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What Happens During An MOT Test?

What Happens During An MOT Test?


All cars over 3 years old need an MOT test. But what does it check? Read on to discover what’s included and simple maintenance that will help your car pass.

Your guide to MOT tests

Everything you could ever want to know about your annual MOT test!

What Does MOT Stand For?

An MOT is a "Ministry of Transport" test

What really happens during an MOT test?

All cars that are more than three years old must pass an annual MOT test, that's the law. It can feel like an inconvenience, but after a thorough MOT test you can be confident that your car is roadworthy and safe to drive.

Portrait of a mechanic at work in his garage

An MOT test could also pick up on a vehicle problem early, saving you money on repairs at a later date. An MOT centre can charge no more than £54.85 for cars or motor caravans, and up to £58.60 for vans weighing between 3 and 3.5 tonnes, so it’s money well spent!

The pressure’s on. If your car fails its MOT test - even if the old certificate is still valid - you’ll be driving a potentially unroadworthy car. Depending on the reasons for failing the test, it could even be dangerous to drive, so it’s best to make appropriate repairs as soon as possible. However, around two out of five vehicles fail their MOT test, often for something trivial that could have been sorted out by the owner before they put their car in for the test.

Don’t panic! If your vehicle fails its MOT test, you’ll be given the opportunity to make necessary repairs and present it for a re-test which, if left at the test centre for repair, will be free if carried out within 10 days of original test. If you take your car home, the test will have to be carried out on the next working day to avoid paying a re-test fee.

Portrait of a mechanic at work in his garage

Here are some things you might like to know about the statutory annual MOT test:

How Long Does an MOT Test Take?

The test itself takes around an hour to complete plus the time needed to carry out any repairs.

What Do They Check on the MOT Test?

The MOT test is not a service, which is a series of checks and maintenance routines specific to a particular model of car to ensure that it is running at its optimum capability. The MOT test checks for the minimum level of functioning to allow your car to be safe on the road. Having said that, the MOT test probably consists of more checks than you would think. These are split into four main groups:

  • Internal checks

    In the vehicle’s interior, the checks include the correct functioning of the lights and switches, the seats and the seat belts, the wipers, the steering wheel and steering column, the doors, the mirrors, the speedometer and even the horn.

  • External checks

    When it comes to the exterior of the vehicle, inspectors will check your plates, lamps and indicators. They'll take a look at the car’s bodywork, tyres and wheels. Mirrors and wipers are checked too, as are the windows and windscreen. All doors will be assessed and they'll even check the fuel cap and tow bar if there’s one fitted.

  • Under the vehicle checks

    There's a lot going on under a car so this is given a thorough inspection too. The inspector will look at the steering and drive shafts as well as your suspension and shock absorbers. Brakes and wheel bearings will all be checked over. The exhaust and fuel system will be examined and the overall condition of the vehicle will be taken into consideration too.

  • Under the bonnet checks

    They'll also take a good look under the bonnet to examine the electrical wiring and battery. Oh, and they’ll check that the actual bonnet secures safely too!

What are the Common Failures and How Can I Avoid Them?

We tend to dread the MOT for fear of our car failing. Cars that do fail often do so for something trivial that could have been avoided if the owner had checked their vehicle in advance.

Of course if there is something major wrong with your car then there's little you can do about it, but if your car failed the MOT test just because it was full of junk, wouldn't that be annoying?

Yes, it's true, your car can fail its MOT test simply because the tester refuses to evaluate a messy or dirty car. Make sure you empty the car of rubbish, including the boot, before you attend the test centre.

Check your plates

You can also be failed for having a dirty number plate. Simply wiping it over could make all the difference between a pass and a fail. It's also important that your plates conform to the strict regulations for plates.

If you're ordering new plates, perhaps you've treated yourself to a private registration, then it's important to make sure your plate is in the correct font and with the correct spacing.

Mechanic, pressing a gauge into a tire tread to measure its depth for vehicle and road safety

Screenwash, lights and tyres

Topping up your screenwash before the test is a quick and easy way to avoid a fail, as is checking your lights.

You'll need to get someone to help you with the brake lights, or back up close to a glass window so that you can see the reflection of both brake lights in your rearview mirror. It's very easy to have a brake light out and not notice for ages until someone mentions it to you!

Checking your tyre tread depth is also a necessity - if the tread is less than 1.6mm deep your car will fail the MOT. Use a gauge or take a look at the tread indicators on any tyre, when they’re at the same level as your tyre tread, it’s time for a tyre change.


If you never have passengers in the rear seats, you won't know if the seatbelts are working. Even if you don't use them, your car will fail the MOT unless all seatbelts are fully functioning, so try them out once in awhile to make sure they are in good condition.


Your car can also fail the MOT if the windscreen is obscured, so bear this in mind before you apply any stickers or decals!

Learn your warning lights

Cars are so full of technology, with screens full of lights and symbols, it can be easy to ignore a little light on the dash when you don't know what it means and the car seems to be fine otherwise.

However, a warning light could mean an MOT fail. Even if it is a fault with the warning light system itself and not actually a fault with the car, this is still a point of failure.

Read your manual and find out what that light actually means and take any required action! While you're at it, check that your car’s horn works. This literally takes a second!

Make sure you have plenty of fuel and oil

The test centre will be checking emissions, so for this they'll be running the engine quite a bit. If they think you don't have sufficient oil or fuel they may refuse to even admit your car to the test centre which can be very frustrating.

Your car will also need its coolant levels to be adequate for the duration of the test so check your expansion tank before the test.

This should be semitransparent so it’s easy to ensure that the coolant level lies between the min and max indicators. Refer to your car’s manual if you are unsure at all.

Make a Note of your MOT Date

Driving your car without a valid MOT test certificate is against the law.

It also invalidates your insurance - if you were to have a crash and write off your car, your insurance company will not pay out a penny without a valid MOT certificate.

So make a note of the MOT date in your diary, set an alarm on your mobile phone or use a reminder service to ensure you to book it in good time.

A Motor Ordinance Test (MOT) Station Sign At A Garage In The UK

Pick a Reputable Test Centre

Your choice of MOT test centre can also make a difference. At Swansway Group, our technicians specialise in many of the major brands, so you can rest assured, they know your car inside and out – literally! We only ever use genuine parts, so you are guaranteed a high quality repair if your car’s MOT test indicates that action needs to be taken.

So, why not make a date today? Book your car in for its MOT with your local Swansway dealership online, or call us to arrange a convenient time.

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