What fails an MOT?

    Man upset in drivers seat with clipboard

    All passenger vehicles must pass a Ministry of Transport (MOT) exam to legally drive on British roads. The MOT exam assesses vehicle functionality, safety, and emissions output according to the latest UK standards. 

    Cars and vans older than three years must take this exam annually in England, Scotland, and Wales; in Northern Ireland, vehicles begin yearly MOT testing after their fourth year of registration. 

    To keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe, the MOT exam inspects all crucial vehicle components, boot to bonnet. Cars that pass receive an MOT certificate valid for the next calendar year. Driving without an MOT certificate can result in fines, points on your licence, or even vehicle impoundment. As vehicles without MOT certification can be seen as more dangerous, they are often worth less on the resale market

    Millions of cars fail the MOT test every year. To prepare for your next exam, learn the most common causes of MOT failure and how you can set yourself and your vehicle up for success.

    Motorway’s free MOT Checker tool shares your vehicle’s MOT status instantly.

    MOT assessment criteria

    The MOT assesses four key assets of your vehicle: 

    1. Safety – This comprehensive exam ensures that all safety elements are up to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) requirements. This includes seatbelts, brakes, tyres, and dashboard warning lights.

    2. Functionality – The MOT also tests that all car components are working properly. This helps minimise the risks of breakdowns and accidents, keeping you safe and ideally saving you money in the long run.

    3. Identifying issues – In checking the functionality of vehicle components, the MOT can also reveal potential underlying issues. Proactively identifying problem areas helps prevent minor issues from escalating into costly replacements and can help extend the lifespan of essential car components, ensuring reliability over time.

    4. Emissions – The MOT assesses vehicle emission levels according to 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.

    Not sure of your vehicle’s current MOT status, or interested in viewing its full MOT history? Try our new MOT Checker tool for a free, instant MOT scan today. You can also set reminders ahead of your vehicle’s MOT expiration date, so you’ll never have to sweat the annual deadline again. 

    Common MOT failure areas

    mechanic under a vehicle
    Stay in the driver’s seat by understanding the most common reasons for MOT failure.

    The MOT exam assesses core vehicle components and systems, as well as the overall condition of your car or van. According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the most common reasons for MOT failure, in descending order, are as follows: 

    Lighting and signalling issues 

    Adequate lighting is essential for road safety. According to the DVSA, lighting issues are the most common reason for MOT failure. include faulty headlights, brake lights, indicators, and registration plate lights. Nearly one in five cars (!) show problems with lights and signalling during their annual MOT exams. Many of these problems require simple fixes, like regularly inspecting and replacing bulbs, to maintain optimal performance.

    Suspension faults

    Suspension plays a crucial role in vehicle handling, comfort, and tyre wear. However, suspension joints, springs, and shock absorbers wear down over time. Uneven road feel or unusual noises could indicate suspension issues. One quick way to see if your vehicle has suspension issues is to push down on each corner of your car and see if it quickly settles back to the correct height. Then, consult a mechanic for a full evaluation. 

    Brake system failures

    The brake system is critical for vehicle safety, yet over 10% of MOT fails are due to braking issues. Loose or unresponsive brakes can also signal larger vehicle issues. Contact your local garage immediately if you notice anything unusual while breaking, and be sure that they check your brake fluid levels as well.

    Tyre conditions 

    Problems with tyres can literally drive you off the road. Common failures include insufficient tread depth – the minimum legal UK tread depth is 1.6mm – damage from wear-and-tear (hello potholes!), and incorrect tyre pressure. A quick check that all of your tyres are the same size; have no cuts, bulges, or other issues; and have the proper pressure and tread depth will help significantly with the MOT. 

    Driver visibility problems

    Nearly 10% of MOT failures are because of problems seeing the road. Clear visibility is essential for safe driving, but many of us drive with cracked or damaged windscreens, worn wiper blades, obstructed mirrors, or dirt or grime in our field of vision. Any chips or damage in the driver’s central view should be no larger than 10mm or no larger than 40mm in the whole of the swept area. Clean up all points of visibility ahead of your MOT exam. 

    Structural integrity and bodywork 

    Common failures in the field of vehicle structural integrity are often related to rust, corrosion, and structural weaknesses. These problems are more common in older cars, but can occur in any vehicle based on environmental factors (such as weather or storage conditions) as well as accidents. Fixing bodywork damage and ensuring structural integrity are essential for passing the MOT.

