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MOT: the complete guide

  Friday, 8 March 2019

The Ministry of Transport (MOT) is Britain’s annual test of vehicle safety, road-worthiness and emissions.  The MOT is a legal requirement in Great Britain, so it pays to understand the ins and outs of it.

MOT Approved Test station symbol

We know, however, that everyone must take a first MOT at some point, so we put together this guide on everything you need to bear in mind when taking your vehicle in for its annual check-up.

When should your vehicle get an MOT?

The MOT test is designed to ensure that your vehicle meets road safety and environmental standards: as such, it’s something that must be carried out annually.

You’re legally required to get an MOT for a vehicle either on:

  • The third anniversary of its registration, or
  • The anniversary of its last MOT, if the vehicle is over three-years-old

(Note: there are a few vehicles that need to be tested having been on the road for just one year.  Check out the government MOT fees table to see if your vehicle is applicable).

Remember, you can be fined up to £1000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MOT, so it pays to get the test done promptly.

When is the earliest your vehicle can get an MOT?

An MOT is certified for a year and the date it runs out will be printed on the most recent certificate.  If you want, you can get an MOT up to a month (minus a day) before the certificate runs out and you’ll still be permitted to keep the same renewal date.

For example, if your MOT is due to run out on 14th May 2019, the earliest you could have the next one in order to keep the same renewal date would be 15th April 2019.

If you want to, you can get an MOT earlier than this.  However, the renewal date for the following year will then be different.

If your MOT has run out, you cannot legally drive your vehicle on the road and you will be prosecuted if caught.  There are two exceptions to this rule:

  • If you’re driving to or from somewhere to have the vehicle repaired, or:
  • If you’re heading to a pre-arranged MOT test

To check whether your vehicle requires an MOT test or check its MOT history, you can do so on the gov.uk site: Check the MOT history of a vehicle.

How do you book an MOT for your vehicle?

MOT’s must be carried out at an approved MOT test centre.  You can tell a certified centre because they’ll show the blue sign with three white triangles — the symbol that represents certification.

Important: don’t pay more than you have to.  MOT centres have maximum fees in place and cannot charge more than this.

What happens at an MOT?

A number of important parts on your vehicle will be checked to ensure that they meet the legal standards.  If you want to, you can watch the test from a viewing area: but you’re not allowed to interrupt the person doing the testing.

For a more comprehensive guide on which parts are actually tested, you can check out the government pages for cars and motorcycles.  It’s also worth familiarising yourself with the MOT guide and inspection manuals, which provide a wealth of information.

MOT vehicle testing station sign

What isn’t tested at an MOT?

An MOT involves dozens of checks on your car, covering the brakes and fuel system to lights, windscreen wipers and exhaust system.

However, it doesn’t cover:

  • The condition of the engine
  • The clutch, or
  • The gearbox

How long does an MOT take?

The average MOT test takes between 45 to 60 minutes, but if your vehicle fails the test or needs repairs this will obviously take longer.  The MOT centre staff will go through what’s necessary to make sure you’re aware of how long anything will take.

An MOT test centre is prevented from allowing you to drive away a car that has failed an MOT until the problems are fixed.  The only exceptions to this are:

  • If your existing MOT certificate is still valid, or
  • you are taking the car elsewhere to have the problems fixed

Some MOT test centres require you to drop your vehicle off first thing in the morning and collect it when ready.  You should be prepared to be without your vehicle for the day.

Understanding the result of your vehicle’s MOT

The MOT result is presented as either a pass or fail.  If your car fails the test, you’ll be given a list of things that need to be repaired before it can pass.

If it passes, you’ll be given an MOT certificate from the test centre and the result of the test will be recorded in the national MOT database.

You’ll also notice that your MOT certificate will show the mileage recorded at the current and previous three test passes.  It’s important to have a quick look at these figures, which are recorded as the ‘odometer reading and history’, as you need to report any mistakes on the reading to the MOT centre within seven days in order to obtain a replacement certificate.

What happens if your vehicle fails an MOT?

Unfortunately, this happens.  If your vehicle fails, you will be given the ‘Refusal of an MOT test certificate’ from the test centre, and again the result will be recorded in the MOT database.

If you want to, you can appeal the result.

In the result of a fail, you can take your vehicle away if your MOT certificate is still valid.  If your MOT has run out, however, you need to take your vehicle to have the failed defects fixed.

Remember, your vehicle is legally required to meet the minimum standards of road-worthiness at all times.  If it doesn’t, you can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving and also incur three penalty points on your licence.

What are some common reasons for cars failing an MOT test?

Almost two in five MOT tests are a fail first time, often due to simple things that can be fixed before you take your vehicle to the test centre.

These are some of the common reasons a vehicle fails its MOT:

  • A problem with the registration plate— if the plate used the incorrect type face/spacing or was dirty or missing altogether.  If you have a personalised plate, make sure it follows the DVLA rules
  • Screen wash not topped up—check this and do it beforehand
  • A car full of rubbish or very dirty—if the MOT tester cannot access parts of your vehicle due to mess or clutter, it’s a problem
  • Stickers or decorations on the windscreen blocking the driver’s view—make sure anything stuck on the windscreen (parking permits or phone chargers/holders) is outside the screenwipers’ sweep area
  • A lit-up warning light on the dashboard—The MOT has included lit-up warning lights since 2012.  If you don’t know what the light means, or how to fix the problem it’s pointing out, get it checked by a garage before the MOT

What happens if you want to appeal your MOT?

As we mentioned above, you can appeal an MOT test failure and you can also complain to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).  There is a complaints procedure detailed here.

If you want to, you can take your own action against an MOT test centre through trading standards, legal proceedings or through reporting the centre to the police.  It’s worth noting, of course, that the DVSA won’t help you take action against the centre.

Appealing to the DVSA

If you want to appeal to the DVSA, you need to fill in their own complaint form and send it to them within 14 working days of the test.  They will then offer you an appointment within five days to recheck your vehicle - you’ll need to pay the full test fee again - and send you an inspection report listing any vehicle defects and advisory changes that need to be made.

What if it’s the other way around?

If you think your car has passed when it shouldn’t have, the process is very similar.  You should fill in the complaint form and send it to the DVSA within the following time limits:

  • Within three months of the MOT if the problem is corrosion related
  • Within 28 days if the vehicle has passed for other defects

Is your MOT certificate genuine?

You can check this by looking at the MOT status page here.

Contact the DVSA

If you’ve got any questions about your MOT, you can contact the DVSA here:


Telephone: 0300 123 9000
Monday to Friday, 7:30am to 6pm

Which vehicles are exempt from an MOT?

You do not need to get an MOT for a vehicle until it reaches the age shown in the MOT fees table we mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Some vehicles do not require an annual MOT:

  • Goods vehicles powered by electricity and registered before 1 March 2015
  • Tractors
  • Some historic (‘classic’) vehicles
  • Lorries, buses and trailers—These still require an annual test, sometimes called the ‘annual vehicle test’

Keep your car in tip-top condition

One of the most effective ways to ensure your car is in great condition – and has a better chance of passing its MOT – is through replacing those older parts.  Remember, ASM Auto Recycling has an online store full of high-quality parts here.

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