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Car MOT: How to check MOT history and get reminders

Coronavirus brought the biggest shake-up of MOTs since they were introduced 1960. MOTs were suspended in March 2020 and cars could continue on the road without an MOT as testing centres closed due to Covid-19. Find out who needs an MOT and when yours is due.

Car MOT: How to check MOT history and get reminders

Get an MOT reminder

Sign up for an MOT reminder with a Uswitch account

What were the coronavirus MOT rules?

From 30 March, 2020, MOT certificates were automatically extended for six months because of Covid-19. This relaxation was itself meant to last for six months but a government U-turn meant it stopped on 31 July 2020. All cars that had their MOT extended will need to get a new test between 1 October 2020 and the end of January 2021.

When the pandemic struck, some MOT testing centres closed. But the government also advised against non-essential travel. It said in its MOT announcement on 25 March: “People should stay at home and avoid travel.” This was to avoid the risk of road traffic accidents that might take up hospital beds and overwhelm the NHS. 

Even now, in November 2020, there are exemptions in place. The government says: “You must not take your vehicle for its MOT if either:

  1. you or someone you live with has coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms

  2. you’ve been told by the NHS Test and Trace service that you’ve been in contact with someone who has coronavirus

You must stay at home (self-isolate) if either of these situations apply.”

The good news is your new MOT will be dated from the day your car passes its MOT, giving you a full year from then until it needs its next test.

What is an MOT test?

An MOT test is a yearly check to ensure that a vehicle meets road safety and environmental standards. The MOT, named after the old Ministry of Transport, is standardised across all 21,000 designated MOT test centres, each of which displays the official blue logo with its three white triangles. 

MOT standards are monitored by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Most cars over three years old require an MOT every 12 months. It’s illegal to drive a car without a valid MOT, and you could be fined up to £1,000 if you’re caught. Normally, you can only legally drive with an expired MOT is if you’re going to a pre-booked MOT appointment or to get your car repaired after a failed test.

For cars, MOT test centres can charge anything up to the maximum fee of £54.85. However, if your car fails the test you’ll also need to factor in repair costs before it can go back on the road. Many garages will retest your car for free if it fails, and some will work on a no-pass, no-fee basis.

When is my MOT due?

Currently, most cars over three years old require an MOT every 12 months. The three-year age rule applies in England, Wales and Scotland, while cars in Northern Ireland can wait until the fourth anniversary of their registration for their first MOT test. You don't need an MOT if the car was built or registered more than 40 years ago on 1 January.

How do I find out when my MOT is due?

It’s simple to find out when your MOT is due on the government website — you just need to enter the car’s registration number. If you’re buying a used vehicle, you can also check its MOT history and status via the government portal.

You can get your MOT one month (minus one day) before it expires and still keep the current renewal date. As an example, if your current MOT runs out on 15 May, you could get the test done as early as 16 April and still keep the same renewal date next year.

How do I get an MOT reminder? 

It's easy to set one up with a Uswitch account below. You can also sign up for handy reminders for your car insurance, car tax and other utilities including mobile phone and broadband contracts as well as when your energy deals come to an end.

Get an MOT reminder

Sign up for an MOT reminder with a Uswitch account

Is it illegal to drive without an MOT?

You can legally drive your car on the road without a valid MOT if you are driving to a pre-arranged MOT, or driving to a place to have MOT defects fixed. If you car does not require an MOT – it is less than three years or over 40 year old – you can drive without an MOT.

  • Your insurance may only cover you for the legal minimum level of cover – for third-party only injury or damage 

  • It is an offence to park a car without an MOT on the road

  • You need a valid MOT to buy car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty – VED)

How long does an MOT take?

Most MOTs take around 45 minutes, sometimes a little longer. Some test centres will suggest bringing in your car early in the morning and request that you pick it up when they call. Others have space pressures, so try and be a bit flexible or stick to appointment times.

What gets checked on your MOT?

There’s a long list of things that need to be checked for your car to pass its MOT. 

Body, vehicle structure and general items

These must be free from excessive corrosion and damage, including sharp edges that could cause injury.

Towbars

Towbars will be assessed for secureness, condition and any inappropriate repairs or modification. Your MOT test will also verify the 13-pin electrical socket is working correctly, the speedometer is in good working order and the engine mountings are secure.

