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What is MOT Testing?

The MOT (Ministry of Transport) test is annual vehicle safety exam, like a medical checkup for autos, required in Great Britain for vehicles over three years old. Ambulances, taxis, limousines and vans are tested every year. You can be fined up to £1,000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MOT.

The name is a little confusing because there is no longer a Ministry of Transport—it’s now called the Department for Transport—but the name stuck, so there it is. Both the test and resulting safety certification are simply referred to as the “MOT”.

What tests are included in the MOT?

Some of the items included in MOT testing include:

    • Headlamps and turn signals
    • Horn, windshield wipers
    • Steering
    • Suspension
    • Brakes
    • Tyres and wheels
    • Seat belts and other safety features
    • Body and frame
    • Exterior structures including spoilers, bumpers and mirror housings
    • Exhaust, fuel and emissions
    • Driver’s view of the road

The test does not cover the condition of the engine, clutch or gearbox.

There is a common misconception that MOT inspections provide proof of mileage. However, this is not true, so tampering of an odometer would not be discovered or precluded by a MOT. Mileage is recorded during a test, but the inspectors do not test the odometer and therefore cannot verify the actual mileage.

Who does the MOT testing?

There are about 20,000 repair garages and 53,000 testers in Great Britain authorized to do MOT testing.

Most qualified stations know that a typical test will generate advisories for repair, and are standing by to help you with the necessary repairs and maintenance to generate a first or second-try pass. As a BMW specialist in Chelmsford, puts it, “Common sense will prevail.”

The best way to earn a first pass in each MOT test is to take your vehicle in for regularly scheduled maintenance to a garage that will always keep an eye out for possible MOT-related problems and give you advance warning.

What happens if my vehicle fails the test?

According to UKMOT.com, the most common causes of test failure are lights, followed by tyres, brakes, and cracked windshields. As the website says, “The biggest reason for failure was lighting. A blown bulb! How hard is it to change a bulb?”

Another common cause for failure are wheels that are an improper size. The road holding capability, speedometer and gearing are all designed for a specific size wheel. Changing wheel size can cause damage, errors and safety concerns and will most certainly result in MOT failure.

Since 2007, between 50-65% of vehicles fail their first MOT test, often resulting in the hassle of rescheduling a test (although some garages perform while-you-wait testing) and additional fees.

If your vehicle fails the MOT test, you can attempt a retest within 10 working days. There may be a charge payable. Generally, if the vehicle remains at the test station for repair, it can have a free partial re-test within 10 working days after the original test. For some minor items, if the vehicle is corrected and returned to the same test station the next day, then there is no fee for a retest.

Complete information on retests, and a list of easily correctable items that qualify for retesting without fees is available in the Gov.UK publication Getting an MOT.

How to prepare for a MOT test

Nearly half of the faults found on a MOT test are easily preventable, so perform periodic checks and maintenance on your vehicle. Make sure you have checked basic items like lights, wiper blades and tyres so that your vehicle has the best chance of passing.

Some checks can be readily performed by even the most unmechanical drivers. Sitting in your vehicle, check your hand brake or footbrake, steering wheel, windshield, seat belts and doors. Make sure your mirrors are securely mounted and adjustable for individual drivers. Have someone standing outside the car help you check your head lamps, brake lights and turn signals. Make sure your exhaust system is working properly and that nothing on the car is loose or in danger of breaking off.

The complete inspection manuals for various categories of vehicles is available from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and can be found online here.