The MOT test is the British government’s way of ensuring that all cars on UK roads are properly roadworthy. Introduced in 1960, this is a compulsory multi-point examination of the key mechanical and electrical parts of any car that is more than three years old. It offers invaluable peace of mind to all owners of older vehicles.


If your car is three or more years old, it must be submitted for an MOT test, the purpose of which is to ensure that every vehicle on the road in the UK meets basic roadworthiness standards.

The MOT initials refer to the old Ministry of Transport, the precursor to the current legislative body, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). Failure to pass an MOT test and attain an MOT certificate means you will not be able to renew your Vehicle Excise Licence, also known as a tax disc, without which your motor insurance becomes invalid. The MOT test is carried out annually at local testing stations appointed by VOSA. You do not need to be present for an MOT, although testing stations do provide viewing areas for those customers wishing to observe their car undergoing the test.

Various mechanical and structural components are tested, which we will deal with specifically later in this chapter, but there are environmental aspects to the test as well, which ensure that exhaust emissions are kept as low as possible. You are allowed to submit your car for its MOT test up to one month before the existing cer- tificate expires and, on passing, the expiry date of the new certificate will be set one year after that of the existing one. This means that if your car fails, you will still have one month to make the necessary repairs and re-submit it for another test before your current certificate runs out.


There are approximately 19,000 MOT testing stations in the UK, so there is always one nearby. These are recognised by the MOT sign of three white triangles on a blue background.


Garages of all sizes and types will normally conduct MOT tests, but choose a reputable one. 

Often an MOT testing station will be part of a larger vehicle repair garage. Your local MOT station can be found under ‘MOT Testing Stations’ in the telephone directory, or by punching ‘MOT test’ into an internet search engine. Interestingly, one such site – www.ukmot.com – features some pages specifically aimed at women who may feel intimidated by having to visit a garage, offering advice and help, whether they need to go to a garage for an MOT test or general vehicle repairs.

All MOT testing stations are required to comply with mandatory requirements set out by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, which incorporates its predecessor, the Vehicle Inspectorate. These requirements include the provision of a waiting and observation area, display of the triple triangle sign described above, as well as a ‘diesels tested’ sign if the station is authorised to test such vehicles, notices detailing testing times, authorised examiners, a Certificate or Authorisation from the VOSA, classes tested, test fees and appeals procedure.

Every MOT testing station is required to have a full, up to date, copy of both the MOT Inspection Manual and the Guide to MOT Testing (Fifth Edition). Both of these publications should be made available for viewing on request by a customer. Prices for MOT tests may vary from station to station, though there is an upper price limit set by the VOSA.

UK law states that all cars must undergo an MOT test every year after the third year of registration and that the car be tested on the expiry of the last MOT.


The MOT test has been carefully designed and refined over the years to cater for all types of car. The standard multi-point tests are applicable to every registered vehicle, regardless of marque. The MOT test is designed to ensure a vehicle is mechanically, structurally and environmentally safe to be used on the public road. It should be remembered, however, that an MOT certificate relates only to the condition of those items tested at the time of the test, and not at any later time, and a certificate should not be accepted as evidence of the general condition of a vehicle. The following explains exactly what is tested:

Lighting All lighting equipment must be in good condition and fully operational. Bulbs must be working and be of the correct colour. The headlamps must be aimed correctly with no cracked, holed or otherwise broken lenses. The same stipulations apply to all of the following: sidelights; stoplights; indicators; hazard warning lights; fog lights; rear number plate lights; rear reflectors.


The steering rack and joints of your car will be thoroughly checked for play and secure mountings. If fitted, power steering will be checked for correct operation.


No components must be broken, twisted or bent. All springs must be in good condition. Shock absorbers should be free from leaks and operating efficiently. The following will be checked for play: front suspension; front wheel bearings; front wheel drive driveshafts; rear suspension; rear wheel bearings; shock absorbers.



