MOT tests are the annual test to make sure your car is roadworthy and safe to drive. Most vehicles get their first MOT test once they have been registered for three years, although there are more frequent tests for some commercial vehicles. Most drivers will have to navigate the MOT process at some stage, whether they are arranging a test for their own car, or checking MOT status online for a second-hand car which they are thinking about buying. The system is fairly complex and anyone who wishes to qualify as a MOT tester has to go through extensive training first. From a driver’s point of view though, you don’t really need to understand everything which goes into performing a MOT test – the basics of keeping on top of the routine servicing and maintenance of your vehicle is all that you need to get to grips with.
However, there are some administrative issues connected with MOT tests which everyone should be aware of, such as knowing how to find out when your MOT is due, and how to look online to make sure a car which you are considering buying has a MOT and what it failed on previously. One of these issues is knowing what the process is for cancelling a MOT test.
If you have booked an appointment with your local garage to get a MOT test done and then decide that you wish to cancel, the procedure will depend on the individual garage. This is because the arrangement is with the garage for a service in the same way as you might ask the garage to fit new tyres or service your car. Most garages will be happy to allow you some flexibility in moving your appointment if something comes up which means you can no longer make it. It’s better for them to allow you to rearrange your slot rather than losing your business completely. Some of the bigger chains, and especially those which allow you to book online, might have terms and conditions which specify that you need to give a set amount of notice, or pay a penalty charge. Nobody likes reading pages and pages of small print when booking and paying for a service online but if your plans regularly change and you think you may need to cancel at short notice, it’s worth checking or at least having the conversation with the garage when you make the booking.
The one thing to bear in mind is that it is a criminal offence to drive around in your vehicle without a MOT check. Most police cars are now fitted with software linked to the DVLA database which will inform the police when they drive past a car which has no tax, MOT or insurance. If you keep cancelling your MOT appointment and the current certificate expires, then you risk being stopped and fined. You have four weeks before the date of expiry of your current certificate to get a new test done and the date extended for a further year, so there really is no advantage in leaving things to the last few days, having to cancel because of unforeseen circumstances, and not having time to rearrange before the MOT expires.
Minimise the risk of having to cancel a MOT appointment by carefully choosing where to get your MOT done in the first place. You as a driver have a free choice over where you book your MOT test. You don’t have to book it in at the same garage which did the MOT last year, or the one which is closest to your home postcode. Many drivers find it more convenient to book an appointment close to their work address, for example, or close to a station they use to get to work. Many garages will want to keep your car for at least a couple of hours, so make sure you have planned your day so that you can manage without your car for that time. Most garages will be able to work around your commitments, such as being able to have your car back to you before it’s time to get the kids from school.
Once your MOT certificate has been issued then you can put it out of your mind for the rest of the year. If you are planning to keep your car for at least another year, then your only job is to keep your eye on the expiry date, and make sure you book your next year’s MOT in plenty of time. The DVLA has a reminder service but you have to opt in to receive the reminders, it’s not automatic. If you do subscribe to reminders, you’ll receive an email four weeks before the current certificate expires.
It’s also important to bear in mind that a MOT test applies to the car, not the individual. So if you sell the car to someone else or trade it in against a newer model, the MOT certificate is still valid. The new owner can carry on using the vehicle with the MOT which you arranged and paid for until it expires, at which point it’s their responsibility to organise another one. Once you have sold the car, the matter is out of your hands and in a private sale, your buyer can’t come back to you several months later asking why a car has failed a MOT, or asking you to pay money towards putting right any faults.
Part of this confusion around cancelling MOT certificates comes from how the system works. It’s fairly standard for dealers or second hand car sales showrooms to put cars through a new MOT test before putting them up for sale as a marketing tool. This is especially the case when there is only two or three months left to run on the first MOT certificate. There is no legal requirement for them to do this; they are using the “12 months MOT” as a marketing tool, a way of convincing prospective buyers that the vehicle they are thinking of buying is as safe and roadworthy as it can be. Private sellers may choose to do the same, but don’t have to.
Once you have sold a vehicle privately, through an auction or as a part exchange, there is no need to phone up the DVLA regarding the MOT. You can’t phone up the DVLA and request a refund for months you have still got outstanding on your MOT certificate as you might for other motoring expenses.
Another confusing aspect of all of this is that the same rules don’t apply to the road fund licence, also known as the car tax. When you sell a car to someone else, or trade it in, then the tax doesn’t transfer with it. If you have paid your year’s car tax up front and then sell the car the month after, then when you tell the DVLA that you have sold the vehicle and give them the details of the new owner, then you will receive a refund for the proportion of tax which you have paid in advance and not used. At the moment of transfer, it is then the responsibility of the new owner to deal with getting the car taxed before they drive it away. There is usually a similar system for getting back insurance premiums if you have paid for a year upfront and then decide to sell the vehicle on.
MOT is different in that you are not really paying for the right to use your car over the year. Instead, the MOT test is a fee for the time taken by the mechanic to carry out the inspection. This is a fixed, capped cost for a service and can’t be refunded. Think of it as similar to paying for any other service like having your hair done or a dental check-up; you can’t apply for a refund on those sorts of charges either.
Perhaps a more common scenario than trying to cancel a MOT is ending up in a situation where your MOT has expired. This might be because you’ve simply taken your eye off the ball and have forgotten to book a slot before it expires. In other cases, drivers leave it to the last couple of days to book a new MOT test, and when the car fails, the garage can’t fit it in to have the remedial work done before the certificate expires. In these situations the MOT is “cancelled” in the sense that the MOT doesn’t exist anymore. It’s also a fairly serious situation legally speaking, and shouldn’t be pushed to the back burner.
If you are buying a car which doesn’t have a valid MOT test certificate, then it is up you to negotiate with the seller about a way forward. If you are buying from a dealer or a large showroom business, then it’s worth asking whether they will put the car through its MOT before you pick it up. If they employ mechanics they are likely to agree – it’s not costing them anything, and by handing over a car with a full year’s MOT, they are giving the purchaser peace of mind. If you are buying privately, or from a very small car lot without any garage facilities then it’s up to you to organise somewhere to have the inspection done. The law is very clear about what you are allowed to do in terms of driving the car without a valid MOT and as discussed above, if you drive around without a MOT you are likely to be stopped and fined so it’s not worth the risk. The one exception to this is when you are directly on your way to a pre-booked MOT appointment. You could, for example, pick a car up in Manchester from a private seller, and drive it home to Birmingham to a MOT appointment at your local, trusted garage. If the police stop you on the way home for not having a MOT, they will allow you to continue on your way as long as you have something to prove that you have an appointment booked, such as an email on your phone or a confirmation text message. If you’ve just made an appointment verbally on the phone, you can expect the police to phone and check.
We appreciate this is a lot of information so let’s just go through a basic summary of the main points which you need to know.
Remember also that you’re not on your own in all of this. The experts in knowing the MOT testing process are the mechanics who spend all day, every day, carrying out MOT inspections. It’s their job to know the system inside out, and should be able to give decent guidance about booking your MOT test for a car you already own, and what your responsibilities are when buying a car which doesn’t currently have a valid MOT.
Mechanics will also be able to explain what happens if your car fails a MOT test, and whether or not you are still legally allowed to drive while the remedial work is carried out. This isn’t always as clear-cut as you may think, and will depend whether the mechanic has diagnosed a dangerous fault or not.