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What is an MOT inspection?

What is an MOT inspection?

15 February 2019 Concept Car

We may drive wildly different cars, have radically different driving styles and spend very different amounts of time keeping them in shape. There’s one thing, however, that unites us all: We all need to take our car for an MOT inspection each year.

With that in mind, it may seem slightly superfluous writing an article about MOT inspections – you’ll obviously be familiar with them in some form. On the other hand, even experienced testers often get it wrong when it comes to MOTs.

This is why we have compiled everything you need to know in one concise article. You can use this as a reference for any future questions you might have. Putting it to your advantage can help you save a lot of money. It can also prevent you from making costly mistakes.

What is an MOT test?

An MOT test is ordered annually by the Ministry of Transport. Its purpose is to ensure that all cars in the UK are roadworthy. This applies to two main categories:

  • Road safety and
  • Environmental standards.

An MOT is not very thorough and only verifies the most basic features. Nonetheless, it is an extremely useful tool in assessing the current condition of a car.

How often do I need to have my car tested?

The duty to perform an MOT test starts after your car’s third birthday. From this date onwards, you need to get it tested at least once a year. You can, theoretically, have it inspected more often than that. Either way, the MOT certificate is valid for a full 12 months.

Where can I get an MOT test?

Most people routinely take their cars to the dealer where they bought their car for their MOT test. This is perfectly fine, as long as the dealer is certified to do this.

Most test centres, meanwhile, will be car repair shops which meet government criteria for MOT tests. The benefit of performing an MOT here is that these places can take care of any failures on the spot. So you do not need to take your car to a different garage to have it repaired and then return it once again to have it re-tested.

On the downside, they have a clear incentive to find more faults than they should. After all, they make most of their money on repairs.

Thankfully, there are alternatives. Money Saving Expert have suggested testing your car in a council MOT test centre, something very few drivers are even aware of. These centres are run directly by the council and they do not perform any repairs. So they should, on paper, have no reason to let your car fail an MOT unless there is really something wrong with it.

What is included in an MOT test?

As the Money Advice Service has specified:

“An MOT involves dozens of checks on your car, ranging from the brakes and fuel system to lights, mirrors, seatbelts, windscreen wipers and exhaust system.”

Some of the points in an MOT test seem trivial. Others, such as the safety features, are quite fundamental.

Generally speaking, an MOT test doesn’t even come near the kind of extensive check ups performed as part of a CPO procedure, for example. The engine, clutch and gearbox are not included in the test, as they are not considered as part of the roadworthiness of the car.

How much is an MOT test?

An MOT test is not particularly expensive. The government have also placed strict limitations on how much a test centre is allowed to charge you for it.

In fact, hardly any certified test facility makes any money off these procedures whatsoever. As mentioned, their income derives from the repairs they’ll perform if a car has failed to pass the examination. This is why MOT test prices are actually going down, instead of up.

Currently, the maximum price for an MOT test stands at £54.85. But there is a good chance you can get one for around half that price.

How long does an MOT test take?

MOT tests hardly ever take more than 45 minutes, with an hour usually being the absolute maximum. Within this time frame, the mechanic will go through all the points specified in the vehicle inspection list to verify if the car meets these criteria.

Under ideal circumstances, you can simply stay for the test and maybe enjoy a cup of coffee while watching your car being examined. This, however, will not always be possible. Quite often, you will need to drop off your car and retrieve it at a later date – say, after one or two days. So you need to make sure you can miss your car for at least a full day before committing to an MOT procedure.

Typical reasons for failing the MOT test

Failing the MOT test can be costly. But it usually isn’t. In fact, the most ‘popular’ reasons for failure are quite trivial, according to What Car? magazine. This means you can already deal with them before taking your car to the testing facility:

  • Screen wash liquid hasn’t been topped up.
  • The car is dirty and cluttered on the inside. Granted, this may not sound like a reason to consider car unfit to drive. But sometimes, litter really can get in the way of braking or the using the gear box.
  • Registration plate not conforming to standards. This is not to say you can’t use a personalised plate. Just make sure it meets DVLA specifications.
  • Stickers on the windscreen. Again, not a general ban, but stickers should not block your view. If you want our opinion, just don’t use them.
  • Warning lights lit up: An MOT test will not check the reasons for illuminated warning lights, so do this yourself prior to booking a test.

What if I fail my MOT test?


If you fail your MOT test, you need to make the necessary changes to the car in order for it to pass. Sometimes, this will merely require cleaning the car on the inside (see above). On other occasions, it will involve expensive, time-consuming repairs. Either way: As long as you do not have a valid MOT document, you are legally not allowed to drive the car.

Depending on the circumstances, there is a variety of possible scenarios:

#1: Minor repairs

If your car has failed the MOT test due to one of the reasons above, you should be able to take care of them straight away. You can then re-test the car immediately. Usually, this will come at no additional cost.

#2: Bigger repairs

If your car requires more extensive repairs, you can have it fixed at the testing facility, if they also repair cars. Provided you do this within one working day, the second run-through should come at little or no cost at all.

If you have the car serviced at a different location and return it within 10 days, there will be a fee. But it will usually come at a reduced price.

After ten days have elapsed, you will most likely have to pay the full MOT test fee again.

#3: Dangerous faults

Under some circumstances, the mechanic will consider the problems with your car a hazard for others. In this case, you can not take the car with you anymore. It has to be repaired before you can drive it again. This is even applies if you technically still have a valid MOT document!

This can be costly. Especially so if you took your car to be tested at a council MOT centre. After all, you won’t be able to have it repaired there. Instead, you will have to arrange for the car to be transported to a repair shop. All of this obviously adds to the bill.

Driving without a valid MOT test

If you do not have a valid MOT document, you are not allowed to drive – period. There are no exceptions to this rule. There is unfortunately also no ‘grace period’.

If you are caught driving without an MOT test, you can face a penalty of up to £2,500. Most importantly, you risk endangering other drivers and yourself.

If your MOT certificate has expired and you still need to have it tested, you need to schedule an appointment with a testing centre. This is easy as pie, so don’t forget it.

Where is information about my MOT test stored?

Information about your MOT can be found on the related paper document. But it is also stored on the website of the DVLA. There, you can swiftly access data on your car using the registration plate. This is not to say that the paper version can not occasionally come in handy. But despite claims to the contrary, it is no longer formally required.

This is an incredibly useful service allowing you to check the MOT status of any used car you’re interested in. It is also useful for yourself, if you’d like to get a better picture why your car has failed MOT tests in the past.

15 February 2019 Concept Car