The hydraulic brake system will be checked for leaks and the mechanical handbrake system (lever and cables) checked for its condition. The performance of the brakes will then be tested by placing the wheels in rollers and activating the test equipment. This will test both the footbrake and handbrake and the brake bias side to side and front to rear. The following equipment will be checked: handbrake lever and cables; anti-lock brake system; brake pipes and hoses; mechanical components.

Fuel system:

The fuel tank, pipes and hoses will be checked for leaks and their condition. The fuel cap must seal correctly. Temporary fuel caps are not legal for MOT tests.

Exhaust system:

The exhaust system will be checked to ensure it is complete and secure with no leaks. Usually at the end of the test a sensor will be inserted in the tailpipe with the engine running to test the level of exhaust emissions.


MOT tests are carried out on ramps and rollers so that all parts of the car can be inspected. 

MOT tests are carried out on ramps and rollers so that all parts of the car can be inspected.


Tyres and wheels:

The tyres must be the correct type for the car, of legal tread depth and be in good condition. A spare tyre is not essential for a test, but if fitted must be in a legal state. Road wheels will be checked for condition. The same size wheels must be used at each end of the same axle.

Seats and belts:

Seats should be secured to the floor of the car and sliding mechanisms should be working correctly. Seatbelts should be secure, functional and in good condition. Inertia reel belts (the type that lock with sudden movement) will have their operation checked.


The windscreen must be in good condition with no large cracks. Some small chips are permissible but only in certain areas. The parts swept by the wipers, and in particular the section in front of the driver, will be examined more carefully, and only chips of a certain size will pass the test in these areas.

Washers and wipers Washers and wipers must operate correctly. The wipers should not be frayed and must clear the screen sufficiently for a good view through the windscreen.


The horn must be operational.


Mirrors on the offside (right) of any vehicle must not be broken or cracked.


Front doors must be able to be opened from both the inside and outside of the vehicle, and all doors should latch closed securely. With the car up on a ramp the condition of the underside of the vehicle will be inspected for corrosion in specified areas. It should be noted that the examiner is permitted to use a special small hammer for such an inspection. The exterior bodywork will also be inspected and any jagged edges or serious rust will result in a failure.

Registration plates:

The condition and security of number plates will be checked, as will the spacing and size of digits.

Vehicle Identification Number! This will be checked and recorded on the pass certificate.

There are some basic checks you can make in preparation for the MOT test, which we will cover on the following pages.


Most motorists dread the MOT test, but it should be looked upon as providing a full safety check on your car by an expert. There are certain basic checks you can carry out yourself, though.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, check the windscreen for any cracks or large chips, especially directly in front of the driver. If in doubt, consult an MOT station. It is better to find out now than waste money on a test that will not be passed. Check the horn, wipers and washers, and ensure there is sufficient washer fluid in the reservoir. Ensure the right hand wing or door mirror is clean and not damaged, and seats are securely mounted to the floor.

Before the MOT test, fill up the windscreen washer reservoir. If it is empty your car could be failed.

Check the handbrake. It should not reach its full length of travel, ideally operating fully after three or four clicks of the ratchet mechanism. It should only release when the button is pressed. Make sure that it holds the vehicle stationary on an incline.

Seatbelts should not be frayed, and must be mounted securely. The buckle must also operate correctly. Check both front doors close properly and that they can be opened and shut with interior and external handles.

Moving to the exterior of the vehicle, check that all the lights are working, including the fog lights, reversing lights and number plate lights. (The latter is a common cause of failure.) Check the condition of the shock absorbers by pressing down firmly on each corner of the car in turn and letting go. Check that the car rises then settles into its normal position. If the car bounces repeatedly at any corner, the shock absorber is defective and may need replacing.

The headlamps and other lights must have no cracked, holed or otherwise broken lenses. 

The headlamps and other lights must have no cracked, holed or otherwise broken lenses.

Check all the tyres, including the spare, to ensure they are above the legal tread depth limit of 1.6mm. Also, check the bodywork for any sharp edges. The tester may feel badly rusted wheel arches are dangerous, but a temporary repair could ensure that the vehicle passes the test. However, such a vehicle is likely to have more rust, and the tester is permitted to use a small hammer (officially known as a ‘corrosion assessment tool’) to check this. The most likely places are in the sills, which are the lower panels below the doors running between the front and rear wheels, and in the floorpan under the car. Check the sills by using a blunt implement to prod along and under the lower edges.

