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Booking your car in for its annual MOT test is one of your key obligations as a driver. There are lots of laws and regulations around MOT checks and inspections, but there’s no need to be an expert on all the ins and outs of the law. Here are the key things every car owner should know about the MOT.

What is a MOT?

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport. This was the government department which came up with the idea for a test back in the 1960s. At that time, there was an increasing number of cars on British roads, not all of which were roadworthy. Originally, the MOT test only affected cars over ten years old. This was soon reduced, and now all cars which are three years old, or older, need an annual inspection.

The MOT test is all about making sure your car is safe to be on the road. There is a detailed checklist which the tester works through, examining things like lights, seatbelts, brakes or exhaust emissions. The process takes about 45 minutes.

Where Can I Get a MOT?

Not every mechanic is a qualified MOT tester, and not every garage will offer the service although most do. The easiest way to find a testing centre close to you is to look online. Many of the large chains such as Kwik-Fit or National Tyres will offer MOT tests through their outlets, as will large car retail chains like Halfords. It’s up to you where you take your car and there is no requirement to return to the same test centre each year.

Cost of MOT

The government sets maximum charges for a MOT test. For cars, this is currently £54.85 and changes in line with inflation at the start of each financial year. This is just the maximum amount which garages are allowed to charge for the service, so many choose to offer a cheaper MOT test as a way of attracting customers. You might be able to get a good deal on your MOT fee if you’re having the car serviced at the same time, or having other work done.

Timing of MOT

Cars need their first MOT three years after they were first registered with the DVLA. This isn’t necessarily the same day you first picked the car up. The easiest way of checking when your MOT is due is to go online to the DVLA website. They have a very simply to use tool which allows you to enter the car’s registration plate to see whether it currently has valid road tax and a MOT certificate, and when the next test is due.

You have a little flexibility over exactly when you book your car in for its test. There’s no real advantage to leaving the MOT to the last minute. If you book in your car three or four weeks before the current certificate expires, then the validity will just be extended for a year. So use the flexibility to your advantage by using the time to shop around for the best deal on your MOT and any other work you’re thinking about having done on your car.

Pass or Fail?

There are two main outcomes after your car is assessed by a MOT inspector. The best outcome is a pass, which confirms your car comes up to all legal standards and is safe to drive. If your car passes, the details will be updated on the DVLA website, then you just pay the fee and drive home.

If your car doesn’t come up to scratch, then a failure certificate will be issued. This obviously means that your car doesn’t meet minimum standards and needs more remedial work. You have a few options for what happens next. If your fail is classed as “major”, you have the option to pay the MOT fee and take your car away for work to be done elsewhere, then return for a retest after the work has been done. If however the failure is classed as dangerous, the old MOT is no longer valid and you can’t drive the car on the public roads.

Probably the easiest solution is to discuss the reasons for the car failing its MOT with the garage which did the work and agree with them to do the repairs right away. This might not be the cheapest option though, especially when there are lots of different faults on your car.

Penalties for not Having a MOT

Having a MOT is a legal requirement; it’s not an optional extra to car ownership. Recently, penalties for driving a car without MOT or road tax have been tightened, so if you’re caught without a MOT you could be looking at 6 points on your licence and a hefty fine too. Most police cars are fitted with special software linked directly to the DVLA database, so they can check instantly whether your car has road tax, MOT and whether you’re insured to drive it. It’s really not worth the risk of driving around without tax, insurance or MOT on your car.

Exceptions to MOT tests

For the overwhelming majority of cars on UK roads, the “after three years and every year after that” rules apply. There are however a few key exceptions, most commonly when the family car is also used as a taxi. If this is the case, there is a more stringent MOT testing schedule for taxis and other minibuses and similar types of vehicles. There is lots of information about MOT testing for taxis and minicabs online.

The other main exception is for cars which are classed as vintage vehicles over 30 years of age. After that date, cars are exempt from MOT tests as modern standards can’t really be applied to much older vehicles. However, any older cars must still be roadworthy which means that many drivers still opt for putting their car through the MOT anyway. If you’re lucky enough to have a large country estate and have cars which are never used on public roads, then you don’t need MOT certificates for those either.