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MOT checklist: how to help your vehicle pass

Written by Rachel Wait, Finance Writer

18 August 2020

If your car is due its annual MOT, read on to find out all you need to know about average MOT costs, what the test covers, common fails, and the steps you can take to ensure your vehicle passes with flying colours.

Car MOT: How to check MOT history and get reminders

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What is an MOT?

An MOT is an annual safety check that must, by law, be carried out on most vehicles older than three years. The test must be carried out by an MOT testing station which could be part of a garage or an independent business.

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport test and it will usually involve a series of checks on your car including brakes, lights, seatbelts, and tyres to ensure your car is roadworthy. 

The old Ministry of Transport is currently called the Department for Transport (DfT) but the MOT name has stuck.

How much is an MOT? 

MOT costs vary depending on which test centre you use and the type of vehicle you have. 

However, there is a maximum amount that can be charged for each vehicle type as set out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). 

What is the average MOT price?

Some garages may charge as little as £30 for an MOT, while others will charge more. The maximum that can be charged is £54.85 for a car and £29.65 for a standard motorcycle. You can view the full breakdown on the gov.uk website.

When do I need to get an MOT test? 

If you live in England, Wales or Scotland, your car will need to have its first MOT test once it is three years old. After that, it will need to be retested each year by the anniversary of its previous MOT. 

If you choose to, you can get an MOT up to a month, minus a day, before your previous one expires and still keep the original renewal date. 

Cars in Northern Ireland do not have to go for their first MOT until the fourth anniversary of their registration date. 

You won’t need an MOT if your car, van or motorcycle is more than 40 years old and hasn’t been substantially changed. 

How can I check when my MOT is due? 

To check when your MOT is due, you can enter your vehicle’s registration plate on the gov.uk website. This will tell you when your MOT, as well as the vehicle tax, is due.  

If you’re prone to forgetting, you can use the government’s free reminder service, which will send you a text message or email one month before your car, van or motorcycle MOT is due.

Note that you won’t be able to use the service if you live in Northern Ireland – instead, you will receive a reminder by post seven weeks before your MOT is due.

Alternatively, it’s easy to set up a reminder with a uSwitch account. You’ll also be able to sign up for reminders for your car insurance and car tax, as well for when mobile phone, broadband and energy deals are coming to an end.

What happens if I drive without a valid MOT?

If you drive without a valid MOT you could be fined up to £1,000 if you’re caught.

In addition, if you need to make a claim on your car insurance, your insurer may reject the claim, or reduce its payout, if you unable to prove you have an up-to-date MOT certificate and your car is deemed unroadworthy. So don’t take the risk. 

What if my MOT has been delayed due to COVID-19?

At the start of the coronavirus lockdown, the government announced that as of 30 March 2020, all car, motorbike and van MOT expiry dates would be extended by six months.

However, from 1 August 2020, MOT testing will once again be mandatory, and the extension will no longer apply. MOT test centres have reopened so tests should be booked as usual. 

If your car’s MOT expired before 1 August 2020, you still qualify for the six-month extension, but your car must be roadworthy if you plan to drive it. 

What documents do I need for an MOT? 

It can be worth bringing the following documents with you when you take your vehicle for its MOT:

  • V5C registration document

  • Current MOT certificate


Don’t worry if you forget, however, as garages can usually access the documentation they need online. 

What should I do if I have lost my MOT certificate? 

You can ask any MOT centre for a replacement certificate – it doesn’t have to be the centre that carried out your last MOT, but you will need to visit in person. You will usually need to take your vehicle registration and V5C reference number with you, and you may be charged up to £10.

Alternatively, you can apply free-of-charge through the gov.uk website.

How long does an MOT last?  

The average MOT takes around 45 to 60 minutes, although if your vehicle fails the test and repairs need to be carried out, it will take longer. The certificate is valid for one year.

What is covered in the MOT test?

The MOT test will carry out numerous checks on your vehicle, including:

  • Brakes

  • Horn

  • Exhaust system

  • Exhaust emissions

  • Mirrors

  • Doors

  • Tyres

  • Bonnet

  • Registration plates

  • Lights

  • Electrical wiring and battery

  • Towbar

  • Seats

  • Boot / tailgate

  • Vehicle body 

  • Fuel system

  • Seatbelts

  • Steering and suspension

  • Wipers and washers

  • Windscreen

The test won’t cover the condition of the engine, clutch or gearbox.

What happens if my vehicle fails its MOT?

If your vehicle fails its MOT, you will need to get any issues fixed as quickly as possible. How quickly will depend on the type of fault. 

New MOT rules introduced in May 2018 mean that faults are now classified as ‘minor’, ‘major’ or ‘dangerous’.

If your vehicle has a minor fault, it will still pass its test, but you should get problems fixed as soon as possible, otherwise it’s likely to fail its MOT next time round. Minor faults will also be recorded on your MOT certificate. 

A major fault means you can drive your car to another garage to get it fixed if you wish to, providing your previous MOT has not yet expired. 

