Vehicles that are more than three years old are legally required to take an MOT (Ministry of Transport) test every year to check it is roadworthy.

This comprehensive MOT guide will cover off everything you need to know, including what gets checked in a test and what to do if your vehicle fails.

Before the MOT

Below we cover all of the points you need to consider as a car owner in the build-up to your car’s annual MOT check.

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 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.

If your car fails its MOT, then you can only take your vehicle away if your current MOT certificate is still valid and no ‘dangerous’ problems were listed in the new report from the failed MOT. Otherwise, you must get it repaired before you’re allowed to drive.

If you decide to take it to another garage to have the failed defects addressed then your car will still need to meet the minimum standards of roadworthiness at all times or you can be fined.

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.

Is there a grace period for an MOT?

No. As soon as your MOT has expired it becomes illegal to drive your car on the road. Doing so risks prosecution. You also cannot tax a vehicle without a current MOT certificate.

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.

My car has been recalled. Will it fail its MOT?

There are an estimated 2.3 million vehicles in the UK currently subject to outstanding recall notices, but while it’s illegal to sell on a car with a recall notice, there’s no legal requirement for owners to fix their own recalled cars.

To address this, authorities are considering plans to better integrate the MOT and vehicle recall systems, which could lead to vehicles failing the test if a recall fault hasn’t been fixed in the 12 months after its previous test.  

There has been no word from authorities as to if and when this scheme will be introduced, but if you’re concerned your vehicle is subject to a recall, you can check the gov.uk recall database to find out.

How can I prepare for an MOT test?

Many vehicles fail an MOT for small issues which could easily have been 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.

Complete MOT checklist

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Give number plates a clean as they need to be readable to pass the MOT.
  3. Check the windscreen wipers are in good condition, with no tears.
  4. Check all lights are in working order. Ask a friend or family member to stand outside the car and confirm lights function properly.
  5. Check tyre tread using the 20p test, and tyre pressure too
  6. Top up all fluid levels – screenwash, brake fluid and oil.
  7. Check that the horn works – give it a quick honk!
  8. All of your mirrors should be intact and secure to ensure you can use them safely.
  9. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in your car’s V5C logbook should match that marked on your car’s bodywork.

Brakes

Along with your tyres, your brakes are the most safety-critical components of all, and they must work properly to pass the MOT.

Testers usually put the car on rollers to check the brakes decelerate it effectively, and that they’re correctly balanced – i.e. that it stops in a straight line. The pedal rubber must not be worn to excess and the ABS warning light must work if anti-lock brakes are fitted. The handbrake/parking brake must work and hold the car firmly, even on a steep incline.

Brake condition is also assessed by examining the discs, pads and callipers, plus the relevant pipes and cables. Under the bonnet, the brake servo and master cylinder will be examined, too.

Bodywork

Sharp edges on the bodywork caused by corrosion or accident damage are not permitted, as they could injure pedestrians.

Rust is an MOT issue more generally, particularly for older cars. Excessive corrosion on safety-related parts, such as the steering and brakes, is a no-no, while rust within 30cm of these components may also result in a fail.

Doors and openings

Testers will check that the doors can be opened from inside and outside the car and that all openings – including the bonnet and tailgate – can be shut securely.

Exhaust and emissions

For fuel-powered vehicles, emissions are tested using specialist equipment connected to your car’s exhaust. The legal limit varies depending on the age of the vehicle, with much stricter standards for newer cars.

Visible smoke from the tailpipe may mean an MOT fail – as can excessive noise so boy racers should beware.

The tester will also check both the exhaust system and fuel filler cap are fixed securely to prevent possible leaks.

Horn

A simple one: the horn must work, and be loud enough to be audible to other vehicles. Also, ‘novelty’ car horns that play multiple notes or tunes are not allowed.

Lights

All lamps must be working correctly, including headlights, tail lights, indicators (inc. hazard lights), sidelights, brake lights and rear fog lights. The latter are only required on cars built post-1986 and must activate a tell-tale symbol on the dashboard to alert the driver when they’re switched on.

The alignment of the headlights is also checked – and adjusted if necessary – to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. All cars built after 1 April 1980 must have two red rear reflectors.

Seats and seatbelts

Seats should be securely fixed, with seatbelts a legal requirement for all post-1965 cars (and strongly advisable on those built earlier). Belts need to be securely fixed – including the clip/locking mechanism – and in good condition.

Inertia-reel belts should also retract properly to fit around the driver.

Steering

Steering faults are not easy to check or fix yourself. The tester will ensure the steering wheel and column are in good condition and fixed properly, and that there isn’t excessive ‘free play’ in the system.

The steering bearings are inspected for wear, while all bolts, clamps, gaiters and universal joints should also be checked. The operation of power steering (fitted to virtually all modern cars) is tested with the engine running. The wheels must not foul the bodywork on full lock.

Tow bar

If your car has a tow bar fitted (for pulling a trailer or caravan, for example), it must be secure and not damaged or corroded.

Vehicle identification

Your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – also known as the chassis number and found on the V5 registration document – must also be displayed and legible. It’s often found at the base of the windscreen, or on a stamped metal panel under the bonnet.

Wheels and tyres

It goes without saying that all four wheels need to be securely attached to the car, with no bolts missing. Rims will also be examined for damage, including distortion or cracks, and the condition of the wheel bearings is assessed.

With regard to tyres, the law states that tread-depth must be: “At least 1.6mm throughout a continuous band comprising the central three-quarters of the breadth of tread around the entire outer circumference of the tyre”. If your tyres are close to this limit, you may be given an advisory warning that new tyres will be required soon.

