21 April 2016

MOTs – a guide for young drivers

This week we’re focussing on MOTs, with the aim of making them less daunting for younger, newly qualified drivers who haven’t owned a car for long.

MOT stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’, a government department which no longer exists and never was as exciting as the Ministry of Sound. The snappy, three-letter acronym has been held onto for referring to the annual test some cars are legally required to be put through.

Which cars need an MOT?

Currently, cars only need to be booked in for an MOT test once they reach 3 years of age, meaning that at the time this blog post was written, cars registered in early 2013 were just starting to be due their first MOT. The test is legally required every year thereafter.

What does the MOT actually test?

It provides an official ‘snapshot’ of a car’s roadworthiness, safety standards and environmental performance on the day of the MOT test. A vehicle can of course fall below the required standards after being tested, but the next MOT test will pick up such problems. Perhaps surprisingly, MOTs do not assess a car’s engine, gearbox, clutch or certain other major parts. MOTs are different to services, which check a car in much more thorough detail, replacing various things like oil, air filters and brake fluid. The MOT test focusses on:

  • Brakes
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Exhaust emissions
  • Bodywork
  • Lights (including indicators and fog lights)
  • Steering
  • Suspension
  • The driver’s view of the road (windscreen including wipers and washers, mirrors, etc)
  • Seatbelts
m o t 1


How much does an MOT test cost?

Because it’s a test devised and put in place by the government, they have capped MOT prices. The most any MOT test station (also called a ‘test centre’ and indicated by a blue sign with three white triangles) can charge to test a standard car is £54.85 and no VAT is added.

MOT dates explained

Once your car has reached the third anniversary of its registration date (the paperwork that should have been supplied with it will tell you when this was), you need to book it in for an MOT. Once it’s passed, the ‘pass’ certificate lasts for one year. You can, however, book the next MOT ‘a month minus a day’ before the certificate’s expiry date, without losing the original expiry date. If your MOT runs out on October 1st, for example, you can book it for September 2nd, and the following year’s due date will still be October 1st.

If your car’s MOT has expired

The only places you will legally be allowed to drive your car to are a garage to get it repaired or to your nearest MOT test station to get it put through the test.

Don’t drive a car that has no MOT

Driving a car that isn’t covered by a valid MOT certificate is against the law and could result in you being fined £1,000, which might even be more than the car’s worth, so it’s just not worth the risk. Your car must have a valid MOT for it to be covered by insurance.

Can you watch your car being tested?

Yes, many test centres provide a viewing area from which customers can watch their cars being put through the MOT test. If you want to watch the mechanic for whatever reason, you mustn’t distract or feed them information, though.

If your car fails its MOT

Don’t despair. Government statistics show that roughly 38% of cars and small vans fail their initial MOT and it’s often because of relatively minor things like windscreen wipers not being in good condition or a tyre needs replacing. If your car fails its MOT, it’s not unusual. After all, hundreds of parts are assessed. Bear in mind that modifications typically result in MOT failures, but Carrot doesn’t cover modified cars anyway.

m o t 2


Repairs and retests

After issuing you with a VT30 ‘fail’ certificate, the test centre will tell you what repairs need carrying out so that your car will pass the MOT retest. You can leave your car at the test station, if they are able to do the repairs there, or alternatively you can drive it home to repair, or take it to another garage. Once repaired, take your car straight back to the original test centre that failed it, within 10 days, where they will retest only the parts that caused the failure, charging you a reduced retest fee. The government has published a list of certain parts which, if repaired or replaced within one working day, mean you won’t have to pay any retest fee. If you leave the retest longer than 10 days from the failure, you’ll have to pay for a full MOT again.

If you disagree with a ‘fail’

Drivers who believe their car should not have failed its MOT can appeal by contacting the DVSA within 14 days of the test.


Sometimes, a car can pass its MOT test but the print-out provided by the garage will include one or more advisory notices. Based on the discretion of each MOT test centre and mechanic, advisories are things that need addressing and fixing within the next 12 months, despite them not failing the latest MOT. They may include brake discs showing signs of corrosion, tyres that are approaching the minimum legal limit or even seemingly weird things like ‘fluffy dice obscuring the driver’s view”.

Love your car

To give your car a better chance of passing its next MOT, you or somebody you trust can check it over beforehand, replacing any bulbs, windscreen wipers or other minor components that are in bad condition, along with topping up coolant and screenwash. Some garages also offer MOT ‘pre-tests’ where they carry out a mini service and get your car prepared for its MOT, so that it should pass first time.

We hope you’ve found this MOT guide for young drivers useful. If you have any questions or other information to share regarding MOTs, get in touch on Twitter or Facebook

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.