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MOT Guide

You’re probably aware that every road vehicle must pass an annual MOT test. But what does an MOT actually involve? What gets checked and how much will it cost? And what happens next if your car fails? In this MOT testing guide, we’ll explain all.

What is MOT?

An MOT is your car’s equivalent of a ‘health check’. It must be carried out annually on all vehicles that are more than three years’ old, and the vehicle’s registered owner is legally responsible for ensuring this happens.

When a vehicle passes its MOT test, it’s granted an MOT certificate, known as the VT20. You can view a sample version of this document here.

You must have a valid MOT certificate, otherwise your car cannot be driven on the roads. The only exception to this is that, if your MOT has expired, you are allowed to use the vehicle to drive it to a test centre so long as this is the sole purpose of your journey. If you’re caught driving a vehicle without a valid MOT, you could be fined up to £1000. It’ll also invalidate your car insurance, so the financial burden could be several times larger even than that, should you have an accident.

If you’re looking to purchase a used car, you will want to check its MOT status, and find out when it’s next due for renewal. You’ll also need to know its MOT history. You can do this by visiting the GOV.UK website here, using the car’s details.

Once you’ve received your MOT certificate, you should store it safely with your other driving-related documents. Should you be involved in an accident, you will be asked to produce it, either or both by the Police and your insurer.

The day you receive your certificate will henceforth be your annual renewal date. Make sure you set a reminder for renewal – you can arrange text and email alerts using the GOV.UK website here.

Where can I get an MOT?

Across the UK, MOT tests can be carried out at over 21,000 authorised centres. All adhere to a set of MOT regulations, as specified in this MOT testers manual. You’ll recognise any MOT centre displaying a blue and white logo, consisting of three triangles.

Some centres will only offer testing, while many will offer servicing in-house should your vehicle fail.

Both MOT and service options are available at Inchcape’s retail centres, across all of our brands.

What does the MOT cost?

The cost of the MOT test itself can vary, but is capped by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. The current maximum MOT cost stands at £54.85 for cars and motor caravans, and £29.65 for motorbikes[i]. You will find that some centres and garages do charge a smaller MOT price than this.

Of course, if any faults are found, you will need to pay to have these corrected. This will either be at the same centre, should they offer such a service – otherwise the work must be booked in with a garage.

Depending on the circumstances and centre you choose to use, you may or may not have to pay to have your car re-tested after its initial failure and repairs. If it only requires a partial re-test due to any failure points being minor, and this happens within 10 days, you can’t be charged again.

What does the MOT include?

An MOT will inspect most, but not all, of the functioning elements of your car. It’ll check that everything that should be present is, that each component or system is in decent condition and working to an acceptable and safe standard. This list is not exhaustive, but should give you an outline of the parts and functions that will be looked at. For a more detailed breakdown, view the official MOT Inspection Manual document, as issued by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.

Body structure

Studied for excessive corrosion or damage, and for any sharp edges protruding from the bodywork.



Condition and operation of all mechanical parts assessed.



Condition and operation of all mechanical parts assessed.


Windscreen and wipers

Checked for condition. Will inspect for chips and cracks. Driver’s view of the road must be clear. Wipers checked for condition and operation.


Emissions and exhaust

Exhaust emissions studied; must fall within the vehicle’s guidelines. Exhaust checked for condition.



Checked for presence, condition and security.



All checked for presence, operation and correct colour. Head lamp aim will also be assessed.



Inspected to ensure it closes securely.


Fuel System

Checked for any leaks. Cap must fasten and seal securely.



For condition and operation. Parts checked for wear.


Tyres and wheels

For condition, including tyre tread depth.




Front doors checked, for security. Must open, close and latch correctly.



Front seats checked, for security.



Checked for presence, type, condition and operation.



Checked for operation. Must work effectively and be the correct type.


Tow bar

Checked for condition. Must not be excessively worn or corroded. Will also assess whether fitting is suitable for the size and model of the vehicle.



That the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is clearly displayed on the vehicle.


Registration plate

The presence, condition and readability of the registration plates will be assessed. These will be inspected to ensure they meet guidelines.


If any of these elements do not meet the conditions stipulated in the MOT guidelines, be it a minor or major point, this will result in a fail.


MOT failure

MOT failure is incredibly common. Around two in every five MOT tests end in failure, representing over 7 million failures in the 2015-2016 financial year[ii]. However, about a quarter of these are the result of very minor issues that can be resolved at the test centre within an hour. The test is then rerun, and these vehicles pass.

If your vehicle fails on one (or more) major points, you will not be allowed to drive it away from the test centre until the issue has been rectified - unless you’re transporting it purely for the purpose of being repaired. Depending on what the problem is, this work could take hours or even days.

In the meantime, you’ll be handed a VT30 document. This will state that your vehicle has failed, and outline the reasons for its failure. You can view a sample copy here.  

After the work is complete, the car will need to undergo either a partial or full MOT test once again, and must pass before you’re free to hit the road. Most of the time, so long as this is carried out within 10 days, the same test centre you first visited will carry out a second MOT on the vehicle for no additional cost.

Most MOT test centres, including Inchcape retail centres, will offer servicing in-house to rectify any issues. However, this is unlikely to be the case if you use your local council test centre.

Common reasons for MOT failure – and how to avoid them

If you identify any problems with your vehicle, you’ll need to get it seen to either way, but getting this done before your MOT can save you the hassle of arranging repairs at short notice and retests should your vehicle fail. If a part was unavailable, your car could be forced out of action for several days.

With some simple checks, you could massively increase your chances of driving away from the garage that same day. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, you should consider taking your car in for servicing. For more information on how to avoid the most common MOT fails, read our guide here.

