What is an MOT test?
DEFINING VEHICLE MAINTENANCE
Information for motorists
In this article you’re going to learn what an MOT is and key facts.
This guide also includes lots of answers to questions like:
What’s an MOT?
For qualifying vehicles, an MOT is a legal requirement for use on public highways.
Vehicles registered in the UK over three years old must have an annual MOT test that demonstrates they are safe, legal and roadworthy.
Find detailed information on what an MOT test is with links to different components such as certificates, failures, retests and fees.
MOT definitions and key facts
As of 12th July 2017, there were 23,202 active MOT test centres in the UK (data.gov.uk Cited data). Most of these are commercial garages and workshops serving MOT vehicles as profit-making businesses.
Few motorists know that a local council authority can carry out an MOT on your vehicle, although they don’t tend to make repairs should your vehicle fail its test.
It means councils are less impartial during MOT testing as they are not looking to profiteer from repair work. This seems important given the poor reputation of some workshop repair centres in the UK.
Here you can find a full list of local authority MOT test centres by region – Local authority MOT test centres list with definitions [secure PDF download]
MOT is an acronym for the Ministry of Transport
Image displaying the common MOT logo
Get a full, free MOT history
It includes a range of additional vehicle information
MOT definitions continued
To ensure a vehicle meets road safety and environmental standards, it must undergo an MOT test every 12-months. This annual cycle begins at age rather than mileage with the first mandatory test starting at 3 years old (Northern Ireland vehicles have their first test at 4 years old).
Vehicles undergo an extensive scrutineering process ranging from suspension and braking systems to seatbelts, exhausts systems and lighting.
MOT tests exclude the gearbox, clutch and engine components
Use the following citations to find MOT test centres in your local area
How long does an MOT take?
With a single ramp, the average centre aims for ten MOT tests per day. Most tests take from 45 to 60 minutes to complete with variations.
Most obvious is a failed MOT. The vehicle will need repairs before its retest or partial retest, depending on the failure items.
The test centre cannot allow an MOT failed vehicle that needs repairs to be driven from the premises, although there are a couple of exceptions:
- When the vehicle has a current MOT (this occurs when the vehicle is retested before the current MOT has expired)
- When the vehicle is being taken to another workshop for repair work
Although tests take around an hour, it is best practice to leave the car at the MOT test centre for the day.
What is the cost of an MOT?
Reassuringly, there are maximum fees for MOT testing dependent on the class of vehicle. MOT test fees .gov (citation gov.uk/getting-an-mot/mot-test-fees/)
The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) set current maximum MOT charges at £54.85 for standard Class 4 cars and Class 2 motorcycles up to £37.80.
These are top-end fees. If you shop around, you’ll find MOT test costs for a lot less than the prices listed here.
Our best practice is to search for an MOT centre that has plenty of great reviews as this provides some assurances that the MOT test centre is fair and legitimate in its diagnoses of your vehicle.
What is MOT Failure?
Almost 40% of vehicles fail their MOT test the first time around.
Most fails occur for minor faults. Some are easily fixed or replaced so it is good to manage minor items before MOT test day.
Common reasons for an MOT failure:
- Empty screen wash bottle
- Dirty car – failed as the MOT tester could not easily access the boot area
- Window, mirrors or number plate were covered in dirt and causing a road safety issue
- Stickers on the windows that obstruct driver view
- Dashboard warning lights were brought into force in 2012 for all MOT tests (usually inexpensive to fix with main causes being faulty sensors or damp/moisture).
How to pass an MOT the first time around
At the time of test, an MOT pass means the vehicle has met the minimum in road safety and environmental standards required by UK law.
It is the driver’s responsibility to keep the car in a safe, legal and roadworthy condition for the proceeding 12-months (or until the vehicle undergoes its next MOT test). Regular servicing together with visual checks make a difference.
DVSA state that motorist must pay due diligence to the condition of their vehicles. Below are a handful of quick checks that can see a vehicle pass its test the first time:
- Check all lights on the front and rear of the vehicle. Ensure dipped and main beam are working correctly together with hazard lights and brake lights
- Check all tyres regularly for damage to the outer walls with holes or bulges. Tread depth is another important check with the minimum standard in tyre wear at 1.6mm. Modern tyres have nodules that measure tyre wear. When the nodule is the same height as the tread, the tyre will need to be replaced
- Tyre pressures are a commonly overlooked item in car maintenance. UK averages for tyre pressure are around 38psi. Having the correct tyre pressure increases vehicle economy and comfort
- Check the seatbelts in the front and rear of the vehicle for frayed or torn edges as these are all MOT fails. It’s suggested to plug the seatbelt in and yank it to ensure the locking mechanism is functioning correctly.
- See that the windscreen is clean and free from cracks or stone chips that impede driving views. Also, check the wipers are in good condition without split rubbers that pose problems in an MOT test.
- Check the horn is functioning loudly
- If you are confident in doing so, apply weight to the corners of the car by creating a bouncing effect. Firstly, the corner should bounce back instantly. Also, listen for unusual knocking sounds and check if the vehicle is lower on a corner.If there are any obvious issues with a shock absorber, they may need replacing.
- Check for louder than normal sounds from the exhaust system. A blowing exhaust may be a gasket and any leaks can be easily heard with a rasping sound. If you think the exhaust has a problem, you are likely to save money by having it fixed at a specialist exhaust centre rather than the MOT test station.
What is an MOT retest?
All items that caused a vehicle to fail its test must be repaired or replaced (this includes major and dangerous faults but excludes advisories). After repair, the vehicle is eligible for a partial MOT retest that should deem it in a fit, roadworthy condition.
Should you decided to have your car repaired at the MOT testing station, you will get a partial retest at no extra cost provided it is carried out within 10 working days of its initial test.
If you opt to have your vehicle repaired elsewhere, it must be repaired and retest by the end of the next working day. The retest is free depending on the cause of failure.
Tip – if you think your car might fail its MOT and you’d like to have it repaired at a different garage to the one that carried out the test, book your car in on a Friday. This allows the weekend to get repair work completed before the retest.
If after 10 working days, your vehicle has a partial retest at the same test station there will be a fee to pay (this varies depending on the test centre), usually around 20% of the initial MOT test fee.
What to do when a vehicle MOT has already expired
What to do:
All standard class 2, 3 and 4 vehicles over 3 years old must have a valid MOT unless they have a SORN declaration
Note, without a valid MOT certificate check, car insurance becomes invalid. A vehicle without a valid MOT (unless declared as SORN with DVLA) breaches Section 47 of the Road Traffic Act of 1988. In such cases, a fine is likely (usually £1,000) and harsh driving license penalties of up to eight points. Penalties may be even higher if the vehicle is seen on the road without a current MOT.
The only time you are able to drive a car on the road without a valid MOT is via a pre-booked MOT test and the vehicle is being driven to that test centre.
Citations, references and supporting information
MOT test check: https://www.carveto.co.uk/mot-check/checklist/
MOT failure list: https://www.carveto.co.uk/mot-check/failure/
MOT checker: https://www.carveto.co.uk/mot-check/
UK test centres, download: https://www.carveto.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/mot-test-centres-uk.pdf
Northern Irish centres: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/vehicle-test-centres
MOT test fees: https://www.gov.uk/getting-an-mot/mot-test-fees
What is SORN: https://www.carveto.co.uk/blog/dvla-sorn/
MOT definition sitemap: https://www.carveto.co.uk/blog-sitemap/mot-check-sitemap/
The article was composed by motoring experts at CarVeto. For questions, comments or contributions about this article use our contact page and quote the reference ‘what is a mot’.
The team, CarVeto