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What is an MOT test?

An MOT examiner inspects a car tyre.

If you're driving your first car, the prospect of an MOT test can seem quite daunting. But it's nothing to worry about.

An MOT test is simply an annual check on your vehicle to make sure it meets safety and environmental standards. It's a legal requirement for most vehicles on public roads in the UK, with only a few vehicles being exempt.

To learn more about the MOT test, read on for our handy guide.

What do I need to take to an MOT?

If you're looking for an MOT test checklist, don't worry. The only essential thing to bring is your car.

The MOT centre can check all essential documentation online. That includes your vehicle's previous MOT certificate, its tax status and other paperwork.

You might like to bring the bus fare home, but many centres will do the test while you wait. It usually takes 45-60 minutes, and some test centres even provide viewing areas.

Unless you've prepaid, you'll also need to bring payment. Test centres are not allowed to charge more than the fees fixed by the Department for Transport for the type of vehicle, and many offer special deals and discounts.

What is checked for on an MOT?

There are several thousand approved MOT test centres in the UK where qualified engineers will check that the following meet safety and environmental standards:

  • Lamps, reflectors and electrical equipment.
  • Steering and suspension.
  • Brakes, pedals, levers and warning lights.
  • Tyres and road wheels.
  • Seat belts and restraints.
  • Body, structure, registration plates, speedometer.
  • Exhaust, fuel and emissions.
  • Driver's view of the road: mirrors, wipers, windscreen and screen wash.

The MOT doesn't cover the engine, clutch or gearbox.

What happens if my MOT runs out?

If your car's MOT expires, you're no longer allowed to drive it or even keep it on public roads.

The only time you can drive a car without a valid, up-to-date MOT is to the MOT centre for a pre-booked test or to a garage for pre-booked repairs.

Even then it must be roadworthy and you must be insured – but your insurance may be invalid if your MOT certificate has expired.

If you drive without an MOT you face a £1,000 fine. Even stopping at the shops en route to the test centre could land you with a penalty.

To avoid this, you can renew your MOT up to one month before it expires while keeping your original renewal date.

What can fail an MOT?

Around 40% of vehicles fail their MOT on the first test. Nearly half of these fails could be avoided by simple car maintenance checks you can do yourself.

Here's an MOT test checklist:

  • Keep an eye on the dashboard warning lights – they're there for a reason!
  • Check your lights. Make sure the bulbs aren't blown and give them a tap to see if they're loose or damaged.
  • Check your tyres. You can buy a tread depth gauge cheaply to check the tread is a minimum of 1.6mm deep. Many petrol stations allow you to check your tyre pressure and fill with air if necessary.
  • Check your brakes. Do a quick test before every journey to ensure they're working and listen out for any strange noises. From time to time, take a look under your car bonnet to check the levels of brake fluid in the reservoir.
  • Check your view of the road is clear. Is your windscreen undamaged and free of stickers or toys? Are your rear-view mirrors positioned correctly? Make sure your wipers are clearing rain effectively, and top up screen wash regularly.

Cars that fail will be issued with a 'refusal of an MOT test certificate' notice.

If your car fails due to 'major' reasons and your existing MOT certificate is still valid, you can drive it away from the test centre and get it repaired.

Sometimes, the test centre can do the repair on the spot – for example, replacing a headlight bulb - and carry out a retest for no extra fee.

If the defect is deemed 'dangerous', you won't be able to drive your car away. You must either get it repaired at the test centre, transported by a breakdown vehicle to another garage, or taken away for scrap.

What is an MOT certificate?

An MOT certificate will be issued by the test centre once your vehicle has passed its test.

It might list 'minor defects', which you should get repaired as soon as possible, or 'advisories', which you should monitor and repair if necessary.

You might need to prove you have a certificate if asked by the police or if you're selling your vehicle. However, these days certificates can be checked online, so don't worry if you lose your paper copy.

Although the certificate is valid for one year, it's not ongoing proof that your car is still roadworthy.

If your vehicle develops problems between tests, you're responsible for getting it repaired and making sure it's safe and legal to drive.

Get your car serviced regularly and consider getting a car warranty to cover your repair costs.

What vehicles are MOT exempt?

Vehicles don't need an MOT until they are three years old. The exceptions are passenger vehicles such as taxis and ambulances, which need one after just one year.

Cars and motorcycles that are more than 40 years old are also exempt. This is because they are rarely driven, usually kept in good condition as 'classic cars', and because they are so different from modern vehicles that many MOT checks are irrelevant.

Other exemptions include tractors, goods vehicles powered by electricity, and trams.

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