Last updated December 21, 2021
If your car is over three years old and below the MOT exemption age, you need to have an annual MOT test (Ministry of Transport test) to ensure it is road-safe and legal. An MOT is an extensive check of your vehicle, and it must be passed to prove your car is roadworthy.
If your vehicle fails its MOT, any faults must be fixed before the car is re-tested, otherwise it is not road legal. In some cases where your vehicle is beyond help, the result of an MOT might be that you realise it is more economical for you to just buy a new car. Not having a valid MOT certificate could land you a fine, points on your licence or even a temporary driving ban.
An MOT will also impact the value of a car – so if you’re buying a second hand vehicle, be sure to check its MOT history for a round-up of any faults or fixes.
During an MOT, a mechanic or engineer will look at several parts of your car and grade them against strict criteria to determine whether the vehicle passes or fails.
In May 2018, the UK government introduced tougher MOT tests, and it is expected to get more rigorous as clampdowns on emissions increase.
Before taking your car in for a test, you should take steps to ensure that you are presenting your vehicle in the best possible way. Make sure that your car is clean, inside and out, so that the testers can go about their jobs easily.
You should also ensure that you have prepared all the documentation you need to take to your MOT.
As mentioned above, the MOT testers will work against a DVLA MOT check sheet to ensure that your vehicle is suitable for use on UK roads. The MOT will include checks on:
Ensure your number plate is clean and legible – a quick wash is sufficient. The font and spacing of the number plate characters must also comply with the legal requirements.
All lights should be working properly. That includes headlights, taillights, indicators, hazard lights, sidelights, brake lights and rear fog lights. Headlight alignment is also checked, so you may want to check alignment at home beforehand by parking your car 25 feet from a wall and placing a piece of tape horizontally 4 feet high in front of your vehicle. You should turn on your low beams and adjust the headlights until they shine on the tape.
Steering faults are not easy to check or fix, so it may be an expensive fix if your vehicle has them. Steering bearings, bolts, clamps, gaiters and universal joints will be checked. Power steering will be tested with the engine running.
During the test, shock absorbers are checked for corrosion and wear.
If your windscreen is damaged, this will cause an MOT failure. Wipers will also be checked and should operate correctly with the rubber blades in good condition.
The screen washers must provide enough fluid to clean the windscreen. Therefore, an empty screen wash container or blocked jet can cause an instant MOT fail. Prevent this by topping up your screen wash and checking the jets before the MOT.
Seats and seatbelts are crucial to the safety of your car. Seats should be securely fixed to the car, and belts should be securely attached too. Reel belts should expand and retract properly, without catching.
All four wheels should be securely fixed to the car, with all their attachments in place. Rims will also be examined for damage, so beware of cracks or distortion.
Tyres will be tested for cuts or bulges, as well as tread depth. Legal tread depth is at least 1.6mm deep through the continuous band. To check tread depth, you can place a 20p coin into the grooves of the main tread and ensure the outer band of the coin is visible. If you can’t see the outer band of the coin, your tread is below the legal limit.
The same sized tyres should be fitted on each axle, and all the axles should be aligned properly.
The spare wheel is not part of the MOT test, but if it is kept on the outside of the car, it should be mounted securely.
Fuel-powered vehicles have their emissions tested during an MOT using specialist equipment connected to the car’s exhaust. The legal emissions limit depends on the age of the vehicle – newer cars have stricter rules.
The engineer will also check that the exhaust system and fuel filler cap are secure to prevent leaks.