Getting an MOT – the MOT Test Explained

The MOT (Ministry of Transport) test is an annual check on a vehicle's safety and roadworthiness in the UK, and it's required for all cars over three years old. An MOT puts your car through dozens of rigorous checks, ranging from its brakes and fuel systems to its lights and mirrors. If you're still unsure whether your car needs an MOT, or what it actually involves, don't worry – this guide covers everything you need to know about completing an MOT test.

The MOT test explained

How do I know if my MOT is out of date?

After three years, your car needs to undergo an MOT test. Once it passes the first time, this process will need to be revisited annually on the anniversary of its last test date. The quickest way to check the last test date is to look at the certificate that you received when passing the first time. It contains the date of expiry on it, so you know when your vehicle needs to go back in for a new MOT.

It’s easy to lose track of these slips of paper, so if you’ve lost your MOT certificate, don’t worry. A simple solution is to use the tool to enter your registration number and vehicle make. This allows you to check both your MOT status and tax status in a user-friendly way. They’ll also send you a fresh MOT certificate to replace the lost one. It’s important to remember that there isn’t a grace period with your MOT status. As soon as it expires, it’s illegal to drive your car on the road. You also can’t tax a vehicle without an up-to-date MOT certificate, so be diligent when checking.

Preparing for your MOT test

It’s quite common for vehicles to fail an MOT for very minor issues, most of which could’ve easily been fixed before the test. Preparing a checklist a few weeks before the inspection date can help ensure that these minor issues won’t cause you to fail. If small problems arise from your check, you have time to proactively fix the issues and avoid further frustrations later on. Here’s a helpful pre-MOT checklist:

  • Clean your car inside and out. A dirty car has lead examiners to refuse an MOT upon first inspection
  • Number plates must be clearly legible to pass your MOT, so make sure they’re shining on the day of the test
  • Check the windscreen wipers are in good condition – there shouldn’t be any tears in the material
  • Check that all lights are working properly. This is a common failing point and an easy one to check in advance
  • Check tyre tread using the ’20p test’, and while you’re there be sure to check the tyre pressure too
  • Top up all fluid levels: screenwash, brake fluid and oil
  • Check that the car horn works – young children can have fun giving this a thorough check!
  • The car’s mirrors, inside and out, should be secure and adjustable to ensure you can use them safely
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in your car’s V5C logbook must match what’s marked on your car’s bodywork

Arranging your MOT test

Once you’ve breezed through your pre-MOT checklist, you’re ready for the real thing. One of the best places for the test is a reputable garage that can also carry out any necessary repairs afterwards. Alternatively, council MOT centres provide inspections but won’t fix any issues that arise from it. Some would say these are a better place to get an MOT done, as there’s no suspicion of a vested interest in charging for subsequent repairs – but others will say that’s just cynical.

In general, it’s recommended to carry out the test with a trusted garage as they’re better equipped to deal with any problems arising from the inspection. The amount you’re required to pay for an MOT test changes depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving, but there’s a maximum charge that you should be aware of. These fees can fluctuate, so check the full list on the website beforehand.

What to expect during an MOT test

Thankfully, the MOT test doesn’t take that long, and is usually completed in approximately 45 minutes to one hour. This can vary depending on the condition your car is in and how many repairs are required afterwards. The following areas are inspected during your MOT test:

  • Electrical equipment including headlights, brake lights, indicators and fog lights
  • Steering, and the strength and condition of your steering wheel
  • Tyre tread depth, tyre pressure and the overall condition of the tyres
  • Suspension, including shock absorbers and checks for any corrosion or damage
  • Brakes and their efficiency as well as the condition of the pedals
  • Seat belts and seats
  • Exhaust and emissions – especially concerning any leaks in the exhaust and fuel system
  • Mirrors, condition of the wiper blades and any damage to the windscreen
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is displayed properly

Failing the MOT test

If your vehicle has passed its inspection, then you can breathe easy and take your car and certificate back out onto the road. However, it’s possible that you’ll face a situation where you’ve failed the test. The three most common reasons for this are faults with lights, the suspension and brakes.

Recently, MOTs have categorised defects and failures into categories: dangerous, major or minor. If your vehicle has a dangerous or major fault it will fail its MOT and you’ll receive a ‘refusal’ of an MOT certificate, called a VT30 form. This means the car can’t be driven until that fault has been repaired. Occasionally, you can pass an MOT with minor faults – but these will still need to be repaired.

A common question is whether or not you’re allowed to drive with a failed MOT. If it’s not a major fault, then technically, yes – but only if your existing MOT certificate is still in date and valid. You’ll still need to get all outlined faults fixed by the date of expiry or you won’t receive a new MOT certificate. However, the risks of driving a car that failed its MOT are quite high, so it’s not recommended.

Making the MOT-required repairs

Failing the MOT test can feel frustrating, but there’s a series of steps you can take to get back on the road in no time at all. Firstly, the garage or test centre will inform you of any repairs needed and why, and they’ll advise you on the best course of action. 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 faults and their severity, the car may be repaired and re-tested later that day.
  • More serious issues can take longer, but if they’re carried out within ten days of the first test, a partial MOT retest is still valid.
  • You can take the vehicle away for repairs elsewhere and bring it back to the original garage or test centre for a partial retest.

If your car is retested more than ten days after the original test, then you’ll be charged a full fee. 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’ll be testing your vehicle for the first time.

Passing with an advisory note

It can happen that you pass your MOT but with less than flying colours. In this case, the examiners have outlined a series of minor faults that you’re advised to take care of soon. These smaller problems usually indicate issues with the vehicle that haven’t been deemed serious enough for it to fail, but will need addressing. Think of them as being similar to the petrol warning light flashing on your dashboard – you can keep going for now, but soon you won’t be going anywhere at all.

Typical minor faults might include tyres that are getting close to having the minimum tread depth, or brake pads showing signs of wear. If minor faults are ignored, there’s a good chance your car may fail its next MOT. It may also have an effect on resale value, as any buyer will be aware of the need to make repairs. So, with this in mind, it’s recommended to take care of any minor faults as soon as possible.

Arranging and carrying out an MOT test should be a straightforward annual task, ensuring your safety on the road. Now that you know the ins and outs, get yours booked and stay safe and road legal.

Thinking of buying a new car? Find out how you can check a car’s MOT history and what are the best cars for passing the MOT. If you’re looking for more handy guides on taking care of your car, visit the Gumtree advice hub.

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