What is a MOT?


If you’re a car owner in the UK, then you should have at least heard of the MOT test for cars. Although you might have heard of it, are you aware of what it is all about and what your responsibilities are as a motorist? There’s more misunderstanding about the MOT than you might thing. 

MOT – What it Means

For a start, MOT stands for Ministry of Transport, after the government body which first came up with the idea of testing cars back in 1960. Interestingly, the Ministry of Transport no longer exists, but we’ve never stopped using the name in the MOT test. The MOT is a test to make sure that your car is safe to be on the road. It’s a roadworthiness test which looks at everything from brakes to windscreen wipers. It’s not about whether your car is worth what you think it’s worth, or whether it’s taxed or insured. Furthermore, it’s not just cars which need a MOT. The requirement is for any vehicle on the public roads, such as buses, lorries or taxis. You can check the MOT status here.


Differences to Standard MOT

In England, Wales and Scotland, any vehicle older than three years has to have a MOT. That means three years from the date of first registration, not necessarily three years from the date you bought it, even if you picked it up from new. The rules in Northern Ireland are slightly different, and vehicles don’t need a MOT until they are four years old. There’s discussion underway about bringing the rules into Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK. 

Nearly every vehicle on the UK roads will need a MOT test. There are two exceptions to this. Firstly, any cars which are more than 30 years old don’t need a test. This rule recognises that classic cars don’t meet many of the standards expected from modern MOT tests. If your car is older than 30, claim a historic or classic vehicles exemption. The other exception is for vehicles which never go on the public road. So if you’re lucky enough to own an estate large enough to need a Land Rover to get around, then you don’t need to MOT it, tax it or even insure it, as long as you never drive it on the public road. 

Where Does MOT Tests?

Not every garage can offer MOT tests. Tests can only be carried out at an approved MOT centre. There are just over 20,000 MOT test centres up and down the UK, and over 50,000 people working within those centres who are qualified to do the tests. These centres range from small, “one man band” operations in a rural village through to the large chain garages such as Kwik-Fit or Halfords. There’s a complete list of current MOT centres on the government website, but unfortunately not in an easily searched format. As it’s illegal to drive without a MOT, make sure that you are aware of when yours expires, and make your booking in plenty of time. 

What is a Minor or Advisory Fault?

In the old days, the situation with a MOT was very simple. The vehicle either passed or failed. If there were small problems which weren’t sever enough to cause a fail, this would be noted on the form. But changes last year sorted problems found on a MOT test into three major categories: minor, major and dangerous faults. So what does this all mean?

Minor Faults

A minor fault, as the name suggests, isn’t a particularly serious issue. It is similar to the old “advisory” listing on a MOT certificate. A minor fault found – as long as it’s the only fault – isn’t a fail on a MOT test. Take it as a “probably better get this looked at before you come back next year” recommendation. A minor defect could be something like the tread depth of tyres which are within a couple of millimetres of the minimum. They’re not illegal yet, but if you fail to do something about them, they will be soon. Another common example is brake lights. The MOT states that at least two should be working at the rear of the car. So if you have one either side and one on the rear window and one is faulty, that still leaves two working lights. But you’ll be advised to get the other one fixed. 

Other Types of Faults

The other two types of faults, major and dangerous, do mean an automatic MOT fail. A failure means that whatever element is being tested doesn’t come up to the minimum standards set by the government in the MOT regulations. Testers don’t really have any wriggle room in this. However, what happens next depends how the fault has been classified.

  • Major fault – a major fault is something which counts as a MOT fail, but doesn’t necessarily mean your car is unsafe to drive. This could be something like a missing number plate, or headlight not working properly. In this situation you have a choice. You can allow the garage to repair the fault and put the car through the MOT again. Or you can drive it away, get the repair done at your leisure, and have it retested at any point until the current certificate runs out. 
  • Dangerous fault – a dangerous fault is a different matter. These types of faults mean that not only will your car fail the MOT, it means it’s not roadworthy either. Dangerous faults are usually things wrong with brakes, tyres or steering. If your car fails the MOT on a dangerous fault, you’re not allowed to drive it away to be fixed elsewhere. It must either be fixed by the garage, or taken away somewhere else on a trailer. Driving a car which you know has a dangerous fault could land you with a £2,500 fine. 

You have until the date your current MOT certificate expires to get your car fixed. If you’re unsure whether your car will pass its MOT or not, it’s usually best to book it in a couple of weeks in advance to leave time for dealing with problems.