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Car insurance and MOTs 

Be prepared for your next MOT with our MOT checklist

If your car is due its MOT and you're not sure how much it will cost or what's covered in the test, here's all you need to know…

By Mehdi Punjwani

Published: 06 October 2021

a mechanic inspecting the underneath of a car

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What is an MOT?

An MOT is an annual check-up for your car – it makes sure your car is still safe to drive, and isn’t producing dangerous emissions. If your car is more than three years old, it’ll need an MOT every year. Driving without a valid MOT certificate is against the law, so make sure you keep yours up to date!

How does an MOT work?

When you go for an MOT, the garage might find some faults with your car. These come in three categories: ‘minor,’ ‘major,’ and ‘dangerous.’ If there are only a few minor faults, your car can still pass its MOT – although it’s a good idea to get them fixed. Any major or dangerous faults mean an automatic fail.

A major fault should be repaired as soon as possible – but if your car has a dangerous fault, it’s illegal to drive it, even if there’s still some time left on your previous MOT. 

What documents do I need for my MOT?

If this is your car’s first MOT, you’ll need to take your VC5 – that’s your vehicle logbook. You’ll also need your logbook if your car has a new registration number. Otherwise, you don’t need any documents – just the car itself. 

If you don’t have your VC5, you can apply for a new one through the government’s website – although this comes with a £25 fee.

How much does an MOT cost?

The cost of an MOT might depend on the garage, but the government sets a maximum MOT price. At the moment, you shouldn’t be charged more than £54.85 for a car, or £29.65 for a motorbike. 

How long does an MOT take?

An MOT is a pretty simple test, and it doesn’t take much time – usually 45 minutes to an hour. 

Of course, that’s if your car passes – if it has a dangerous fault, you might need immediate repairs before you can drive it home again, and this could take a while longer. 

Where should I get my MOT done?

You can get your MOT at any approved MOT testing station. Most garages will offer an MOT – just look out for the three triangles sign. 

What is a council MOT?

Many local councils have their own MOT testing centres to check up on their own vehicles – and by law, these have to be open to the public. These ‘hidden’ MOT centres don’t perform repairs, so there’s no incentive to bill you extra for works that might not be necessary – this is why some people find them a more hassle-free option.

Keep in mind, though, that council MOTs have their downsides. Because they don’t do repairs onsite, if your car is found dangerously unroadworthy, it’ll have to be towed to a garage – and this can end up being pricey. It’s best to only go for a council MOT if you’re absolutely certain your car will pass. 

What is covered in an MOT?

An MOT covers pretty much every part of your car to make sure it’s in good working order. This will include:

  • The exhaust: The garage will make sure it’s not noisy, falling off or emitting smoke – and your car’s emissions will also be checked to see if they meet the legal limits
  • Brakes, suspension, and steering: These will all need to be working properly to protect you and other drivers
  • Number plates: To drive legally, your number plates have to be visible and properly secured
  • Bodywork: The garage will check for rust – especially if it’s near any important components
  • Tyres: There are legal requirements for the size, tread and pressure on your tyres – your car will need to meet those to pass
  • Lights, mirrors, and doors: Your MOT will check if all lights and mirrors are aligned correctly, plus they’ll make sure all doors can be securely closed – including the boot and the bonnet
  • Safety features: Seatbelts and airbags need to be functioning, and the seats themselves should be in decent condition too

Because an MOT is a safety check, it doesn’t cover some aspects that are still important to your car – for instance, the clutch, engine, and gearbox won’t be included. It’s a good idea to get those elements checked occasionally too – the last thing you want is for your car to break down on the way back from the MOT centre. 

How can I help my car pass its MOT?

Before you go in for your MOT, there are a couple of quick checks you can do yourself to make sure your car doesn’t fail. A lot of people fail their MOTs over fairly small issues, so here’s a checklist:

