Male car mechanic checking under car

What to expect from your MOT

Confused about what it means to get an MOT test on your car? Our guide has all the answers.

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By Cazoo editorial team

Whether you’re new to owning a car or you’ve been motoring for years, you might feel a bit confused about what the MOT test is, how often it’s needed and whether it affects the way you use your car.

We’ve got all the answers to your questions, so if you want to know when your car is going to need an MOT, how much it’ll cost and what’s involved, read on.

What is an MOT?

The MOT test, or just ‘MOT’ as it’s more commonly known, is an annual safety inspection in which pretty much every area of your car is thoroughly checked to make sure it’s still fit to be used on the road. The process includes static tests carried out in the test centre and a short road test. MOT stands for Ministry of Transport, which was the name of the government department that devised the test in 1960.

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What is checked in an MOT test?

There’s a long list of components that an MOT tester looks at on your car. These include:

- Lights, horn and electrical wiring

- Safety-related lights on the dashboard

- Steering, suspension and braking systems

- Wheels and tyres

- Seat belts

- Bodywork and structural integrity

- Exhaust and fuel systems

The tester will also check that your car meets pollution emissions standards, that the windscreen, mirrors and wipers are in good condition, and that the car isn’t leaking hazardous fluids.

What paperwork is there with an MOT?

When the test has been completed, you’ll be given an MOT certificate that shows whether your car has passed or failed. If it has failed, a list of the faults responsible is shown on the certificate. Once those faults are fixed, the car needs to be retested.

If your car has passed the test, you may still be given a list of ‘advisories’. These are defects that the tester has noted but which aren’t significant enough for the car to fail the test. It’s a good idea to get these fixed sooner rather than later because they might develop into more serious issues that cost even more to fix.

How do I check when my car’s MOT is due?

Your car’s MOT renewal date is given on the MOT certificate, or you can find it out from the government’s MOT check service. You’ll also receive an MOT renewal notification letter from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about a month before the test is due.

What do I need to take to an MOT?

All you actually need to take to the MOT is your car. But before you set off, make sure there’s screenwash in the washer bottle – if there isn’t, the car will fail the MOT. Likewise, clear the seats so that the seatbelts can be tested.

How long does an MOT take?

Most garages can complete an MOT test within an hour. Bear in mind that if your car fails the test it’ll take some time to put the faults right and retest it. You don't have to have the car fixed at the same place that tested it, but it’s illegal to drive a car without an MOT unless you’re taking it to be repaired, or for another test.

When will a new car need its first MOT?

New cars don’t need an MOT test until they are three years old, at which point it becomes an annual requirement. If you’re buying a used car that’s less than three years old, its first MOT will be due on the third anniversary of the date it was first registered – you can find this date on the car’s V5C registration document. Be aware that an older car’s MOT renewal date can go out of sync with the date of first registration, so check its MOT certificate or the MOT test-check website.

How often does my car need an MOT?

Once your car has had its first MOT test on the third anniversary of the date it was first registered, further tests are legally required every 12 months. The test doesn’t have to take place on the exact deadline date – you can have a test carried out up to a month before, if that suits you better. The test is then valid for 12 months from the deadline date so you don’t lose out by having the test done up to a month in advance.

However, if you have a new MOT carried out much earlier, say two months before the deadline date, the next deadline date will be 12 months from the day of the test, so you would effectively lose those two months.

Can any garage carry out an MOT test?

To carry out an MOT test, a garage must be certified as an MOT test centre and employ registered MOT testers. There are criteria to meet and specialist equipment is needed, so not every garage chooses to make that investment.

Did you know?

All MOT test centres are obliged to allow you to watch as the test is being carried out and have dedicated viewing areas for you to do just that. You’re not allowed to speak to the tester while the test is underway though.

How much is an MOT?

MOT test centres are allowed to set their own prices. However, there is a maximum amount that they’re allowed to charge, currently £54.85 for a car with a maximum of eight seats.

Should I have my car serviced before its MOT test?

You don’t need to get your car serviced before its MOT test, but it’s a good idea to have your car serviced annually anyway, and a freshly serviced car will be better prepared to pass the test. If your car breaks down during the road test, it will fail the MOT. Many garages offer discounted deals for a combined service and MOT, saving you time and money.

Can I drive my car after its MOT expires?

If you aren’t able to get an MOT test before the current one expires, you can only legally drive your car if you’re going to a pre-booked appointment to have an MOT carried out. If you’re not doing that and you’re stopped by the police, you can receive a fine and points on your driving licence.

Can I drive my car if it fails its MOT?

If your car fails an MOT test before its current one expires, you will be allowed to continue driving it, so long as the test centre thinks it’s safe to do so. This is useful if, for instance, you need a new tyre and have to go to a different garage to get one. You can then return to the centre to have another test carried out. It’s always sensible to book an MOT test before the actual renewal date, to give yourself some time to get any faults fixed.

Can I park my car on the road if it doesn’t have an MOT?

It’s illegal to leave a car that doesn’t have a current MOT parked on the road – it has to be kept on private land, whether that’s at your home or at a garage that’s fixing it. If it’s parked on the road, the police can remove and scrap it. If you’re unable to get the car tested for some time, you’ll have to get a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) from the DVLA.

Will a used car have an MOT before I buy it?

Most used car retailers MOT their cars before selling them, but you should always ask to make sure. Be sure to get the car’s current MOT certificate from the seller. Older certificates are useful to have too – they show the car’s mileage when the test was carried out and can help prove that the car’s odometer reading is correct.

You can use the government’s MOT check service to see a particular car’s MOT history including the date and mileage when it was tested, whether it passed or failed and any advisories. This can be really helpful when researching your next car because it indicates how well it was looked after by its previous owners.

Does every car need an MOT?

Not every car needs to have an annual MOT test. Cars less than three years old and cars more than 40 years old aren’t legally required to have one. Whether or not your car legally needs an MOT, it’s always sensible to give it an annual safety inspection – most MOT centres will be happy to do this.

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