More detailed checks

Get a helper to turn the steering wheel left and right while you listen for strange noises from the front of the car; check the wheels turn the moment the steering wheel is turned. Any play here will need rectifying.

If you are mechanically confident, there are other checks you can make. With the car raised off the ground, using a jack and axle stands (never work under a car supported solely on a jack), check the entire exhaust system for leaks and holes.

Check the metal brake pipes and the flexible brake hoses under the car are not corroded or bulging, and that they are attached securely. Check for leaks at all joints in the brake system. Ensure that the handbrake components are not frayed or broken and that the cables are not excessively corroded.

Check that there are no leaks when pouring in oil. 

Check that there are no leaks when pouring in oil.

While the car is off the ground, check each of the road wheels in turn for free play in the wheel bearings and ball joints by holding the wheel and shaking it vigorously. If there is any slack, either investigate further or seek professional assistance.

Check the rubber gaiters on each side of the steering rack (on the steering arms attached to an arm on the stub axle assembly) for splits; ensure any castellated nuts that require locking split pins are so equipped.

Following on from the rudimentary corrosion check, look out for excessive or severe corrosion of the body structure within 30cm of any point where steering or suspension components attach to the body.

Check over the condition of the entire underbody of the car for signs of rust or corrosion in load-bearing areas. These include the chassis, brake master cylinder mounting, steering, seat and seat belt mountings, the sills, cross members and suspension mounts.

Visually check for exhaust smoke. Raise the engine speed to around 2,500rpm for 20 seconds, return it to idle and observe what comes from the exhaust’s tail pipe. Black smoke usually signifies unburnt fuel caused by a dirty air cleaning element or carburettor or fuel system fault, while blue smoke usually signifies oil being burnt, Visually check for exhaust smoke. Raise the engine speed to around 2,500rpm for 20 seconds, return it to idle and observe what comes from the exhaust’s tail pipe. Black smoke usually signifies unburnt fuel caused by a dirty air cleaning element or carburettor or fuel system fault, while blue smoke usually signifies oil being burnt, which means engine wear. Adjustments and tuning can usually reduce the amount of black smoke, but the MOT test is not just a visual check.


If your car fails the test you will be issued with a ‘failure’ sheet, officially the Notification of Refusal to Issue an MOT Test Certificate (DF). This will list the faults, which will require correction.

Some minor faults entitle you to a free re-test if the vehicle is returned to the garage, with the fault fixed, the following working day, while a free re-test may be offered if the garage is contracted to repair the fault and the vehicle remains on their premises. Many testing stations, however, do offer a free re-test if the car is taken away, repaired and re-presented to them within a certain time frame, usually seven days, when a full inspection is once again carried out.

If your car’s MOT certificate has expired and it fails the test, it can only legally be driven on the road when driving from the station where the test took place to a preappointed MOT test, or to a garage that will work on the vehicle after an MOT test failure.

These are the only other exemptions: being driven during the test by an authorised person; being towed to be scrapped; being moved under statutory power of removal; being driven after seizure by a customs or police officer; and driving an imported vehicle from the port of entry to the owner’s home. Also, remember that should you drive a vehicle without an MOT certificate at any other time, it will invariably invalidate your motor insurance, as the vehicle will be deemed unroadworthy.

If your car has failed the test, you may wish to appeal against the decision. In such cases, the local VOSA will arrange for an appeal test to be performed, at your expense. If the appeal is upheld, your fee will be refunded. You may also wish to appeal if you think a car has passed a test when it should not have, for instance if you have bought a recently MOT’d car that is subsequently found to be faulty. Known as an inverted appeal, once again the VOSA will arrange an appeal test.

Finally, although some people can become upset when their car fails, perhaps they should be grateful instead, as it could mean a potentially dangerous problem has been spotted.

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