How to check your car’s MOT status and what to do when it runs out

Drivers around the UK are being urged to leave plenty of time when trying to book an MOT this autumn.

Following the end of the Covid-related MOT extension, an extra 4.5 million vehicles are expected to be presented for the test before the end of the year, leading to potential backlogs and delays.

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With the automatic extension, millions of drivers were able to forget about the annual roadworthiness test for a few months but might now be struggling to work out when their car’s MOT expires.

To help, we’ve rounded up answers to the most common questions around the MOT, ranging from how to check and expiry date and what it costs to how long it takes and what it covers, so here is our guide to everything you need to know about the MOT.

What is the MOT?

The MOT test is an annual check of a vehicle’s roadworthiness, essentially to ensure that it meets basic standards for safety.

Different vehicles undergo different tests, with separate categories for cars, motorbikes, and large passenger and goods vehicles.

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The MOT is a test of your vehicle's roadworthiness (Photo: Shutterstock)

When is my car's MOT due?

Cars are exempt from the MOT for the first three years of their lives but then must be tested once a year until they reach 40 years old. After this, they are exempt from the MOT, although you can still present them for testing.

Your car’s first MOT will be due on the third anniversary of its first registration and the pass certificate remains valid for 12 months from that date.

You can submit your car for a test up to one month (minus a day) before the current MOT runs out and keep the same renewal date. For example, if your MOT runs out on May 15, the earliest you can get an MOT to keep the same renewal date for next year is April 16. If you take your vehicle for its MOT on April 14 the expiry date changes to April 13 the following year.

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Remember, if it fails the test before the renewal date, the old certificate is still valid, but the vehicle might not be safe to drive.

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The cars most and least likely to pass their first MOT

How much does it cost?

The maximum price a garage can charge for a Class 4 (car) MOT is £54.85, as set by the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency). However, some garages and dealerships will offer cheaper tests as a way to attract customers (and ensure they get their business if any repair work is needed).

How long does the MOT take?

There is no set length of time for an MOT test but, according to MOT specialists Halfords Autocentres, it will typically take between 45 minutes and an hour.

Can anyone carry out an MOT?

No, the test can only be carried out at an accredited MOT testing station and by a qualified MOT tester who has undergone specific training.

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All test centres will display the MOT symbol of three intersecting white triangles on a blue background and while they are no longer required to display the qualification certificates of all their MOT technicians many still choose to do so.

All MOT centres must display this symbol (Photo: Shutterstock)

What does the MOT cover?

The MOT test looks at the mechanical and electrical operation of your car to ensure it meets certain safety standards.

The test changed in 2018 to include new fault categories and stricter emissions testing.

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The technician will either grant a pass certificate or issue a failure notice on the grounds of major or dangerous faults. Minor faults do not constitute a fault but act as an advisory of issues that will need to be addressed soon.

A full list of items checked can be found on the DVSA website but major areas covered include the structural integrity of the vehicle; braking, suspension and steering; fuel system; tyre condition; lighting; exhaust system and emissions; seats; horn and registration plates.

What can I check myself?

Some issues are pretty hard to spot to the untrained eye but many failures are easily avoided.

The 10 most common reasons for MOT failures include issues with lights, tyres, brakes, suspension and visibility. Many of these can be avoided by carrying out some basic maintenance, and the DVSA gives the following list of items it recommends drivers check themselves:

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the windscreen, windows and mirrors are cleanall lights workthe brakes workengine oilwater level in the radiator or expansion tankbrake fluid levelbatterywindscreen washer fluid leveltyres - they must have the correct tread depth and be free of cuts and defects

How do I check when my MOT is due?

You should be given a paper copy of the pass certificate after each test, which includes the expiry date.

If you’ve lost this or can’t be bothered rummaging around in your filing, the DVSA has a tool for checking your car’s MOT status as well as its MOT and safety recall history.

Can I drive a car without an MOT?

No. An MOT is a legal requirement and if you are caught driving a car without a valid MOT certificate you can be fined £1,000.

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Despite what some people might tell you, there is no MOT grace period after its expiry date.

The only times you can legally drive without an MOT are if you are driving the car to an MOT testing station to have a pre-booked test carried out, if you are taking it to be repaired, or if the vehicle is more than 40 years old, and thus exempt from the test.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site The Scotsman

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