Fuel system

There must be no leaks, with pipes and hoses secure and in good condition. The fuel cap needs to fasten properly and seal securely.

Exhaust emissions

Your car must meet the rules on exhaust emissions, subject to its age and fuel type. For diesel vehicles, the MOT tester will refuse to do the test if they think that the smoke test may damage your engine.

Exhaust system

Testers will want to see that the exhaust system is secure and complete.

Seatbelts

As a key safety feature of your car, seatbelts come under detailed scrutiny as part of your MOT, as will your airbags.

Seats

MOT testers need to verify that the driver’s seat can be adjusted and that all seats are securely fitted.

Doors

Latches, hinges and catches must be secure. Front doors need to open from inside and outside the vehicle while rear doors open from outside the vehicle.

Mirrors

Your MOT tester will check for the correct number of mirrors and ensure they are in good condition.

Load security

The boot or tailgate needs to close properly.

Brakes

As an essential safety mechanism, brakes are all important in terms of your MOT. The tester will check their condition, looking out for inappropriate repairs or modifications, and their operation and performance. 

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability controls (ESC) are also part of the MOT test. MILs or dashboard warning lights will also be checked for the ABS, ESC, electronic park brake and brake fluid warning lights.

Tyres and wheels

There are various checks in this category, including condition, security and tread depth.

Registration plates

Your registration plates must be in an acceptable condition, securely attached, of proper colour and with characters adequately formed and spaced.

Lights

Your lights will be carefully checked to ensure they are in good working order.

Bonnet

The MOT tester will check if it closes properly.

Wipers and washers

These must work properly.

Windscreen

The condition of your windscreen will be checked to ensure the driver has a good view of the road.

Horn

Your MOT tester will ensure the horn works properly and that it’s suitable for the car.

Steering and suspension

Various checks are performed on the steering and suspension to ensure all is in good condition and in working order. MILs or dashboard warning lights will also be checked for the electronic power steering and steering lock.

Vehicle identification number (VIN)

A VIN should be on vehicles first used on or after 1 August 1980. 

Electrical

Along with your battery, all visible electrical wiring is covered under the MOT checks.

What’s not covered?

Crucially the MOT is all about verifying whether your car meets legal standards rather than a general assessment of its mechanical condition. This means the MOT test doesn’t cover the condition of the engine, clutch or gearbox.

What if my car fails its MOT?

Don’t panic if your car fails its MOT as this is quite common. In fact, 35% of cars failed their initial MOT test in 2016-2017, according to the DVSA. Just remember if your car does fail, you will need to fix any problems and pass a retest if you want to get it back on the road.

If your car passes the test you may be issued advisory notes – these are issues spotted by the tester that do not constitute an MOT failure but that might require your attention.

If your MOT testing centre does repairs you can ask them for a quote to fix any problems, or you can shop around for another mechanic.

How MOT tests have changed

In 2018, some key changes were introduced to the MOT test.

Categorisation 

Rather than a simple pass or fail, the outcome of an MOT is now categorised in different ways:

Pass

Advisory - Your car has passed the test but includes some advisory notices.

Minor - Your car has passed the test but has minor issues that should be repaired as soon as possible.

Major - Your car has failed the test due to major issues that may affect the vehicle’s safety, put other road users at risk or have an impact on the environment. You may drive it to be repaired.

Dangerous - Your car has issues that pose a direct and immediate risk to road safety or have a serious impact on the environment. You are not permitted to drive away.

Diesel emissions 

The latest test includes stricter limits for emissions from diesel cars with a diesel particulate filter (DPF).

New checks 

MOT testers must now check whether tyres are underinflated, if brake fluid has been contaminated and if brake pads or discs are missing. Your MOT testing centre can provide a full list of the checks that will be carried out.

Certificate 

The MOT certificate has been redesigned to clearly set out the new defect categories.

Age 

Most vehicles over 40 years old will not require an MOT test. This applies from the 40th anniversary of the car’s registration and only if the vehicle has not been substantially changed in the past 30 years.

Get an MOT reminder

Sign up for an MOT reminder with a Uswitch account

Get an MOT reminder

Sign up for an MOT reminder with a Uswitch account