MOT check

An MOT is designed to make sure your car’s safe and roadworthy. Find out what it involves, and why you need to renew it.

gocompare author
Updated 12 January 2022  | 2 min read

MOT checker

Key points

  • An MOT is a legal requirement for your car once it’s three years old
  • It checks the car’s safe to drive, safe for other road users and safe for the environment
  • Driving without a valid MOT is against the law and will invalidate your insurance
  • You can only drive without one if you’re going to an MOT test centre to have a pre-booked test

What's an MOT?

An MOT is an official test that checks whether a vehicle is roadworthy and safe to drive. It also measures the vehicle’s emissions to determine whether they’re within the legal limit.

Named after the Ministry of Transport, the MOT is a standard inspection that all cars more than three years old are legally required to have.

MOTs aren’t just a requirement for cars though. They’re compulsory for a lot of different types of vehicles that use the road, including motorbikes, quad bikes and motor caravans.

For an MOT to be valid it must be done by trained specialists in an authorised testing centre, which could be your local garage.

If your vehicle fails its MOT you won’t be able to drive it away until the faults have been fixed. The only exception is if the faults aren’t classed as dangerous and you’re only driving to get it repaired. Once it’s passed the inspection, your MOT certificate is valid for 12 months.

What does the MOT check?

An MOT checks for safety, roadworthiness and exhaust emissions. The main elements that are inspected include:

  • Lamps, reflectors and electrical equipment – This includes making sure the horn, battery and driving lights are all working and in good condition
  • Steering and suspension - The steering components and shock absorbers need to be working well and not show signs of wear or damage
  • Brakes - These will be tested to make sure they’re working properly, along with the brake warning lights and any anti-lock braking system
  • Wheels and tyres - These need to be the right size for your vehicle and in good condition with all nuts tightly fastened
  • Seats and seat belts – This includes making sure the driver’s seat can be adjusted and that all seatbelts are the right length and working properly
  • Body, vehicle structure and general items - This includes checking the bonnet, boot and doors, making sure the speedometer’s working and the registration plates are clear
  • Fuel system, exhaust and emissions - Your car’s emissions need to be within the legal limit and your exhaust should be securely fitted without any leaks
  • Driver’s view of the road - Your mirrors, windscreen and windscreen wipers will all be checked to make sure you have a good view of the road

Is a vehicle service the same as having an MOT?

No. Although they both involve detailed checks on the car, they’re different.

A service can be done by any qualified car mechanic but an MOT is a legal requirement and has to be done by a specialist in an authorised MOT test centre.

An MOT follows the minimum safety requirements set out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). On the other hand, a service is based on the manufacturer’s guidelines to keep the car running smoothly and reliably.

Unlike a service, an MOT doesn’t check the car’s general mechanical condition, so parts like the engine, clutch and gearbox aren’t included in the inspection.

While the MOT makes sure the car’s safe to drive, it doesn’t check whether it’s running as well as it could be. This is where a service can help.

When do I need to get an MOT?

You’ll need to do this three years from the date your car was first registered.

After this, you’ll need to get one done every 12 months so that your car is retested by the anniversary of its last MOT.

It’s possible to get your car tested up to one month minus a day before the MOT is due and still keep the original renewal date. This means the MOT would effectively be valid for 13 months.

But if you get an MOT more than a month before it’s due, the 12 months will start from that test date - unless you’re in Northern Ireland where the rules are slightly different.

When don’t I need an MOT?

You don’t need an MOT if your car’s less than three years old.

This also applies to nearly all cars that were built or first registered more than 40 years ago (if they haven’t been altered or significantly changed in the past 30 years).

But even if you don’t need an MOT, you’re still expected to keep the car in a roadworthy condition.

If you need one but don’t have a valid MOT, the only place you can legally drive is to the MOT centre for a pre-booked test, and only if the car doesn’t have a dangerous fault.

Why is it important to check when your MOT is due?

Basically, it’s important to check because it’s up to you to know when your car, van or motorbike’s due its MOT - you won’t be sent a notification unless you sign up to an MOT reminder service.

If you don’t renew your MOT in time and you drive or park your car on a road, this is an offence and you could face a fine of up to £1,000, as well as your car being impounded.

You’ll also need an MOT certificate to renew your road tax for the year.

Plus, driving without a valid MOT means you’re potentially driving a car that’s not safe. This invalidates your car insurance - so you might not be covered if you have an accident, which could leave you facing costly repairs and even legal action.

Where can I get an MOT?

You can only get an MOT at an approved MOT test centre.

Most garages will be able to do the test, so it’s best to find somewhere reputable and look out for the official blue sign with three white triangles.

If you’re in England, Wales or Scotland, you can check where your nearest authorised MOT test centres are easily.

And if you’re in Northern Ireland you can book an MOT online.

How do I check my car’s MOT history?

You can do this by using the government’s free tool that allows you to check the MOT history of a vehicle.

This will let you check results for tests done in England, Scotland or Wales since 2005.

You’ll need the car’s registration number and the 11-digit number from the vehicle’s logbook (V5C) to see where the test took place.

It’s always a good idea to check the MOT history if you’re buying a car - especially if it’s more than three years old - as it can give you an idea of how reliable it’s been so far.