  • Make sure your car is clean: Some mechanics might refuse to even look at your car if it’s dirty or cluttered. It’s also important to clear out anything that could obstruct a driver’s view of the road – even an air freshener could make you fail your MOT if it’s blocking the windscreen
  • Check your tyres: The tread has to have a depth of at least 1.6mm. You can check this with a tyre tread gauge – or you can simply use a 20p coin. Place the coin into the tread grooves running along your tyre. If you can’t see the outer band around the edge of the coin, you’re good to go. If you can, you’ll need new tyres. Make sure the pressure’s high enough too
  • Try the exhaust: If it’s leaking or emitting visible smoke, you’re unlikely to pass an MOT – get it replaced first
  • Fuel cap: This should fit securely and not have any leaks
  • Number plates: Are they clean? Is the number clearly visible
  • Windscreen and wipers: Check for any small chips or cracks on your windscreen – damage more than 10mm across is an instant fail if it’s inside the area swept by the wipers (40mm outside). Make sure the wipers are working too, and the rubber blades aren’t damaged
  • Lights and electrics: Headlights, rear lights, indicators, fog lights, brake lights and hazard lights – get a friend or family member to stand outside the car and make sure they’re all working properly
  • Top up your screen wash: Check the brake fluid and oil levels too – if any of these are too low, you’ll fail your MOT
  • Your horn: The horn needs to be loud enough for other drivers to hear – but it’s probably best to check this one during the daytime.

What are the most common reasons for failing an MOT?

Every year, millions of cars fail their MOT – and the most common reasons aren’t always what you’d think. Most drivers know not to go into an MOT with a faulty exhaust, but other problems might be trickier to spot. Some of the most common reasons people fail their MOTs are:

  • Lights and signals: Many failures are down to faults with the lights and indicators – often it’s as simple as a blown bulb. These are often pretty easy to replace yourself though, so give your car a once-over before the MOT
  • Suspension: Faulty suspension is much easier to miss than a big crack on your windscreen or dodgy brakes. Listen out for odd clunks when you drive on uneven roads – or when you’re parked, try pushing down on each corner of your car to see if it springs back to its normal level
  • Brakes: If your brakes aren’t working properly, that could mean serious danger for yourself and other drivers. Often, though, it’s the handbrake that’s the problem. Stop your car on a slope and see if your handbrake holds it – if not, it’s not working as it should
  • Tyres: Nothing’s more important than a good set of tyres – but plenty of failed MOTs comes down to tyres that are worn out or have low pressure. Check them regularly to avoid any problems, both at the MOT centre and on the road

What happens if my car fails its MOT? 

Hopefully you’ll be able to avoid this, your car fails its MOT, you’ll be given a ‘'Refusal of an MOT Test Certificate' – this will explain what the problem is with your car, and whether it’s a major or a dangerous fault. You’ll need this certificate to get your car retested once it’s fixed up.

If the MOT centre also does repairs, you can have your car fixed onsite. Afterwards, they’ll do a partial retest – this means they only check the areas where your car failed last time. If you have your car repaired at the same garage that performed the test, the partial retest is free as long as it’s done within 10 working days. If you decide to go elsewhere, you’ll need to bring it back the next day for a partial retest.

Some MOT centres don’t offer repairs – in particular, council MOTs. This means you’ll have to pay for a retest, but if it’s done within 10 days you’ll only be charged half price. 

If your car has a dangerous fault, it’s illegal to drive it – even if your previous MOT certificate hasn’t expired yet. This means it’ll need to be repaired immediately – and if you’ve used a council MOT centre, you’ll have to pay for your car to be towed to a garage. Section copy

Can I drive home if my car fails its MOT? 

If your car fails its MOT, you’ll only be able to drive it home if there were no ‘dangerous’ problems listed in the results. However if there were any ‘dangerous’ problems your car will need to be repaired before you can drive it again.

What is an MOT advisory note? 

An MOT advisory note lets you know that there’s a minor fault with your car – it’s not serious enough to make you fail your MOT, but it could become a major problem in the future.

For instance, there could be signs of wear on your brake pads – your brakes are still working safely, but if they’re not repaired soon, it’s likely you’ll fail your next MOT. Or your tyres might be starting to wear down – they’ll still pass the 20p test, but another year of driving might make them unsafe.

It’s always a good idea to follow up on any advisory notes – it’s a good way of avoiding the hassle of a failed MOT next time round. 

Can I contest my MOT result? 

If you’d like to contest the results of your MOT, you might be able to get a second opinion. Fill out the government’s ‘Appeal an MOT test result form’ – you can find it on their website – within 14 days of your test. If they decide your car should be retested, you can book an appointment at another MOT test centre. You’ll still need to pay the full price – but if you pass the second test, you should get a full or partial refund.

Don’t make any repairs to the car once you’ve decided to contest your results – if you do, you won’t be eligible for a refund.

In general, it’s a good idea to discuss your result carefully with the MOT centre before you make an appeal, and only go ahead if you’re absolutely certain the test centre got it wrong. 

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