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What is an MOT and why is it important to have one?

What is an MOT and why is it important to have one?

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What exactly is an MOT and why do we need to get one? Let’s find out. 

The Importance of an MOT

The MOT - or Ministry of Transport test - is a crucial part of ensuring that the cars on the UK’s roads retain a basic level of roadworthiness. First introduced back in 1960, it’s now a core part of running and maintaining a car here in the UK.

Now that the government’s MOT extension, which was implemented to keep key workers on the move during the coronavirus crisis, has ended, more people than ever are flocking to garages to get their cars MOT’d. But what exactly is it and why do we need to get one? Let’s find out. 

man stood underneath a car


What is an MOT?

An MOT is a maintenance check-up carried out once a year on cars over three years old. A certified MOT tester will carry out the procedure and focus on key areas of the car including the brakes, lights and even the windscreen wipers. In addition, they’ll perform an emissions test to ensure that the car meets standards. 


What do they checkduring my MOT?

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Seatbelts

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.

  • Visibility

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.


Are there any parts of a car that an MOT doesn’t check?

Though an MOT test does check over many aspects of a car, there are some parts that aren’t looked over. An MOT tester won’t look at the engine, gearbox or clutch systems, though they still need to be in good working order. For instance, if your car can’t be driven onto an inspection ramp under its own steam, then it’ll be failed straight away. 

Things to check before your MOT


How much should an MOT cost me?

Though you’ll likely have seen garages advertising ‘special offer’ deals on MOTs, the reality is that the maximum they can charge by law is £54.85. As with most things, it pays to shop around to make sure that you’re paying the right amount. 

If your car fails its MOT, then you’ll be able to rebook in for a partial retest at the same test centre, which often comes for free or at a reduced rate. It’ll need to be retested within 10 working days to qualify, however.

man and woman stood underneath acar


How long will the MOT test take?

Though an MOT test usually takes between 45 minutes and an hour, if your car needs any additional work doing, you may have to wait around longer. We’d usually advise planning for your car to be out for the day, just in case it requires more work.


What happens when my car passes?

When your vehicle passes the MOT test, you’ll be issued with a pass certificate from the test centre, while the pass will also be logged onto a national database. You’ll also get a list of any ‘minor’ or ‘advisory’ issues which need to be looked at and rectified in the future. You can then drive the car away. 


But if my car fails its MOT, am I able to drive it away?

If your car fails its MOT and its certificate has expired, then a garage can’t let you drive away as normal. However, if your car’s certificate is still valid (if it’s still within the expiry date on your test certificate) then you are able to drive it away, providing it hasn’t had any ‘dangerous’ defects listed against it.

If this is the case, then you can’t leave the test centre. Doing so could leave you liable to a fine of up to £2,500 if caught, as well as three penalty points on your licence and potentially even a driving ban.

You’ll need to have these issues rectified and have the car re-tested. If it passes, you’ll then be able to drive away.


Can I still get an MOT during the second lockdown in England?

Yes, you can. Testing centres are classed as essential retail and are able to stay open, as are garages and servicing areas. 

It means that if your car requires an MOT you’re still able to book it in and get it sorted.

Am I still able to get my car serviced and MOTd during lockdown?


Can’t I just drive without an MOT?

Absolutely not. If caught, you’ll be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £100. Though no penalty points are issued if you’re found to be driving without an MOT, a fine could be imposed by the courts up to the tune of £1,000.


Are any cars exempt from needing an MOT?

There are a small number of cars which don’t need to get an MOT in order to drive legally. These include goods vehicles powered by electricity and registered before March 1, 2015, and classic cars which were built or first registered more than 40 years ago. 


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