What does an MOT check?

    If you live in England, Scotland, or Wales and have a car that’s three or more years old, you must pass a yearly MOT test to legally drive on the road. The same goes in Northern Ireland if your vehicle is more than four years old. 

    Run by the Ministry of Transport, the MOT test checks the safety, roadworthiness, and emissions output of your vehicle by inspecting individual car components. All cars must meet the minimum standards laid out by the Driving and Vehicle Standards Authority to stay on UK roads. 

    It is illegal to drive without an MOT certificate. Getting behind the wheel without one could result in a fine, points on your licence, and even an outright driving ban. Vehicles without MOT certificates will likely experience significant drops in value – something to look out for when buying or selling a car

    Be prepared for your next MOT. Learn what the exam covers and how to make sure your car is in prime condition below.  

    MOT explained

    a man checking under the bonnet
    All cars must pass an annual MOT test to legally drive on UK roads.

    The annual MOT test is designed to keep UK roads safe by making sure all cars meet the latest standards. This legal requirement is the cornerstone of car ownership for five reasons: 

    1. Vehicle safety – Yearly MOT checks examine critical safety components to ensure that your car is ‘road safe.’ By assessing the functionality of various car features according to the latest governmental standards, this comprehensive assessment minimises the risk of accidents. 

    1. Legal compliance – All vehicles, from motorcycles under 200cc to oversized lorries, are required by law to pass an annual MOT test. Without an MOT certificate, cars cannot be taxed and are deemed illegal to drive. If you are stopped while driving a vehicle without an MOT, you can be fined up to £1,000 and receive points on your licence. A valid MOT is also often a necessary requirement for car insurance.

    1. Environmental impact – The MOT assesses vehicle emission levels in accordance with the latest government standards. Compliance with emission standards reduces your car’s environmental impact; failure to comply can lead to fines, especially if you’re in an Ultra Low Emission Zone or Clean Air Zone.

    1. Issue detection – The MOT identifies potential issue areas for repair. This proactive approach prevents minor problems from escalating into major, costly replacements. Addressing issues promptly helps extend the lifespan of essential components, ensuring the car’s reliability over time.

    1. Resale value – A well-maintained vehicle with a consistent MOT record tends to have a higher resale value. Buyers often prioritise cars with a history of regular checks, indicating responsible ownership and vehicle care.

    What does the MOT test?

    white car damaged
    The MOT test examines core car components for damage.

    The MOT test includes a range of checks on various car parts and systems. We break down these categories, and what individual components are tested, below. 

    Make and model

    Car areaTesting for
    Vehicle body and structure> Structural integrity
    > Excessive corrosion
    > Sharp edges that could pose injury risks
    Towbars> Secure engine mountings
    > Signs of wear or damage
    > 13-pin electrical socket function 
    > Speedometer function
    Fuel system> Secure pipes and hoses
    > Fuel leaks
    > Punctures 
    > Fuel cap fastening and sealing 
    Exhaust emissions> Compliance with exhaust emission regulations based on vehicle age and fuel type
    > Camshaft drive belt wear-and-tear
    > Careful assessment of diesel exhaust
    Exhaust system> Secure attachment to vehicle
    > Presence of all system components 
    > Proper catalyst fittingLeaksIrregular noise levels
    Seatbelts> Presence and condition of mandatory seatbelts
    > Seatbelt functionality
    > Seatbelt attachment
    > Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MILs) check for airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, and seatbelt load limiters
    Seats> Driver’s seat can be adjusted as needed
    > Secure attachment to vehicle
    > Seat back mobility and positioning
    Doors> Latches close and secure properly
    > Front doors open from both inside and outside the vehicle
    > Rear doors open from outside
    > Hinges and catches condition
    Mirrors> Minimum required number of mirrors
    > ConditionSecure attachment to vehicle
    > Verify condition of indirect vision devices
    Load security> Proper boot or tailgate closure
    Brakes> Condition, including inappropriate repairs or modifications
    > Operation and performance assessment (without removing wheels and trims)
    > Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and corresponding dashboard warning lights
    > Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and corresponding dashboard warning lights
    Tyres and wheels> Condition Secure attachment to vehicle
    > Correct tyre size and type Tread depth
    > Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) check for vehicles first used on or after 1 January 2012
    > Presence of TPMS MILs on dashboard
    Registration plates> Condition Secure attachment to vehicle
    > Character formation and spacing
    Lights> Condition of High-Intensity Discharge (HID), Light Emitting Diode (LED), and all other lights
    > Headlight cleaning, self-levelling, and security
    > Main beam warning light functionality
    Bonnet> Secure closure 
    Wipers and windscreen washers> Proper operation
    > Structural damage
    Windscreen> Condition
    > Verify unobstructed view from the driver’s seat
    Horn> Functionality
    > Suitability for vehicle type
    Steering and suspension> Condition Functionality
    > Proper steering oil levelsInappropriate past repairs or modifications
    > Corrosion in power steering pipes or hoses
    > Steering lock mechanism function
    > Presence of electronic power steering and steering lock MILs on dashboard 
    Vehicle identification number (VIN)> Display in vehicles first used on or after 1 August 1980, with the exception of multistage build vehicles
    Electrical system> Visible wiring and battery functionality

