major components such as brakes and steering are rust-free. Even if rust exists within a 30cm radius of these areas, you could fail the MOT, as it hinders the proper functioning.

Doors

Another area an MOT examines is doors and openings. Make sure you can open and shut doors easily from both the inside and outside of the vehicle. Inspectors also test whether other openings such as the bonnet and tailgate open effortlessly and close securely.

Horn

Although a minor component, your horn also affects the MOT’s result. Ensure that the horn works properly with enough loudness for other vehicles around to catch it. Your car must have a simple horn with one tune. Your vehicle should not have horns that feature more than one tune or note when appearing for an MOT.  

Seats

Assessment of seats and seat belts are crucial for your MOT. Your vehicle must have seats securely fixed in their position without presenting any jolts or jerks. For vehicles made after 1965, seat belts are a must, and for those made earlier, recommended.

The seat belts must have a lock and clip mechanism that works to fasten effectively. Each seat should have its own seat belt within an acceptable condition. If the seats feature inertia-reel belts, make sure they fit appropriately around the driver by retracting.

Steering

Steering is a very vital component, and the issues related to this are more complicated. The inspector would examine the proper installation of the steering wheel and shaft and whether steering has an appropriate free-play.  

Furthermore, make sure the steering wheel is in good condition. Vehicle inspectors examine joints such as clamps and bolts and steering bearings to see if they are in good shape. If your vehicle has power steering, the inspector would also test it with the engine running. When on full lock, moving the wheels through steering must not interfere with the bodywork.

Tow bar

Some vehicles have a tow bar for attaching a trailer or caravan. If yours has one, make sure it is damage- and corrosion-free. Besides, ensure you fix the tow bar securely in place.

Exhaust

Vehicles using conventional combustion engines are subject to exhaust and emission examination. To test emission, the examiner uses special equipment that attaches to the exhaust of the vehicle. The emission is subject to a certain limit that depends on your vehicle's age, but newer models suffer stricter standards.

The exhaust pipe should not emit visible smoke, and the noise must be minimum. Additionally, make sure there are no leaks. The evaluator would examine the fuel filter cap and the exhaust system to see if they are properly in place.

Lights

Under this section, make sure your headlights align properly, and if not, adjust them accordingly. Supervisors emphasise alignment to avoid dazzling and excessive light on the oncoming traffic. If you own a vehicle made after 1st April 1980, ensure you have two red reflectors at the back.

All lights must function properly; test the taillights, headlights, sidelights, indicators, and brake lights to see if they are visible. If you have an automobile built after 1986, make certain the rear fog lights are working. When activated, these fog lights must also inform the driver through a symbol on the dashboard.

Windows and Mirrors

The rear mirror’s position must be appropriate. It should not have any damage that could affect the driver’s view. Ahead, the wipers should have rubber blades in good condition, working correctly.

Be careful about windscreen damages because they are the most common cause of MOT test failures. The area covered by the sweep of wipers on the windscreen must not have cracks exceeding 10mm. Outside this area, cracks up to 40mm are acceptable.

Tyres

According to UK law, tyres must have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm in an ongoing band around the tyre's total outer circumference. This band comprises central three-quarters of the tread's width. Ensure your tyres meet this limit, or else the inspector might issue a warning to get them replaced.

The evaluator also examines the tyres for damage, cut, or bulges. Make sure your vehicle has tyres of the same size on each axle. If you have a spare tyre outside the car, mount it securely.

Along with tyres, the MOT test also covers the condition of your wheels. Your vehicle must have all wheels securely attached and fixed without missing out on any bolt. Ensure the wheel bearings are in an acceptable condition as well. Furthermore, your rims must also not have any cracks or damage and overall represent a good condition.

Brakes

MOT checks give the same importance to the brakes as the tyres. It goes without saying that brakes are an essential component when it comes to your safety and hence should work suitably.

An MOT test assesses brake condition by examining the pads, discs, callipers, and connected cables. Moreover, make sure the master cylinder and brake servo under your car’s hood are in good condition.

The evaluator’s primary interest is to see if your car decelerates properly when you apply brakes. They usually test it by placing the vehicle on rollers, but the method may differ. Your brakes should also keep the correct balance, meaning that the car must stop in a straight line when braked.

Ensure that the pedal rubber is in good condition. If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes installed, the ABS warning light must work properly. The handbrake should work effectively and, even in a steep area, hold the vehicle firmly.

Vehicle Identification

The vehicle identification number (VIN) ought to be clearly visible on the car. Also known as the chassis number, you can also find it on the V5 registration document as well as at the windscreen's base or under the hood on a stamped metal panel.

What’s Next?