However, if your vehicle has a dangerous fault, you won’t be able to drive away from the garage until repairs have been carried out. If you feel prices are too expensive, you can choose to have your vehicle towed to an alternative garage but remember this will also cost you. 

What if I need to drive when my car is being repaired? 

If you need to use a car while yours is being repaired, and you don’t have another car at home to drive – perhaps through multi car insurance – you may need to borrow a friend’s. 

If this is the case, it can be worth thinking about temporary car insurance to cover you in the interim. Policies typically last from one to 28 days, with some insuring you for up to 90 days. 

When can I get my car retested? 

Once repairs have been completed, your vehicle will need to be retested. In some cases retests can be free or discounted. 

  • If repairs are carried out at the test centre and the car is retested within 10 days, the retest will be free.

  • If repairs are carried out elsewhere, you may qualify for a free retest if the vehicle is returned to the same test centre by the end of the next working day, and if the partial retest is on a specific part of the vehicle, such as the battery or horn. You can view the full list on the gov.uk website

  • If you take your car to be fixed elsewhere and take it back to the original test centre within 10 working days, you may be charged a partial retest fee.  

  • In all other circumstances you will have to pay a full retest fee. 

What are the common reasons for failing an MOT? 

According to government figures, the top three reasons for failing an MOT are lights, suspension and brakes. A full breakdown of the failure statistics can be found below. 

  • Lights and signals: 27%

  • Suspension: 18.1%

  • Brakes: 16.8%

  • Tyres: 11.6%

  • Visibility: 8%

  • Body, chassis: 6.8%

  • Exhaust – noise, leaks and emissions: 5.6%

  • Steering: 2.9%

  • Seat belts: 1.9%

  • Registration / Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): 0.7%

Figures taken from gov.uk for July to September 2019.

How do I find an MOT test centre? 

You can look for an MOT test centre online or in directories, or often it is best to ask for recommendations from family and friends. Test centres will always display the official blue sign with three white triangles. 

Alternatively, The government lists every single approved MOT testing station to help you find approved garages near to where you live. 

What are council MOTs?

Your local council’s MOT testing centre should also carry out MOT tests. Even though they are generally for council vehicles such as buses, they are legally required to open to the public. 

Local council testing centres can be more expensive than other garages, but some people argue they are less likely to find fault with your car to make extra money as they don’t usually carry out repairs. 

However, this also means you should be wary about taking your car to a council testing centre if it’s likely to have serious faults. 

If your vehicle fails its MOT due to a ‘dangerous’ fault, you won’t be able to drive your car away until the problem has been fixed. And this means you’ll probably need to have it towed to a repair garage. 

MOT checklist

To give your vehicle the best chance of passing its MOT, there are several checks you can carry out beforehand:

Lights: make sure headlights, rear lights, indicators, fog lights, brake lights and hazard lights are all working correctly. You can usually replace any blown bulbs yourself.

Suspension: apply weight to each corner of the vehicle and then quickly release it to see if the shock absorbers are faulty. This will be the case if the vehicle bounces more than twice.

Tyre pressure: your vehicle’s manual should tell you the correct pressure for your tyres. If necessary, fill up tyres at your nearest petrol station. 

Tyre tread: make sure all car tyres have at least the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm – if they don’t, this is an instant fail. An easy way to check is with a 20p coin. 

Tyre damage: also check tyres for signs of wear and tear such as splits in the tread.

Brakes: test the tension in the handbrake – if it is easy to slide up and can’t be ratcheted at a set level, it’s likely there’s a problem. 

Windscreen: make sure any damage to the windscreen is no larger than 10mm in the driver’s line of vision and no more than 40mm in the rest of the area swept by wiper blades.  

Windscreen wipers: check they clean the windscreen effectively and that the rubber isn’t damaged.

Exhaust: make sure it is not leaking by starting the engine in a well-ventilated area and listen from the back of the car for any unusual noises or a lot of smoke. 

Registration plate: check it is securely attached and that you can read it clearly.

Horn: give the horn a quick blast to see whether it works effectively and is loud enough to attract other people’s attention. 

Seats and seatbelts: check whether the driver’s seat moves forwards and backwards and make sure all seatbelts fasten securely and lock when tugged.

Fuel and engine oil: check your vehicle’s brake fluid, screenwash and oil reserves and top up if necessary. 

Steering: check whether the steering wheel feels loose or if it’s not as responsive as it should be. 

Vehicle identification: check the VIN in your car’s V5C logbook matches the number on your car’s bodywork.

Other quick checks include:

  • Removing clutter from the car

  • Moving stickers, air fresheners and sat navs from the windscreen if they obstruct the driver’s view

  • Checking the fuel cap is secure

  • Ensuring doors open and close properly

  • Cleaning the mirrors and checking they are fully attached

  • Ensuring no warning lights are flashing on the dashboard

What happens when my vehicle passes its MOT?

If your vehicle passes its MOT, you will be given a new MOT test certificate and you’ll be legal to drive home. The test centre will then send the results to a central database. 

Don’t forget that even if your car successfully passes, it’s still important to keep up with regular services to ensure your car remains roadworthy and any issues are caught early on.

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