A definitive guide to your car MOT

Is your car ready for its MOT? Do you even know if it needs one? Are you aware of how much the test will cost? If you're unsure about any of this, fear not, because this MoneySupermarket MOT checklist tells you everything you need to know.

Once a car has turned three years old, it will require an MOT test every year. Your MOT certificate will last for 12 months and proves that your car is in a roadworthy condition and meets a number of environmental safety standards.

If you don't have a valid MOT certificate you won't be able to tax your car. Driving without a tax disc is illegal.

To make sure you are legally compliant, head over to the DirectGov website to complete an MOT status check

Save time and money on your car insurance

What's covered in the test?

The MOT test lasts for about 45 minutes.

During the test, the garage will check the suspension and brakes are in good working order, and the bodywork of the car will also be examined for signs of corrosion or other serious damage. The petrol cap will be checked to ensure it fits properly and that there are no leaks.

In addition, the garage will check your vehicle's tyres are the correct size and tread - the spare tyre is not included in the test. Your car's lights, mirrors and doors must all be in good working order and seats and seatbelts will also be scrutinised for safety reasons.

Your car's registration plates will also be examined to ensure they are visible and secure and the exhaust must not be noisy or be falling off. The vehicle will also need to meet the requirements for exhaust emissions, depending on its age and fuel type.  

The garage will check your car's windscreen for chips and scratches and that the wipers are working correctly.

It's a comprehensive test, but it became more rigorous at the start of 2012 when a number of changes took effect. These changes were added to reflect the complexity of modern cars' electronics. As a result, the 'pass' criteria now includes checking the warning lights are working properly for the main beam headlights, power steering, brake fluid, tyre-pressure monitor, seat belt pre-tensioner, electronic parking brake and electronic stability control.

The speedometer must also operate fully and, if any of the lights have been modified to change their colour, your car will fail its test.

The changes also mean that if your vehicle's battery is not secure or it has a leaking electrolyte, it won't pass its MOT. Your car's steering will also be closely examined, checking for absent or dysfunctional steering locks.

In addition, the seats will be checked carefully to ensure they move forwards and backwards and can be secured in two or three positions. Doors must easily open and close, tow bars must be free from inappropriate modifications and airbags must function correctly.

How much does an MOT cost?

The cost of your MOT will vary depending on the garage, so it's worth shopping around to compare prices. However, there is a limit on the amount you can be charged - this is set by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), the government agency that supervises the MOT scheme.

The current maximum you can be charged is £54.85 for cars (seating up to eight passengers) and £29.65 for motorcycles. You can view the full list of maximum fees here.

Although many garages will carry out the MOT test as well as any necessary repairs, you could use your local council's own MOT testing centre instead. Even though the testing stations are for council vehicles, such as buses, by law they also have to be open to the public. However, be aware that if you do take your vehicle to one of these testing stations and it needs repairs, the repairs will need to be carried out elsewhere. But on the positive side, this also means the testing centre is less likely to find fault with your car in an attempt to earn a little more money.

Also note that while local council testing centres tend to be slightly more expensive than garages, this is generally because garages hope to make more money out of you through repairs.

Remember too that by shopping around for your car insurance through MoneySupermarket you can more than make up for the cost of your MOT. Our typical customer saves up to £400 on their annual car insurance premium.

What happens if my car fails its MOT?

If your car fails its MOT and the test was carried out at a garage, you will be entitled to a free retest, as long as the repairs are carried out at the test centre and the retest is done within 10 working days.

If the repairs are carried out away from the test centre, you can still have a free retest providing it's done the next working day and it failed for a particular reason - take a look at the UK MOT website  for more information.

Finally, if you took your car to a local council test centre for its MOT and the repairs are carried out elsewhere, you'll have to pay for a partial retest, but it will be up to half price providing it is done within 10 working days.

Save time and money on your car insurance

†82% of shoppers obtained a quote in 5 minutes or less. Source eDigitalResearch December 2012.