Testers will also check the tyres for cuts or bulges, and ensure that the same-size tyres are fitted on each axle. The spare wheel is not part of the MOT test, but it must be mounted securely if outside the car.

Windows and mirrors

Windscreen damage is a common cause of MOT failure. Chips or cracks must measure less than 10mm across if within the area swept by the windscreen wipers. Outside this area, up to 40mm is allowed.

The wipers must operate correctly and the rubber blades must be in good condition. Likewise, rear-view mirrors must be secure and not damaged to an extent that could impair the driver’s vision.

The MOT itself

MOTs are pretty straightforward, however, here are a few things to look out for.

How much does an MOT cost?

The amount you pay for an MOT test fluctuates depending on the type of vehicle – but there is a maximum charge.

Those fees are listed in full on the GOV.UK website. In summary, however, the maximum MOT fee for a car with up to eight passenger seats is £54.85. For a motorcycle, it’s £29.65. Generally, the larger the vehicle the higher the maximum fee.

How long does an MOT take and what gets covered?

An MOT test doesn’t take very long. The test takes around 45 minutes to an hour, and some owners choose to wait while the vehicle is being inspected.

If repairs are required following the test the process will take longer. During the test, the following areas are inspected:

  • Electrical equipment – including headlights, brake lights, indicators and fog lights.
  • Steering – including the strength and condition of the steering wheel.
  • Tyres – including tread depth and condition of the tyres.
  • Suspension – including shock absorbers and any corrosion and wear.
  • Brakes – including the overall condition of pedals and brake efficiency.
  • Seat belts and seats
  • Exhaust and emissions – including checking for any leaks in the exhaust and fuel system
  • Mirrors, wipers and windscreen – including any damage to the windscreen and condition of the wiper blades
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VPN) – ensuring the vehicle displays its VPN is important

MOT exemptions

Cars that are 40 years old or more are exempt unless the vehicle has had substantial changes.

MOT fails and defects

The initial fail rate for Cars, vans and passenger vehicles with up to 12 seats in 2015-2016 was 36.80%, so there’s a fair chance you will find yourself in a situation where your car fails its MOT.

Read on for all the information you need should you end up in this situation.

Why do most vehicles fail their MOT?

The three most common reasons for MOT failures are faults with lights, suspension and brakes. Below is a list of the categories used on many checks and the associated percentage of failures attributed to them.

The following information is based on cars and light vans (up to 3,000kg) in the 2017-2018 financial year:

MOT defect category % of defects
Lights & Signals 29.6%
Suspension 20.2%
Brakes 17.2%
Tyres 10.4%
Driver’s View 8.7%
Fuel & exhaust 5.4%
Steering 3%
Seat belts 2.2%
Body 1.9%
Reg & VIN 0.9%
Wheels 0.5%

 

What if your car fails its MOT?

Since May 2018, MOTs have categorised defects as either dangerous, major, or minor. If your car or vehicle has a dangerous or major fault it will fail its MOT. You’ll be given a ‘refusal’ of an MOT certificate, called a VT30 form.

If your vehicle has a dangerous fault it cannot be driven until that fault has been repaired, whereas major faults should be repaired as soon as possible. You are able to pass an MOT with minor faults although these, too, will need repairing.

Can you drive with a failed MOT?

Technically yes – but only if your existing MOT certificate is still in date and valid. This situation can only occur if you’ve had the car tested in the month leading up to the expiry date.

However, you will still need to get the faults corrected by the MOT’s date of expiry or you won’t get a new MOT certificate. If the car is not considered roadworthy and you are driving it, you could be stopped and prosecuted.

Driving a car that has failed its MOT is never recommended. If your car fails its MOT, the garage or test centre will inform you of any repairs needed. You then have a range of options according to the MOT failure rules.

You can leave the vehicle with the garage and ask them to carry out the repairs. Depending on the number of faults and severity of the issues, the car may be repaired and then re-tested later on the same day. The vehicle can have a partial retest, covering the faults that have been rectified.

The repairs may be more serious and take longer – but if they’re carried out within 10 days of the original test, a partial MOT retest is still fine.

You can take the vehicle away for repairs elsewhere and bring it back to the original garage or test centre for a partial retest. This retest is free for a range of items, including wheels, tyres, wipers, mirrors and doors.

If the vehicle is retested 10 days after the original test, you’ll be charged the full fee. You will also be charged the full fee if the partial retest fails – once further repairs are carried out.

You could also get an MOT retest at a different garage but you are likely to have to pay for that second test in full as they will be testing it for the first time.

After the MOT

If you’re lucky you will pass without any advisories, but if not then there are still things to consider after your car has been given its clean bill of health.

What does an MOT advisory note mean?

Sometimes, your car may pass its MOT but with so-called “minor faults”. These indicate issues with the vehicle that haven’t been deemed serious enough for it to fail but will need addressing in the near future.

Think of them as warnings. Although your car has been passed fit to drive, minor faults shouldn’t be ignored. Typical issues might be tyres that are getting close to having the minimum tread depth and will need replacing soon, or brake pads showing signs of being worn.

If minor faults are ignored, there’s a good chance your car may fail an upcoming MOT test. It may also have an effect on resale value as any buyer will be aware of the need to make repairs.

Adapted from an original article by rac.co.uk. Book your MOT with Segensworth Automobiles, here: https://segensworth-automobiles.co.uk/enquire-now/.