Cars over three years old must by law pass a yearly MOT test to show they are roadworthy. Here you can find out more about the MOT, including the five most common simple reasons why cars fail it. There’s also a checklist to help you give your car the best chance of a pass, and so avoid the potential hassle of a re-test.

Key facts about the MOT test

Once a car is three years old it must be tested each year to check it meets road safety & environmental standards.

This Ministry of Transport test is commonly known as an ‘MOT’.

MOT tests are carried out at authorised test centres around the country.

An MOT involves dozens of checks on your car, ranging from the brakes & fuel system to lights, & seatbelts.

It doesn’t cover the condition of the engine, clutch and gearbox.

What is an MOT Test?

A Ministry of Transport (MOT) test checks that vehicles meet legal road safety standards. It is illegal in the UK to drive a car on the road without a current MOT certificate and if your MOT has expired your car insurance will also be invalid. MOT certificates are required to tax your vehicle and to change the vehicle's tax class.

MOT certificates expire every 12-13 months, therefore, if your car is older than 3 years old you will need to book an MOT test annually. You can renew your vehicle's MOT up to one month before your current certificate expires to allow flexibility for arranging the MOT test on a date and time that is suitable for you.

What Is Checked During an MOT Test?

Detailed checks are carried out on the following parts of a car:

  • Body, vehicle structure and general items
  • Towbars
  • Fuel System
  • Exhaust Emissions
  • Exhaust System
  • Seatbelts
  • Seats
  • Doors
  • Mirrors
  • Load Security
  • Tyres & Wheels
  • Registration Plates
  • Lights
  • Bonnet
  • Wipers & Washers
  • Windscreen
  • Horn
  • Steering & Suspension
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Electrical

The MOT test is different to serve as the test doesn't cover the engine, clutch or gearbox.

How Long Does an MOT Test Take?

An MOT test usually takes between 45 and 60 minutes, however, if your vehicle fails the test, this will take additional time to rectify the issues. It is worth noting that if your vehicle fails its MOT and is considered an un-roadworthy vehicle, it is dangerous for you to drive and could earn you points on your licence. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that any faults are resolved before you drive the vehicle. Once the vehicle's issues have been fixed an MOT retest will need to be carried out. In addition to failure, advisory notes can be given as part of an MOT test. Advisory notes highlight problems with the car that need fixing but aren't severe enough to warrant an MOT failure. 

Top five simple reasons for cars failing the MOT test

Nearly two in five MOT tests fail the first time.

Yet often this is because of minor faults the owner could easily have fixed themselves before they paid for a test.

Here are some of the ways your car could fail an MOT.

  1. Screenwash is not topped up. This basic task takes minutes, so don’t be caught out by it.
  2. The car was dirty or full of clutter. Clear the mess from the boot and cabin and give the windows and mirrors a quick wipe.
  3. A registration plate problem. For example, the plate used the incorrect typeface/spacing or was dirty or missing altogether. If you have a personalised plate, make sure it follows DVLA rules.
  4. Stickers on the windscreen blocking the driver’s view. Make sure anything stuck to the windscreen like parking permits is outside the wipers’ sweep area.
  5. Lit-up warning light on the dashboard. The MOT has included lit-up warning lights since 2012. So make sure you know what lit-up car warning lights mean and, if you have, any sort out the underlying problem before the MOT.

MOT Test Preparation Tips

The overall condition, age and mileage are all varying factors that may impact the chances of the vehicle passing its MOT test. However, here are some checks that you can carry out to prepare your car for the MOT test:

  • Washer fluid level and windscreen wiper functionality
  • Windscreen for any chips
  • All lights, indicators and bulbs
  • Tyre inflation levels are correct
  • Tyre condition for damage and tread - the minimum is 1.6mm

If your car fails its MOT

If your car fails its MOT, the test centre will give you a VT3O Certificate showing the reasons for the failure.

On 20 May 2018, the MOT categories for fails and passes changed.

If your car has a dangerous fault, you won’t be able to drive it away. Get a quote from the garage you got the MOT from if they do repairs, and then call around for some quotes from other local garages. You might be able to find the repairs cheaper even if they need to tow your vehicle to their garage.

If your car has a major fault you may be able to drive it away if it’s still roadworthy and your previous MOT has not expired yet.

If your MOT has run out and the car is roadworthy you can drive it to have the faults fixed and to a pre-booked MOT.

If you drive a car without an MOT under any other circumstances or drive a car with dangerous faults, you can be fined £2,500, be banned from driving and get three points on your licence.

MOT retests

You need to fix all major and dangerous faults to make your car roadworthy and then arrange a partial MOT retest in which your car must pass before you can drive it on the roads again.

If you leave your car with the test centre for repair, you’ll be able to get a partial retest for free, as long as this is done within 10 working days of failing the MOT.

If you take your vehicle away for repairs and return it before the end of the next working day, the test is normally free. Whether it’s free or not depends on which parts are retested

If you return within 10 working days to the same test centre for a partial retest, you’ll get charged a lower fee, but it won’t be free.

If your MOT has expired

If your MOT has expired, it’s illegal to drive your car on the road and you could be prosecuted for doing so.

Driving without a current MOT also invalidates your car insurance. So you might not be covered if you were to have an accident.

The only exception would be if you already had an MOT booked and were driving your car to the test.

Top tip

To find out more about the MOT test or to register to receive MOT reminders by text, go to the GOV.UK website

If you’ve lost your MOT certificate

There are two ways to get a replacement MOT test certificate.

The first is free. Just go to the GOV.UK website where you can view, print and save any MOT certificate issued after 20 May 2018. All you need is the vehicle’s registration number and the 11-digit reference number, with no spaces, from the vehicle’s V5C, also known as a logbook.

The second way costs £10. You can go to any MOT test centre and give them your vehicle’s registration number and the V5C reference number.

You don’t need an MOT certificate to sell a vehicle, but many buyers will want to see it.

You also need an MOT certificate to tax your vehicle and to change the vehicle’s tax class, such as getting free tax for a disabled driver.

At German Automotive, all the MOT tests are carried out by our full MOT test trained technicians who will thoroughly examine your car. Our Aftercare Specialists will be on hand to take you through the results of the test.

If you would like to book in for your MOT test with German Automotive, the process is simple and can be booked online.