    Preparing for an MOT check

    The best way to prepare for your annual MOT test is to take good care of your vehicle. Our five top tips for getting your car into gear: 

    1. Regular maintenance – Routine servicing helps keep your vehicle in top shape.  Following manufacturer recommendations and addressing issues promptly are two ways to increase your car’s lifespan and set yourself up for passing the MOT. Plus, the better condition your car is in, the more money you’re likely to get when you choose to sell.

    2. Cambelt replacement – The cambelt synchronises your engine’s rotation. Disruption to this carefully calibrated system can cause serious engine damage, and, given the high-pressure environment of your car’s engine, cambelts naturally deteriorate over time. Replacing the cambelt at recommended intervals helps prevent potential MOT test issues.

    3. Warm up engine – Be sure your engine is fully warmed-up before your MOT to reduce high starting emissions. 

    4. Avoid tampering with settings – Refrain from changing your car’s settings, especially governor settings, to ensure optimal performance on the MOT.

    5. Brake system inspection – Inspect and address wear-and-tear on brakes, including brake pads and discs.

    6. Tyre condition – Monitor tyre condition, cross-check tread depth, and address visible signs of damage before heading into your test. 

    FAQs

    What will cause a failure on an MOT?

    Millions of cars fail the MOT test every year in the UK, often for things that are relatively quick and easy to check. Common reasons for MOT failure include broken lights, damaged suspension systems, faulty brakes, and inadequate tyre pressure and tread. Addressing these beforehand increases your likelihood of passing the test.

    Are brake discs checked on an MOT?

    Yes, brake discs are checked during an MOT. MOT administrators assess brake disc condition, ensuring they are within acceptable wear limits and free from damage, as a part of their review of your car’s brake system.

    Is oil checked on an MOT?

    No, the MOT does not include a specific check of engine oil. However, it’s crucial to maintain proper oil levels and address any leaks as part of routine vehicle maintenance for optimal performance, and to boost your car’s value when you decide to sell.

    Can you sell a car without an MOT?

    Technically, you can sell a car without a valid MOT, but it will be much more difficult. Buyers are looking for safe used vehicles, and lacking an MOT certificate reduces both your potential buyer pool and your vehicle’s sales price. Cars that have failed their MOT are more likely to be classified as Cat D, otherwise known as being a write-off, and could be dangerous!

    If your car fails the MOT test and you’re looking to get rid of it, another option could be to sell it for scrap. However, remember that you can’t legally drive a car with a failed MOT, even to the garage or scrapyard.

    Need to sell your car?

    Want to learn more about owning, maintaining, and selling your car? Check out more of our guides here, covering everything from Clean Air Zones to car tax, and plate changes to part exchange.