MOT – three letters to strike dread into the hearts of most car owners.
The annual test of a car’s condition can be a nerve-wracking time as drivers wait to see if their motor gets the all-clear or comes with a hefty bill.
And while most drivers are aware that their car needs an MOT, there are a lot of questions around what it costs and involves so we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to the what, why, when and how much of the MOT.
What is the MOT?
The MOT test is an annual check of a vehicle’s roadworthiness, essentially to ensure that it meets basic standards for safety.
Different vehicles undergo different tests, with separate categories for cars, motorbikes, and large passenger and goods vehicles.
When is my car’s MOT due?
Cars are exempt from the MOT for the first three years of their lives but then must be tested once a year.
Your car’s first MOT will be due on the third anniversary of its first registration and the pass certificate remains valid for 12 months from that date.
You can submit your car for a test up to one month (minus a day) before the current MOT runs out and keep the same renewal date. For example, if your MOT runs out on 15 May, the earliest you can get an MOT to keep the same renewal date for next year is 16 April. If you take your vehicle for its MOT on 14 April the expiry date changes to 13 April the following year.
Remember, if it fails the test before the renewal date, the old certificate is still valid, but the vehicle might not be safe to drive.
How much does it cost?
The maximum price a garage can charge for a Class 4 (car) MOT is £54.85, as set by the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency). However, some garages and dealerships will offer cheaper tests as a way to attract customers (and ensure they get their business if any repair work is needed).
How long does the MOT take?
There is no set length of time for an MOT test but, according to MOT specialists Halfords Autocentres, it will typically take between 45 minutes and an hour.
Can anyone carry out an MOT?
No, the test can only be carried out at an accredited MOT testing station and by a qualified MOT tester who has undergone specific training.
All test centres will display the MOT symbol of three intersecting white triangles on a blue background and while they are no longer required to display the qualification certificates of all their MOT technicians many still choose to do so.
What does the MOT cover?
The MOT test looks at the mechanical and electrical operation of your car to ensure it meets certain safety standards.
The test changed in 2018 to include new fault categories and stricter emissions testing.
The technician will either grant a pass certificate or issue a failure notice on the grounds of major or dangerous faults. Minor faults do not constitute a fault but act as an advisory of issues that will need to be addressed soon.
A full list of items checked can be found on the DVSA website but major areas covered include the structural integrity of the vehicle; braking, suspension and steering; fuel system; tyre condition; lighting; exhaust system and emissions; seats; horn and registration plates.
What can I check myself?
Some issues are pretty hard to spot to the untrained eye but many failures are easily avoided.
The 10 most common reasons for MOT failures include issues with lights, tyres, brakes, suspension and visibility. Many of these can be avoided by carrying out some basic maintenance, and the DVSA gives the following list of items it recommends drivers check themselves:
the windscreen, windows and mirrors are clean
all lights work
the brakes work
water level in the radiator or expansion tank
brake fluid level
windscreen washer fluid level
tyres – they must have the correct tread depth and be free of cuts and defects
How do I check when my MOT is due?
You should be given a paper copy of the pass certificate after each test, which includes the expiry date.
If you’ve lost this or can’t be bothered rummaging around in your filing, the DVSA has a tool for checking your car’s MOT status as well as its MOT and safety recall history.
Can I drive a car without an MOT?
No. An MOT is a legal requirement and if you are caught driving a car without a valid MOT certificate you can be fined £1,000.
Despite what some people might tell you, there is no MOT grace period after its expiry date.
The only times you can legally drive without an MOT are if you are driving the car to an MOT testing station to have a pre-booked test carried out, if you are taking it to be repaired, or if the vehicle is more than 40 years old, and thus exempt from the test.