The Mot Test Explained

Tim Alcock

When it comes to the MOT, people are often flummoxed by what is being assessed, and how to make sure they are complaint with the law.
A recent survey of 1,000 car owners undertaken by highlighted that only 6% of drivers are confident they know exactly what is checked during an MOT. A shocking 77% admitted that they have little to no knowledge of what the test involves.
Younger drivers seem to be those least likely to understand the testing process, with 1 in 10 18-to-24-year-olds (11%) knowing exactly what’s assessed, compared to 1 in 5 over-55s (22%).
This data is quite worrying, given that the MOT is an annual legal requirement for any roadworthy vehicle that is over three years of age (four years in Northern Ireland). 1 in 10 drivers across the UK (12%) have confessed to driving a car they knew did not have a valid MOT certificate, and this number rises to 1 in 3 in Northern Ireland (33%).

What is the MOT?

Despite the confusion surrounding the MOT, the process itself is quite straightforward. An MOT test must be carried out by one of the 21,000 authorised test centres around the UK. If you’re struggling to find an authorised mechanic in your area, contact your council who will be able to direct you to your local council test centre. Authorised centres will display a blue sign with three white triangles to indicate that they are allowed to carry out MOT tests.
The MOT does not check your engine, clutch or gearbox, but will assess the following:

  • Vehicle ID number
  • Licence plates
  • Lights
  • Steering and suspension
  • Wipers and washer liquid
  • Windscreen
  • Horn
  • Seatbelts and seats
  • Fuel system
  • Emissions
  • Bodywork
  • Doors
  • Mirrors
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Brakes

Although the test covers a lot, they aren’t as time-consuming as you might think. The average MOT lasts between 45 and 60 minutes. Costs also don’t have to be extravagant. The current maximum price of a MOT set by the DVLA is £54.85 for a car or motor caravan. Many garages will offer tests for much lower than this price. Costs only start to rocket upwards if problems are found with your vehicle.

What can you do to help your car pass?

Top up your screen wash! A number of common reasons for failing your MOT are easily avoided. One of simplest faults to fix is a lack of windscreen wash. Before taking your car into the test centre make sure you have topped up your washer fluid.
Clean your car. This applies inside and out. Wipe down all your windows and mirrors, ensuring full visibility from your driver’s seat. Declutter your vehicle and make sure all footwells and seats are clear, and that your boot is not overloaded. Check underneath seats as well and remove any items that are at risk of rolling forward and interfering with the peddles.
Remove your stickers. A lot of drivers like to support favourite causes by displaying stickers in their rear windows. Doing so, however, might cause you to fail your MOT as they obstruct part of your view. Take down all stickers before the test, just to be on the safe side.
Check your licence plates. It is a legal requirement that your plates must be clear and legible at all times whilst on the road. Wipe them down with a damp cloth so they are not obstructed by dirt, check they are not coming loose and, if you have a personalised plate, double-check that it conforms to DVLA requirements.
Paradise by the dashboard light. A recent addition to the MOT test, your dashboard warning lights will now be tested, so make sure you do not have any that are lit up and try to familiarise yourself with what each of them means.
Inspect your tyres. Both tyre pressure and tread are tested in the MOT. Tyres should be checked at least once a month, but’s data shows currently 1 in 10 Brits never think about examining them. Low tyre pressure is easily rectified at your local garage, and if your tyre tread has worn too thin consider buying new tyres before your MOT as it is likely to work out cheaper. To check if your tread has worn too low, put a 20p piece into the lowest tread depth on your tyre. If you cannot see the outer rim of the 20p the tyres should be safe to drive on.
Upright seats. Before taking your car in, return your car seats to an upright position and quickly check your seatbelts are working. You can do this by doing them up and giving them a sharp pull. If they are in working order they should jam in place.
Check your headlights. Have a quick run around your car to see if all your lights are working properly. If you find any bulbs that have gone, swap them out before taking the car in for its MOT. Currently, two-thirds of British car owners (60%) do not know how to change a bulb in their car’s lights, but this is a valuable skill to learn as it will save you both time and money.
Fill up on fuel. Your car can be turned away from the MOT test centre if it is too low on fuel. Cars also tend to perform better with a full tank so make sure to drop by the petrol station on your way to the garage
Top up your oil. The oil levels in your car will be tested during your MOT and should be checked by you every six months. Topping up your oil is easy, and far cheaper to do at home rather than paying a mechanic to do it!
Simple problems are behind almost half of MOT failures. By taking these easy steps you can help your car pass its MOT and rectify simple problems for far less money than it would cost to pay a professional for the same service.
About the author
Tim Alcock is Head of Online at, the UK’s number-one resource for any vehicle leasing, lease finance or contract hire needs.

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