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Ultimate Guide to the MOT

Every car over three years' old has to have a valid MOT to be able to drive on the public highway. It's not something that can be avoided as it is required by UK law.

That doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be confusing.

Most people book their MOT and simply wait to be told if their car has passed or failed, but there's actually a lot you should know about getting an MOT that will make running your car much easier.

Let's find out more about the MOT.

Table of contents

1. What is the MOT?

2. What's the difference between an MOT and a service?

3. How do you find out when your MOT is due?

4. What documents do you need to bring to an MOT?

5. How long does an MOT take?

6. How much does an MOT cost?

7. What's checked in an MOT?

8. What are the most common MOT fails and how can you avoid them?

9. What if your car fails its MOT?

What is the MOT?

The MOT is the annual test that vehicles have to pass in order to be legally driven on public roads in the UK. MOT actually stands for Ministry of Transport, which was the name of the government department responsible for road safety when the MOT was first introduced in 1960.

The MOT ensures that a vehicle is roadworthy and can be driven on the public highway without being a risk to the safety of other road users or pedestrians.

man checking fluid level under car bonnet

What's the difference between an MOT and a service?

Unlike a car service, which performs checks of fluid levels and components to ensure that they are working as they should and aren’t about to fail, the MOT is not optional.

By law you have to have an annual MOT and a valid MOT certificate to be able to drive your car on the public highway. Not only that, but you have to have a valid MOT certification to even be allowed to park your vehicle on a public road.

If your vehicle does not have a valid MOT you could be fined up to £1,000 so make sure yours hasn’t expired.

How do you find out when your MOT is due?

You can easily find when your MOT is due by visiting and entering your vehicle’s registration.

Most vehicles are due their first MOT on the third anniversary of their first registration. For example, if your car was first registered on 1st March 2018 then its first MOT will be due on 1st March 2021.

You don’t have to wait until the date it expires to have your MOT, you can actually have the test done at any time. It’s important to bear in mind that, should your car fail this MOT, your existing certificate is still valid until it expires and you can drive it as long as the new test did not uncover any problems deemed to be “dangerous”.

Another thing to be aware of is that your MOT will also run from this new date, not from when the previous one expired.

You can avoid this and actually have a 13-month MOT by having your test done up to one month and one day before your current MOT expires.

For example, if your current MOT expires on 4th May, you can have your MOT test done as early as the 5th April and enjoy an MOT that’s valid for over a year.

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What documents do you need to bring to an MOT?

person driving a car to their MOT

When you’ve booked your MOT and you’re getting ready for your appointment, it would be helpful to have both your current MOT certificate and V5C Vehicle Registration Document with you.

Please don’t worry if you don’t have either of those documents to hand, we should be able to find your details without any trouble. We would recommend ordering a new V5C if you have misplaced yours.

How long does an MOT take?

Typically an MOT test takes between 45 and 60 minutes to complete. You will then be notified of the outcome and if any work is required as a result.

Any repair work required as a result of a failed MOT will obviously take additional time.

How much does an MOT cost?

An MOT can cost no more than £54.85 for a car and £29.65 for a standard motorcycle. You will pay no VAT on the MOT fees.

Our MOT costs just £49.95 or £39.95 when booked together with any service.

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What is checked in an MOT?

The MOT checks various parts of your car to make sure that they meet the minimum safety standards as described by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

The MOT test changed on 20th May 2018 to include new defect types and stricter rules for testing diesel emissions, as well as making some vehicles over 40 years’ old exempt from the test.

Some things checked in an MOT are:

Lights (including daytime running lights on vehicles first used from 1st March 2018)

Steering & Suspension




Emissions (including any visual smoke or issues with DPF)



Wheels & Tyres (including underinflation of tyres)

Brakes (including fluid leaks or contamination)

These new rules included categorising faults as either being dangerous, major or minor, depending on their severity. A dangerous or major fault now results in the vehicle immediately failing its MOT.