Lighting and signalling

In 18.9% of all tests[iii]

By far the greatest cause of MOT inspection failure, lighting and signalling issues can be incredibly easy to rectify. All required lights are checked for operation, condition and security. You might expect that your headlamps will be tested, but so will all side lights, stop lights, indicators, hazards, rear fog lamps, number plate lamps and even your reflectors. All must be working, the correct type and colour as stipulated in the MOT guidelines, and set at the right angle in the case of your headlamps.

How to help avoid failure: Inspect and test all bulbs on your car’s exterior. If any aren’t working, have them replaced or replace them yourself. Remember to get someone else to study your lights as you drive, as being in the driver’s seat can skew your perception. A bystander can tell you exactly how your indicators and brake lights are functioning.



In 13% of all tests

As our cars’ suspension systems become ever-more advanced, this is now a leading cause of MOT test failure. Unlike other components, you can’t visibly inspect any suspension problems, so you need to be intuitive. In addition to this, suspension technology varies greatly from model to model. Your MOT tester will be looking to assess general wear and tear, identify any leaks from shock absorbers and spot any nuts that are missing.


How to help avoid failure: Applying your weight to each corner of the car and then suddenly releasing it should give you some idea of the suspension’s condition. If the car bounces repeatedly, this indicates the shock absorbers may be faulty and need inspecting. The onset of a sudden clank or rattle as you drive, particularly over bumps, is another sign your suspension needs some attention.


In 10% of all tests

To test your brakes, your MOT service centre will most likely use a roller brake tester. If brake function is not as effective as it needs to be, they’ll then work to assess the cause of the problem.

How to help avoid failure: On many vehicles, it’s possible to manually inspect the brake pads. Brake pad thickness gauges cost only a few pounds, and will help you determine whether you need to have your pads replaced before you go for your MOT. In the event of extreme wear, the pads should emit a high-pitched squeaking noise when the brake is applied, so listen out.



In 7.7% of all tests

Worn tyres can seriously affect your ability to remain in control of your vehicle. As your tyres become more worn, average stopping distances increase dramatically, particularly in wet conditions. Bulges, cuts and cracks also caused major problems.

How to help avoid failure: Check your tyres for signs of wear before you go for your MOT. To test your tread depth, place a 20p coin inside your tyre’s treads - at no point on the wheel should you be able to see the outer band of the coin. If you can, the tyre needs replacing. Also inspect for cuts and cracks.


Driver’s view of the road

In 7.2% of all tests

All drivers must have a clear and uninterrupted view of the road in all conditions. This means that the windscreen must be in good condition and the wipers effective, with nothing obscuring your view.

How to help avoid failure: Before taking your car for its MOT, ensure there are no dashcams or stickers blocking the view of the road from the driver’s seat. Inspect for any cracks or chips in the windscreen, and check the wipers are not worn – ideally you should test them and see if they can clear the screen effectively. If you do find anything that’s potentially problematic, have it seen to now.


Exhaust, fuel and emissions

In 4.3% of all tests

When looking into your fuel system and its emissions, your tester will be trying to spot any missing and deteriorated parts or leaks, as well as inspecting for excessive noise and smoke coming from the exhaust. They’ll also test the car’s emissions, to ensure they aren’t higher than they ought to be. Any of these will lead to failure.

How to help avoid failure: When you start up your engine, keep an eye out for any abnormal smoke and listen for any loud noises. These could indicate a leak, so you should get your car checked over if they arise.



In 2.9% of all tests

When you go for an MOT, much of your steering mechanism will be assessed for wear and damage, and its responsiveness will be tested.

How to help avoid failure: Much like suspension, assessing the state of your steering mechanism will require intuition. If something feels wrong, it’s always a good idea to have it checked over. In terms of what you can inspect visually, your steering wheel should be in a good condition – free from modification, cracks and fractures. If adjustable, check your wheel position can lock effectively and feels secure.



In 2% of all tests

It’s common knowledge that every seat in your car must be fitted with a working seatbelt.

How to help avoid failure: Take each of your vehicle’s seatbelts, ensure the belt extends and shortens with ease, and that it locks when tugged. Check that they latch in the plug properly, before giving them a sharp tug to test. For each, inspect the full length of the belt for signs of wear and damage.


Body structure

In 1.4% of all tests

Naturally, over time, the body of your car will deteriorate. But this should not happen to the extent that any parts of the body of your car become insecure, sharp or significantly corroded. Any of these would lead to an MOT failure.

How to avoid failure: Give the entire body of your car a visual once over, checking that it feels secure, there’s nothing protruding and no major areas of corrosion. If in doubt, seek advice from a local servicing centre.


Reg Plates and VINs

In 0.8% of all tests

For all vehicles, registration plates must be present, secure, clear to read and unobscured. There are very specific rules around how letters on any plate should be formatted and spaced.

How to help avoid failure: Give your registration plates a clean, should they need it. Under no circumstances should you alter or customise an existing plate. If you’re using a personalised plate, check it meets the DVLA’s rules.


Other top tips

  • Test your car’s horn. It should be a single, loud tone that easily attracts the attention of pedestrians and other motorists. If it doesn’t, have it repaired.
  • The front seats in your car must be secure. Test that they adjust and lock as they should, and that there’s no slippage as the car moves.
  • Believe it or not, an unclean or cluttered car could lead to an MOT failure. Always clear out your car before taking it for its MOT test, giving the windows a wipe and disposing of any rubbish.

If you require an MOT or car servicing, don’t hesitate to contact your local Inchcape retail centre today.

[i] https://www.gov.uk/getting-an-mot/mot-test-fees


[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/570460/dvsa-mot-03-mot-class-3-and-4-vehicles-initial-failures-by-defect-category__2_.csv/preview