The MOT system in the UK is all about keeping dangerous cars off the road. If you live in England, Wales or Scotland, your car needs an annual check after it’s three years old. In Northern Ireland, the checks are still annual, but cars have to be four years old before they need their first MOT check. Unlike other car-related issues such as your insurance and your road tax, nobody writes to you to remind you that your MOT is due. It’s up to you to remember, and book your test in plenty of time. There are stiff fines for driving a car with an expired MOT, and you might get points on your licence too.
When issued, the MOT certificate is valid for a year. The expiry date will be clearly stated on the paper. However, there is a bit of flexibility in the timing of the check. If you have a new MOT test within the four weeks of the current certificate expiring, the certificate will be extended by another year. For example, your MOT expires on 30th September. You book your car in for testing on 16th September, 2 weeks before the certificate runs out. If your car passes, the new certificate will state that it expires on 30th September of the following year, rather than a year from the date of the test. This means you’re not losing out by having your car tested a few weeks or days early.
MOT test centres are busy places and it’s very unlikely that you’ll just be able to turn up and find a mechanic free to do your test right away. Booking in advance is essential. Given that you’re not losing out by having your test done up to four weeks early, book it as soon as you can. Some larger chains of garages will have online bookings, but with a smaller MOT testing station you might have to call them up to book the car in.
There are thousands of MOT testing centres across the UK, ranging from large city centre garages employing dozens of mechanics through to small, one-man-band garages in rural locations. All centres which are registered to provide MOT tests have to go through the same vetting process and put their testers through the same training. So in that sense, no one centre is better or worse than the next. However, there are likely to be centres which are more convenient for you in terms of location, or opening hours. There is an extensive list of all approved centres here. All approved MOT centres have the same official sign outside, three white triangles on a blue background. Don’t be tempted to try to cut costs by going somewhere not registered as a MOT testing station. Your certificate won’t be valid.
The government sets out the maximum price which MOT centres are allowed to charge. As of 2019, this is £54.85 for a car and £26.95 for a motorbike. Fees are higher for taxis, minibuses and other commercial vehicles. The fee set by the government is just a maximum though, and garages are free to charge whatever they like under the limit. Many will offer a special deal to regular customers, or do the MOT free if you’re having the car serviced at the same time. If you can be flexible about times you might also be able to get a reduced price; mornings are more popular than afternoons, for example.
The best-case scenario is that your car sails through its MOT test with no problems. If that happens, you’ll be given a piece of paper stating the result and the garage will upload the result into the DVLA database. You can safely forget about booking another MOT test for at least 11 months.
If your car fails, then there are a few things which might happen next. If you’ve left the car at the garage while the tests are carried out, the most common course of action is for the garage to give you a call and describe what’s happened. There are two categories of failure: major and dangerous.
A major fail is something which needs to be fixed right away, but which doesn’t make your car dangerous to drive. You have a few options in this scenario. The easiest option is to discuss the required repairs with the garage which did the MOT and get them to fix it for you. The car can then be retested and driven home, assuming the garage can do the work straight away. You could also pick the car up and take it somewhere else and get them to fix it. As long as you take the car back to the original testing station within 10 days of the first test, they can perform a quick partial retest instead of running the whole test from the beginning.
If however the failure is classed as dangerous, your car is no longer roadworthy. You can’t drive it legally on the public roads, even if the old MOT hasn’t run out yet. Again, you could give the MOT testing garage the go-ahead to do the repair work and then put the car through its MOT again. You could also arrange for another mechanic to look at it, but if you’re planning on moving it to another garage you’re not allowed to drive it there. Once the fault is rectified, is goes through a partial restest in the same way as before.
Since 2005, MOT information has been stored digitally online. This can be useful information if you’re thinking about buying a used car. Just use the registration number to search online. You can see when a current MOT expires, and the results of previous MOT tests.