Now that you are familiar with the areas you need to focus on and prepare for before appearing for an MOT, what information do you need next? You must know the cost of an MOT test, where can you get one, possible exemptions, and many other things. Let’s discuss this MOT-specific information in detail.

How much does an MOT cost?

Although the amount you have to pay for an MOT examination depends upon the vehicle you own, the government has set a ceiling charge.

The larger vehicle you own, the more you have to pay for the MOT. Motorcycle owners have to dish out £29.65, while cars that hold up to eight passengers require £54.85 payment. You can find the full list of charges that apply to different vehicles on the UK Government’s website.

Do You Get Notification When MOT is due?

It depends on the garage you take your vehicle for the MOT test. Some garages notify through text when your MOT renewal is due. If you’re interested in getting notifications, you can use the reminder service by Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency (DVSA). Whenever your MOT expires or is due soon, you will receive text and email reminders. Learn more about this service here.

From Where to Get an MOT Test?

You can find many places offering MOT test services on Motor Breaker or by googling and going through different directories.

The garage you should visit for your MOT must be the one you trust. Try gathering information from your neighbours and friends about the best garage in your area they recommend. Take your MOT examination from there.

What Documents Do You Need for an MOT Test?

If you take your vehicle to its first-ever MOT, the only document you need is the V5C (logbook). You'd need the logbook if your vehicle's had a change of registration plates as well.

For every MOT test after the first one, you do not need to bring the logbook.

Do You Need to Bring the Old MOT Certificate?

When visiting a garage for your annual MOT analysis, you do not need the old MOT certificate. However, different garages may have different requirements about how they verify the vehicle. Therefore, it is advisable to bring the old MOT certificate anyway.

Can You Get an MOT Exemption?

If you own a car that is over 40 years old, you do not have to take an MOT test. However, the exemption may be void if you have modified or substantially changed the vehicle.

How long should you wait for an MOT test?

Usually, MOT trials do not take much time and last between 45 minutes to an hour. You can wait during the inspection or drop your vehicle and collect it later once the test is complete. However, if you choose to stay, make sure you observe the MOT examination from a viewable distance, and you do not interfere in the test.

The check duration can extend further if, after the inspection, the vehicle requires repairs.

Generally, an MOT test covers the following areas:

  1. Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – should be visible on the vehicle.
  2. Seats and seat belts
  3. Windscreen, wipers, mirrors, and windows
  4. Exhaust and emission
  5. Electrical equipment such as indicators, head and rear lights, and fog lights

Car headlights - MOT check

  1. Steering wheel, health and condition
  2. Suspension and shock absorbers
  3. Brakes and pedal efficiency
  4. Tyres and tread depth


Tread depth - MOT testing

What are Council MOT Test Centres?

MOT test centres run by the council do not carry out repairs after the assessment. Other MOT test centres provide repair services after the inspection. For this reason, many people suspect these facilities fail vehicles on purpose and make money by repairing the identified issues.

A common assumption is that council MOT centres have a better pass rate than normal garages. However, this statement is purely qualitative. No proper quantitative research supports this hypothesis by numbers.

If you believe your vehicle is in good condition but might fail the MOT test based on minor issues, go for an inspection through a council MOT centre. However, if your vehicle shows major issues while going through the checklist, consider taking an MOT through a normal garage. As these car workshops facilitate repair on the spot after inspection, it might be an economical option.

What If your Vehicle Fails the MOT Test?

There is always a possibility that your vehicle would fail the MOT. In 2015-2016, the MOT test failure rate for cars, vans, and passenger vehicles holding up to 12 people was 36.8%.

An MOT categorises defects as dangerous, major, or minor – applicable since May 2018. If the inspection identifies dangerous or major issues with your vehicle, it will fail the test. In this case, you receive a VT30 form, also known as the ‘refusal’ of an MOT certificate.

You can pass the MOT exam if your vehicle has minor issues, though these would need fixing as well. You must repair the major faults as soon as possible. For dangerous issues, you cannot drive the vehicle unless you get those fixed.

Continue reading if you want to learn more about why vehicles fail their MOTs, getting the required repairs, and much more.

Can you fail your MOT Test based on Tyre Pressure?

Most vehicles feature a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), readable through the dashboard. Applicable since 2015, if your dashboard shows a TPMS warning light, you automatically fail the MOT assessment.

Keep a constant check on tyre’s pressure and make sure they are neither under-inflated nor over-inflated. In either case, the tyres would be under too much strain. As a result, they receive damage, increasing the chances of MOT test failure.

What are the most common MOT failures?

If your car does not meet the set safety standards, it will fail the MOT. The most common reasons to fail the assessment are issues with lights, brakes, and suspension.

