MOT checklist: how to prepare before your test

If your vehicle’s annual MOT is coming up, here’s what you need to know about how much it will cost, what is covered in the test, and the checks you can carry out at home to help your vehicle pass.

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What is an MOT?

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport test. It is a safety check that must legally be carried out on most vehicles on or before the third anniversary of their first registration and each year after that. 

The old Ministry of Transport is now called the Department of Transport (DfT) but the MOT name is still used. 

The test must be carried out by an MOT testing station which can be identified by the official blue sign with three white triangles. The government lists every single approved MOT testing station to help you find approved garages in your area. 

Note that cars in Northern Ireland do not need to be tested until the fourth anniversary of their registration date, while across the UK cars, vans or motorcycles more than 40 years old that have not been substantially changed do not require an MOT at all.

How can I find out when my MOT is due?

A quick and easy way to check when your MOT is due is to enter your vehicle’s registration plate on the gov.uk website

You can also sign up to the government’s free reminder service that will send you a text message or email one month before your car, van or motorcycle MOT is due. 

If you live in Northern Ireland you won’t be able to use this service, but you will receive a reminder by post seven weeks before your MOT is due.

Can I drive without an MOT?

No, you must not drive a vehicle that does not have a valid MOT certificate. If you do:

  • You could be fined up to £1,000 

  • Your car insurance provider may reject any future claims or reduce its payout

You can drive without an MOT to a pre-booked MOT test only.

How long does an MOT take?

You can expect to wait around 45 to 60 minutes for an MOT to be carried out, but it will take longer should your vehicle fail and need repairs. 

What does an MOT test cover?

During an MOT, several checks will be carried out to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy. These include:

  • Lights

  • Brakes

  • Mirrors

  • Doors

  • Tyres

  • Horn

  • Exhaust system and emissions

  • Steering and suspension

  • Bonnet

  • Registration plates

  • Windscreen and wipers

  • Battery

  • Towbar

  • Seats

  • Boot / tailgate

  • Vehicle body 

  • Fuel system

  • Seatbelts

What documents do I need for an MOT? 

Most garages can usually access any required documentation online, but it can be worth taking your vehicle’s V5C registration document and current MOT certificate with you just in case.

If you’ve lost your MOT certificate, you can apply free-of-charge through the gov.uk website or you can ask any MOT testing centre for a replacement, providing you visit in person, for a fee of up to £10. Make sure you take your vehicle registration and V5C reference number with you. 

How much is an MOT? 

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) sets the maximum amount that can be charged for each vehicle type. For example, the maximum MOT fee is currently:

  • £54.85 for a car

  • £29.65 for a standard motorcycle

What is the average MOT price?

You can expect to pay at least £30 for an MOT, but it may be more depending on the testing centre and the type of vehicle.

What checks can I carry out before the MOT test? 

Before taking your vehicle for its MOT, it’s worth carrying out the following checks to give it the best chance of passing:

Lights

Check all lights around the car, including fog, brake and hazard lights, and replace any blown bulbs. Make sure there are no flashing warning lights on the dashboard. 

Tyre pressure and tread

Look in your vehicle’s manual to find the correct pressure for your tyres and fill them up at your closest petrol station if required. Also check car tyres have at least the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm – your car will fail instantly if they don’t.  

Windscreen and wipers 

Check for any damage to the windscreen – it should be no larger than 10mm in the driver’s line of vision and no more than 40mm in the area swept by the wiper blades. Also check the wipers are not damaged in any way. 

In addition, it’s worth removing stickers or air fresheners that could be obstructing the driver’s view.

Suspension

An easy way to check the suspension is to apply weight to each corner of the vehicle and quickly release it to see whether the car bounces more than twice – if it does, the shock absorbers will be faulty.

Exhaust 

Check the exhaust isn’t leaking or emitting a lot of smoke by starting the engine in a well-ventilated area. Listen out for any strange noises. 

Registration plate

Make sure it’s clean and can be read clearly, and the plate is fully attached. 

Fuel and engine oil

Top up your vehicle’s brake fluid, screenwash and oil reserves if required, and make sure the fuel cap is secure. 

Vehicle identification

Make sure the VIN in your car’s V5C logbook matches the number on your car’s bodywork.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to check the steering feels smooth, mirrors are clean, and seatbelts and seats all function properly. 

Why do most vehicles fail their MOT?

Government figures show that the top 10 reasons for MOT failures are:

  • Lights and signals

  • Suspension 

  • Brakes

  • Tyres

  • Visibility

  • Body or chassis

  • Exhaust issues

  • Steering

  • Seat belts

  • Registration or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

What should I do if my vehicle fails its MOT?

If your vehicle fails its MOT, the action you need to take will depend on the fault. Since May 2018, all faults are classified as ‘minor’, ‘major’ or ‘dangerous’.

  • Minor faults: your vehicle will still pass, but the faults will be noted on your MOT certificate. You will need to get problems fixed as soon as you can. 

  • Major faults: as long as your previous MOT hasn’t expired, you can take your car to another garage for repairs if you don’t want to get it repaired at the testing station.

  • Dangerous faults: repairs will need to be carried out immediately and you won’t be able to use an alternative garage unless you have your vehicle towed.

When can I get my car retested? 

Your vehicle will need to be retested once repairs have been carried out. Whether or not you pay for this will depend on the situation.

  • Free retest: if repairs are carried out at the test centre and the retest is within 10 days. Or if repairs are carried out at another garage but the vehicle is returned to the same test centre by the end of the next working day and the partial retest is on a specific part of the vehicle – see the full list on the gov.uk website

  • Partial retest fee: if your car is fixed at another garage but you take it back to the original test centre within 10 working days.  

  • Full fee: in all other circumstances.

What are council MOT test centres?

You may also be able to have your MOT carried out at your local council’s MOT testing centre. Generally these are only used for council vehicles such as buses, but by law they are also required to open to the public. 

Be aware however that council testing centres don’t usually carry out repairs, so if your vehicle fails its MOT due to a ‘dangerous’ fault you will need to have it towed to a repair garage to get it fixed – you won’t be able to drive there yourself.

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