In addition to these, the MOT tester will still give advisories which are notes giving advice on specific issues with your car. These are usually issues that are not severe enough to cause problems at the present time, but may become serious over time should they be ignored.

What are the most common MOT fails and how can you avoid them?

Although the MOT checks various elements and components, you might be surprised to learn that a lot of vehicles fail their MOT for little things that could have been checked and fixed on their owner’s driveway.

According to the DVSA, the most common MOT fails are:

close up of car headlight

Lights – 19%

It may come as somewhat of a surprise to know that nearly a fifth of all MOT fails are due to a problem with the car’s lights, which is often as simple as a blown bulb.

By switching on all your lights, walking around your car and checking that they all work, you could save yourself both time and money.

Registration Plate – 14%

A large percentage of MOT fails are due to an issue with the car’s registration plate, whether that’s a failure of a bulb, with the spacing of letters or simply that it cannot clearly be read.

A quick check of your car’s registration plates is all you need to do to avoid this being an MOT fail.

Suspension – 13%

Although not quite as easy to check as some of the others, a quick visual check of your car will highlight any potential issues with your suspension, such as your car sitting lower on one corner than another.

If it looks to be sitting level, you should be alright, but any clear sinking on a corner could be a sign that you have problems with your suspension.

Windscreen – 11%

Something that causes 11% of all MOT failures are issues with the car’s windscreen and the driver’s view of the road.

Check your windscreen for chips or cracks, make sure your wipers aren’t damaged and that you have nothing obscuring your view of the road.

Brakes – 10%

One in every ten cars fails its MOT due to issues with brakes. When you’re driving, if you hear any unusual grinding or squealing noises when you apply your brakes, have your local garage check your brakes for faults.

Don’t forget to check your handbrake as well. Park your car on a hill and apply the handbrake. If your car rolls backwards at all, your handbrake has a fault.

close up of car tyre during MOT

Tyres – 8%

It will probably be unsurprising to find out that issues with tyres cause around 8% of all MOT failures, given how vital a part they play in keeping your car safe on the road.

If you notice that your car loses grip when cornering, or it makes strange noises as you’re driving, it may be a sign that your tyres need your attention.

When your car is parked, have a feel around the tyres for any lumps, bumps or tears that could cause a blowout if left untreated. Also look for any uneven wear to the tyres, as this could be a sign of poor inflation or incorrect alignment.

Finally, take a 20p piece and insert it in one of the tread grooves in each tyre. If you can still see the outer band of the coin, your tread may be below the legal limit of 1.6mm.

Exhaust – 8%

The tougher MOT guidelines introduced on 20th May 2018 included much stricter checks on emissions, especially from diesel cars with diesel particulate filters.

If the MOT tester can see smoke of any colour coming from your exhaust, or find any evidence to suggest that your car’s DPF has been tampered with, your car will be given a major fault and will immediately fail its MOT.

Check to see if any smoke can be seen coming from your exhaust and listen for any additional noise, as this could also be a sign of a problem.

close up of car exhaust

Steering – 7%

If your car pulls to one side as you drive, or you feel a lot of vibrations through the steering wheel, it could be a sign that you have issues with your steering that could result in an MOT fail.

Doing some simple pre-MOT checks could help your car avoid some of these common MOT fails.

What if your car fails its MOT?

hands holding car steering wheel

If your car fails its MOT on a dangerous fault, you might not be allowed to drive it away until the fault has been repaired. This is why it’s important to take your car to a trusted MOT testing station, which may not necessarily be the one with the cheapest MOT offer, as they may not be able to offer the repairs required.

In terms of MOT retest fees, it depends on the circumstances. There will be no retest fee if you leave your car at the test centre to be repaired and it’s retested within 10 days.

If you choose to take your car somewhere else to be repaired and return to the original test centre for a partial retest before the end of the next working day, there will again be no retest fee.

However, if you take your car to be repaired elsewhere and return to the original test centre after 10 working days then you will be charged a partial retest fee.

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