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MOT checklist

Written By Andrew Brady

MoT check
  • Everything you need to know about the annual MOT
  • What is the 40-year-old MOT exemption?
  • How much does an MOT cost?

Think of the MOT as a bit like a medical check-up for your car. It ensures that all the major parts do what they’re supposed to, and the car is safe to use on the public road. When you buy a car that’s more than three years old, the paperwork should include a valid MOT certificate.

When does a car need its first MOT?

A car doesn’t have its first MOT until its third birthday. After that, the test must be performed annually. If a car fails the test on its MOT due date, it must not be driven. If a car is driven without an MOT, its insurance is invalid and its owner can be fined up to £1000.

What does MOT stand for?

MOT stands for Ministry Of Transport, which was the old government office that looked after all things motoring. The MOT was devised as a test to ensure all cars were safe to be on the road.

To have an  MOT carried out, drivers must take their car to an authorised test centre, which is usually a garage. There, a qualified tester will subject the car to a series of tough checks. At the end a car either passes or fails.

The MOT examines car parts such as tyres, brakes, steering, suspension and lighting. It makes sure cars on our roads don’t have dangerous corrosion, that their seats and seatbelts are safe, and that vision through the windows and mirrors isn’t obscured. The MOT’s emissions test guarantees that cars aren’t pumping out too many polluting gases.

Check MOT history

You might want to check the MOT of a car for a couple of reasons. It might be that you've forgotten the last time your car had an MOT carried out and you want to check when it's due next. Another reason why you might want to check the MOT on a car is you might be interested in buying it. Seeing what a car might have failed previous MOT tests for is a great way of building a picture of its history. A car that's regularly passed it's MOT with no advisories or defects shows the potential buyer that it's a car that's been looked after. On the flip-side, a car that's failed it's MOT or has a long list of advisories is perhaps something you want to avoid buying. 

All you need to check the MOT status of a car is the registration number. Then just go to the government’s MOT status checker website.

Don’t confuse MOT with a service

Many drivers think that if they put their car through the MOT they don’t need to have it serviced as regularly. This isn’t the case.

The MoT is merely a health check. It doesn’t look at or replace the fluids and filters that keep your engine running smoothly. And it doesn’t interrogate the car’s computer system to see if there are any underlying problems that are affecting how efficiently it’s performing.

How much does an MOT cost?

The maximum price a garage can charge for an MOT is £54.85. But many garages entice customers by offering cheaper prices. The thinking is they’ll recoup the cost through repairs needed to get the car through the test.

Although most MOT test centres are strictly regulated, in the past some have been found to fail cars simply to profit from their repairs. If you’re worried about this happening, there is another way.

Most councils run MOT test centres to ensure their vehicles such as buses, ambulances and refuse lorries are roadworthy. They will also test private cars. As they don’t offer repairs, there’s no benefit to them if your car fails.

Can you drive without an MOT?

No, you can’t drive without an MOT, unless your car is exempt.

There is one exception; if you have booked an MOT and are driving your car to that appointment. You must be able to prove you’re going to the appointment if you’re stopped by the police.

What is the 40-year MOT exemption?

Cars that have been on the road for 40 years and over are considered classics. The government believes that their owners generally look after them well and don’t usually drive them much. As a result, they don’t need to pass an MOT.

Other vehicles that don’t need an MOT include tractors and small invalid carriages. Taxis and police vehicles don’t need them either, but must pass tougher local authority tests.

When can you book an MOT?

Although the MOT is an annual examination, you can put your car through it 30 days before your existing certificate expires. Doing this still preserves your original test date. And if your car fails, you have the flexibility to get it fixed in your own time. But you must put it through the test again before your valid certificate expires.

If your car does fail, you can still drive it (unless it failed because of a dangerous defect) because its existing valid certificate still applies. But if you have a crash because of something the car failed it's recent test on, you could be liable as you knew it may be unsafe.

What are MOT advisories and defects?

An MOT test ensures a car meets the absolute minimum for road safety when it’s tested. But there will be elements that might cause it to fail subsequent tests if they aren’t addressed. This could be anything from tyres that are reaching the minimum legal tread depth to brake pipes that are starting to rust.

These are classed in four ways:

  1. Advisories are things you should keep an eye on, such as a worn tyre.
  2. Minor defects are faults that need to be fixed.
  3. Major defects need to be rectified before the car is given a new pass certificate.
  4. Dangerous defects mean the car can’t be driven, even if the existing certificate hasn’t expired.

If you’re looking at a used car to buy and you see MOT advisories or defects, you should ask for proof that these problems have been fixed. Alternatively, you could ask the seller to reduce the price to cover you having the work done.

When is my MOT due?

Many drivers claim they don’t have a valid MoT because they’ve forgotten. Your garage may remind you when the test is due. But if you are worried about forgetting, the government has an MoT reminder service that you can sign up to.

Pre MOT checklist

Government data shows that around 40% of cars fail their first MoT. Of those, it claims around half are for simple problems that drivers could find and, in many cases, rectify themselves.

Before the MOT, check:

  • All your lights are working properly, including turn indicators and fog lamps if the car has them
  • Tyres for legal tread depth and the correct inflation pressure, including the spare if the car has one
  • Windscreen wiper blades aren’t torn or damaged in any way
  • All fluids are at the necessary level
  • There are no cracks or chips in the central portion of the windscreen and all light lenses are intact.