MOT checklist

All your essential MOT info, plus how to make them as cheap and painless as possible.

Key points

  • If your car is more than three years old, and built after 1 January, 1960, it must take and pass an annual MOT test
  • GoCompare's MOT checklist will tell you exactly which parts and functions of the car are tested by mechanics - read this guide and make sure your car's ready for its MOT
  • To check if your car has a valid MOT, run the vehicle's registration number through the government vehicle enquiry service

An MOT is the extensive set of checks over the inside, outside and under the bonnet of your vehicle, to ensure that it meets the legal standards and is safe to drive.

Without a valid MOT your car insurance is invalid.

MOTs are regulated by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), and the name comes from the days of the Ministry of Transport test. 

It’s different to a vehicle service, and a pass isn’t a guarantee that your car won’t break down, just that it’s roadworthy at the time of the test.

Remember to book your MOT

If you own a car that’s more than three years old, and built on or after 1 January, 1960, you’re legally required to pass an MOT test every year - and it’s your responsibility to get your vehicle tested.

These rules apply to light vans and motorbikes too, but the rules are slightly different for some other vehicle types.

You need a valid MOT certificate to purchase vehicle excise duty (tax your car), and driving a vehicle without one will invalidate your insurance - it’s also a criminal offence, and you could be landed with a hefty fine, penalty points or a driving ban if caught.

In fact, the only valid reason for driving without an MOT is driving to a pre-booked MOT test.

DVSA’s Head of MOT Policy, Neil Barlow adds that: “modernisation of our MOT testing service means that police and mobile camera units can now check remotely to see if your vehicle has a current MOT.”

So it’s a good idea to keep your MOT status up to date. 

What does an MOT test involve?

It will usually take 45 to 60 minutes (although a garage may ask you to leave your car with them for longer, depending on their work schedule).

In this time, a mechanic will work through a standard checklist, which includes the:

Don't forget your MOT

You can book annual free MOT reminders online to warn you when your MOT is about to expire, and there are apps that will do this too. An MOT can be carried out up to a month before your last one runs out, so you can avoid last-minute panics - the new MOT will pick up when the existing one runs out.
  • Vehicle structure and bodywork
  • Windscreen, wipers, and washers
  • Tyres and wheels 
  • Registration plates
  • Wing mirrors
  • Lights
  • Doors
  • Towbar (if present)
  • Boot/tailgate
  • Electrical wiring    
  • Exhaust system and emissions
  • Fuel system     
  • Brakes
  • Steering and suspension   
  • Bonnet
  • Horn      
  • Seats and seatbelts/SRS

It doesn’t include the engine, clutch or gearbox.

Where to get an MOT

You must get your car tested at an approved MOT test centre - look for the familiar blue sign with three white triangles on.

Most garages will do them, and another option is to use a local council MOT centre - this is popular with owners of older cars, as these garages can’t do repairs so there’s no incentive for them to find faults.  

Check if a car has a valid MOT

You can spot check your vehicle's MOT date using the government's vehicle enquiry service and the registration number.

It will also tell you when the MOT and tax is due, so there’s no excuse for missing it - but you can also request a reminder via email.

MOT results

If your car passes the MOT test, the garage will give you an MOT certificate, and it will be recorded on the DVSA’s MOT database.

If your car fails an MOT

You're not alone - nearly 37% of cars and vans initially failed their MOT in the 2015-16 financial year, according to the DVSA.

The garage will give you a VT30 ‘Refusal of an MOT Test Certificate’ form, which will explain the reasons it didn’t pass. 

However, it means that you need to get the issues fixed and the car retested.

You can often leave your car at the garage to have the work done, or you can choose to take it elsewhere and bring it back for a test within a certain time (usually 10 days), in which case you should be able to have a partial MOT retest for free or at a reduced cost.

Failed MOTs and courtesy cars

If your car fails its MOT and you can't drive it again until it's fixed up and retested, it's unlikely that your car insurer will offer you a courtesy car.

This service is usually reserved for when you make a claim on your car insurance following an accident, or if you breakdown.

MOT advisory notes

Advisory notes are to inform you about issues that will soon need fixing on your car, but aren’t bad enough to cause an MOT fail.

For example, if your tyres are worn and close to the legal minimum, this could advise you to fit new tyres.

How to keep MOT costs down

MOTs in themselves aren’t expensive, but some repairs needed as the result of a fail can be.

You can often save money by doing a few simple checks yourself before the MOT - and you don’t have to know very much about cars to do them.

Comparing garage costs, and keeping your car in good repair, will also keep costs down.

1. Avoid common MOT fails

Research shows that nearly half of MOT fails could be avoided by carrying out a few simple maintenance checks beforehand. Here are our top five easy checks to avoid this happening to you:

  • Check lights, indicators and brake lights: check these are all working and replace bulbs that aren’t (or ask your garage to do it for you when you take the car in).
  • Test the windscreen wipers: check that your windscreen wipers do a good job of cleaning your windscreen - a simple tear or hole in the wiper can mean a fail. Top up your screen wash if needed and make sure there are no stickers that obstruct the drivers’ view of the road.
  • Examine the tyres: check they’re inflated to the correct pressure, whether they have any cracks or splits in the tread or side, and use the 20p test to check that they have the minimum tread of 1.6mm. If not, then replace them.
  • Press the horn
  • Check the seatbelts: Do they pull smoothly, latch properly or have any damage on them? 

2. Compare garage costs

There is a maximum charge set for an MOT, which is currently £54.85 for a car and £29.65 for a motorbike.

But many garages will charge less than that - after all, if your car needs any work to pass the test, they’ll probably get it - so it’s worth shopping around.

There are websites that will compare costs between local garages and MOT test centres for you, so try these to see where you might find a competitive deal.

3. Keep your car in good repair

RAC spokesperson Pete Williams points out that another way to keep MOT costs down is to look after your car and have it regularly serviced - this'll keep it in good condition and the garage will carry out checks on all the key elements of an MOT inspection.

“Check your vehicle handbook, but typically you should have your car serviced every year or every 10,000 to 12,000 miles - and consider an interim service if you do high mileages,” he advises.

“And keep on top of running repairs - don’t let problems or faults mount up. Check over the vehicle’s bodywork and seek advice from a specialist bodyshop if you find any rust or damage.”

You should also follow up on advisory notices from your MOT, as otherwise your vehicle may fail on those areas in the next test.

By Katrina Hendley