    Fuel and exhaust emissions

    Proper fuel system function is crucial for emissions compliance. Common failures include fuel leaks, malfunctioning catalytic converters, and excessive emissions. Regularly inspecting for leaks, addressing any abnormal exhaust smoke, and ensuring proper emissions control systems function are essential for passing the MOT’s environmental statutes.

    Steering system irregularities

    Proper steering is vital for vehicle control. However, loose steering, worn steering racks, and leaking power steering fluid drive four percent of all MOT failures. Regular steering checks and mechanic consultations are key.

    Seat belts and restraint systems

    Your seat belts are the most important device designed to keep you safe during a collision, followed by airbags. Issues with these safety features can result in immediate MOT failure. Luckily, they only account for approximately two percent of failures per year. 

    Miscellaneous items

    Other problem areas include faulty horn, insecure battery, and missing or damaged mirrors. Check that there are no warning lights on before heading to your MOT assessment.

    Drive a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV), bus, or trailer? You’ll need to pass a different MOT test for larger vehicles. In addition to the above, this test also assesses if headlamp aim and if vehicles adhere to protocol for properly carrying dangerous goods.

    What to do if your vehicle fails the MOT

    car on ramp in a garage
    Failing the MOT is not the end of the world. But it does mean that you need to take action to fix your vehicle.

    Failing the MOT means that your vehicle did not meet safety and environmental standards. You cannot legally drive this car or van until all identified issues are fixed. 

    So, if your car or van does not pass the MOT test, it’s time to act. Review the VT30 comprehensive MOT failure report from the testing centre, which details the specific issues preventing your vehicle from being roadworthy.

    Then, schedule repairs with a reliable mechanic. Many repairs can be done at the same testing centre where you had your MOT. Remember to keep all invoices as proof. 

    Finally, schedule an MOT retest to ensure that all identified issues have been fixed. Be sure to bring your repair invoices to the MOT retest as you could qualify for a partial or full retest fee exemption. Your vehicle must pass the retest to be able to legally hit the road again.

    Challenging an MOT failure

    If you find yourself disagreeing with your vehicle’s MOT failure, it’s essential to understand the reasons behind the decision and seek expert advice. Review the VT30 MOT failure report from your testing centre for a detailed breakdown of your vehicle’s failure points and consult with a qualified mechanic or automotive expert to assess the situation. 

    Additionally, you can review the MOT testing guidelines published by the DVSA. Armed with this knowledge, you can proceed to challenge the decision through the appropriate channels and seek a retest if necessary.


    How can I best prepare for the MOT? 

    The best way to prepare for your car or van’s MOT is to assess all key vehicle components ahead of your exam. In addition to regular car maintenance and giving your car a nice wash, you should check your lights and tyres, test your brakes, and make sure all of your paperwork is in order. Visit our MOT guides for more. 

    Do garages fail MOT on purpose?

    No, UK garages should never intentionally fail vehicles on their MOT exams. However, there may be discrepancies in judgement on cars’ roadworthiness. Ensure compliance by choosing reputable garages and understanding MOT criteria.

    Can I drive my car home from a failed MOT?

    It is illegal to drive with an invalid MOT certificate. If your car fails the MOT, you must fix all indicated issues before it can be driven legally.

    Does a failed MOT flag up?

    Yes, a failed MOT is recorded in the DVSA database. Drivers are also issued a failure report outlining identified issues with the car. It’s important to rectify the issues as soon as possible and schedule an MOT retest; only after passing this retest will your vehicle be considered legally roadworthy again.

    Is your insurance invalid without MOT?

    Operating a vehicle without a valid MOT breaches legal requirements and may void your insurance policy. In the event of an accident, you could be personally liable for any damages and legal costs.

    Check your car insurance details for the most accurate information.

    How can I check my MOT status? 

    With Motorway’s new MOT Checker, it’s never been easier to know the status of your vehicle’s MOT.

    Simply enter your vehicle registration number into our free tool and click ‘Check MOT’. You’ll get an instant response indicating if your MOT is valid, as well as a countdown until your current certificate runs out.  

    With the MOT Checker, you can also explore your vehicle’s full MOT history and set reminders for when to schedule your next MOT exam. 

    Can you sell a car without an MOT?

    Yes, you can sell a car if it doesn’t have a valid MOT. However, this will be much more difficult.

    Lacking an MOT certificate will likely reduce both your potential buyer pool and your vehicle’s sales price as buyers are shopping for safe transport. Since their roadworthiness has not been verified, cars that do not have valid MOT certificates carry an additional element of risk and may seem like a riskier investment. Similarly, cars that have failed their MOT are more likely to be classified as Cat D write-offs 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

    Is it time 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 finding buyers, to negotiating a good price, and completing payment safely.