If we look at the data for the fiscal year 2017-18, we find out the components and the associated percentage of failures indorsed to them.                   

MOT Issue Category % Of Faults
Lights 29.60%
Suspension 20.20%
Brake 17.20%
Tyres 10.40%
Front View 8.70%
Exhaust 5.40%
Steering 3.00%
Seat Belts 2.20%
Bodywork 1.90%
Vehicle Registration 0.90%

Is it legal to Drive with a Failed MOT?

We do not recommend driving a car with a failed MOT. You can drive only if your existing MOT certificate is still valid. It could be the case when you’ve taken an MOT test in the month leading to the expiry of your MOT certificate.

You must get the issues identified in the MOT fixed before the existing MOT certificate expires. If you fail, you will not get the new MOT permit. Driving without an authentic MOT document means your vehicle is not roadworthy, and the police may stop and prosecute you.

How to get Repairs after a Failed MOT?

Once you take the MOT and fail it, the test centre would inform you about the repairs you have to make. How you get a repair is up to you, and you have many options to choose from, following the MOT guidelines.

The first option is to leave the vehicle at the garage where you took the MOT test to repair the issues identified in the assessment. The repairs could occur on the same day if the number and severity of those faults are less. Similarly, the vehicle could have a partial retest that accounts for the issues fixed.

However, if these issues took longer and were more severe, getting a partial MOT retest within 10 days of the original examination is fine as well.

The second option is to get repairs done from another garage. You can drive the vehicle away to another garage, have the issues fixed and get it back to the test centre for MOT retest. This MOT retest is free if the problems pertain to a range of areas, including mirrors and doors, tyres, wipers, and wheels.

If you fail the MOT partial retest, you will have to pay the full charge the next time you take an MOT. Likewise, if 10 days have passed from the original MOT test, you will have to pay the full charge on the next assessment.

You may also choose to visit a different garage for the MOT reassessment after fixing the faults. However, as this garage would be performing the test for the first time, you'll likely have to pay a full fee.

MOT Advisory Notes

There might be a case where your vehicle passes the MOT, but the assessment has identified some minor flaws. Although these faults would need addressing in the future, they were as significant as failing the MOT test. Advisory notes on the MOT report show these issues.

They act as more of a warning or reminder. While your vehicle has passed the MOT, these minor vehicle problems still require your attention for your own safety. Common examples of these include worn-out brake pedal rubbers, tyre reaching the minimum tread depth, and so on.

You would be better off making these repairs. If you plan to sell the vehicle any time soon, its value falls as the buyer needs to make the fixes. It is also highly likely that your vehicle will fail the next MOT assessment if you do not fix these small faults.

Is MOT Status Register in the ANPR?

Data related to vehicles' MOT status now finds a place on a central database, just like road tax and insurance standing. The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) takes data from this central database.

It makes driving a vehicle with an invalid MOT certificate even more dangerous. Police can pull you over if the ANPR technology detects you are driving the car without an acceptable MOT certificate. Some roadside cameras may also recognise your vehicle’s MOT status.

Do you need your MOT Certificate for Tax?

To tax your vehicle, you need a valid MOT certificate. You can still drive the vehicle without paying tax, but only if you have a pre-booked MOT appointment and a letter acting as a piece of evidence. In case you’ve misplaced or lost the MOT certificate, you can still tax your vehicle as the government database keeps a record of your MOT status.

Do you need your MOT Certificate for Insurance?

Yes, you do require an official MOT certificate for insurance. Without accounting for how much premium you have left, driving with an invalid MOT permit voids your insurance policy.

It means driving with an expired MOT document also runs the risk of hefty repairs if involved in an accident, as insurance does not cover it anymore.

What if you have lost your MOT Certificate?

You can use two ways to get back your MOT document if you’ve lost the existing one. The first one is to head to the GOV.UK website, where you can view, download, and print any MOT certificate issued after 20th May 2018. The details you need are the vehicle registration number and the 11-digit reference number, which you can find in the V5C document.

The second way is to head to any MOT test centre and tell them your vehicle registration number and the V5C reference number. However, getting a replacement for the MOT certificate this way costs £10.

Can you sell your vehicle without an MOT Certificate?

Sell your vehicle on https://motorbreaker.co.uk/sell-a-car-van-or-truck for FREE, no hidden charges or comminsion taken!  You can sell your vehicle without an MOT certificate legally. Nevertheless, to fetch a good price, it is advisable to have an authentic MOT document at the sale time.

Buyers often ask for an MOT permit when purchasing the vehicle to be on the safe side by verifying that it is faultless. Not having the certificate can lower the buyer's confidence and hence the price.