The Definitive MOT Checklist: Your One-Stop Shop To A Pass

Chloe Murphy 9 minutes Published: 24/03/2022

Mike and Phil are watching the football when a text pings up on his phone.

MOT reminders: The MOT for 116SPR is due by 17 August 2021. Book a test at an approved MOT garage.

Mike groans - he forgot all about his MOT. His car has been acting like a stroppy teenager, and he’s pretty sure it’s on its way to a fail. Even worse, now he’s missed the winning goal. Figures.

“You should check your car before you go in, mate,” Phil suggests. “I didn’t last time and when mine failed it cost a bomb to fix and retest.”

“What do I need to check?” Mike asks, slumping down into his seat. 

Phil shrugs. “Dunno, mate. I never bothered to look it up.” 

Mike rolls his eyes. Well, he’s definitely going to fail now.

Since you're on this blog, it must be that joyous, stress-free time of year for you too: your annual MOT test is due. 

With just over 1 in 3 cars failing their MOT test first time, we created this comprehensive MOT checklist to keep you on the right track. If only Phil gave this a read before he booked himself in for his test!

With this guide, you can drop off your car at the test centre feeling confident that you've prepared as well as you can.

What is the MOT test?

The Ministry of Transport (MOT) test is an annual check to assess how roadworthy your vehicle is. By following a set of strict criteria devised by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), it acts as a preventative measure to reduce accidents on the road.

An MOT test is a legal requirement for all cars over three years old in England, Scotland, and Wales, but four if you're a lucky Northern Ireland resident. Without fail, your car should be tested every single year.

You're exempt from MOT testing only if:

  • Your car is under 3 years old (great if you're leasing a factory-fresh model!).
  • Your car was manufactured/registered 40+ years ago and it has not been substantially changed.

What is on the tester's MOT checklist?

The tester's MOT checklist is extremely comprehensive, and they'll examine almost every inch of your car. It's good to know what's on their agenda so you can keep your car in good working order, and make sure you’re meeting all minimum standards throughout the year.

During the MOT test, your tester will categorise issues they find under three main categories: dangerous, major, and minor. If they flag a dangerous or major issue, it's a big fat MOT fail

For minor categories, you’ll still get your MOT certificate, but you should have the faults looked at ASAP.

We could spend all day outlining each and every thing your tester is on the lookout for, but that would make for one long winded-article!

Instead, we'll summarise the main areas they examine for you:

  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and number plate.
  • Exhaust system (and your exhaust emissions).
  • Fuel system (ensuring it's free from leaks and the fuel cap is on securely).
  • Lights (including brake lights, warning lights, headlamp, hazard lights and registration plate light).
  • Seats and seatbelts.
  • Power steering, suspension and brake system (get that stiff handbrake fixed!)
  • Wiper blades, washers and windscreen.
  • Bodywork (looking for excessive corrosion and sharp edges).
  • Car horn (time to ditch that dodgy novelty Dukes of Hazzard horn tune).
  • Tyres (be sure to check for any bulges, tyre pressure and tread depth beforehand)

You can check out our “what is checked in an MOT?” post for more detail.

Electric car MOTs

There are a ton of cost-saving benefits to electric cars but there’s no avoiding your annual electric car MOT just like any other vehicle over 3 years old. 

The MOT tester will run through a series of checks almost identical to a regular vehicle, with the main difference being that your car won’t require an emissions test.

The MOT should cost the same, as EVs fall under the same category as a regular car for max cost purposes, but you may benefit from a slightly faster test as there’s less to check! 

Before the MOT

There are a few things to tick off your checklist before you even get to the MOT test centre. We’ve outlined them below.

#1 Find out your MOT due date

There are two ways you can find out when your next MOT test is required. 

For the drivers amongst us who actually keep a semi-organised storage system, you can glance over your current MOT certificate. Draw your eyes to the heading "Expiry Date" about halfway down the page, and there you go.

If, like us, you have no idea where you dumped your MOT test certificate, then there's no need to panic. Just pop your registration plate number and vehicle make into the MOT due date checker, and it'll return the status of your MOT in seconds.

You can get your car MOT test done up to a month before your existing MOT certificate expires, and this is especially advisable if you're anticipating it failing. If it fails you can still use your previous MOT certificate until it expires, giving you time to get the necessary repairs done before it becomes illegal to roam the roads. 

For example, say your MOT expires on 1st September 2021. You can book a new MOT test on 1st August. If you fail this August test, you have until 1st September to get repairs and book and pass another test before it becomes illegal to drive it. Just be sure not to drive your car with any dangerous issues like faulty brake pedals. 

If you don't trust yourself to make an MOT test appointment on time, you can register for an MOT reminder like Mike did. With this free service, you'll get a text or email around a month beforehand.

#2 Find an MOT test centre and book your test

Your annual MOT is a vital check to approve your car is safe to be on the road, so it absolutely has to be done by a fully-qualified and authorised MOT tester.

Don't let your wife's cousin's friend's son who is an apprentice mechanic convince you they can do your MOT test. MOT testers are fully qualified professionals that have to meet certain eligibility criteria, and pass a DVSA MOT demonstration test, so there’s no question your car is in safe hands.

There are over 20,000 MOT test centres with these qualified testers across the UK, and you can even look up your closest MOT test centre online, so it's easy to find a reputable garage to carry out the MOT test for you. 

You can have your car tested at most garages or visit a local council test centre. Some people think they’re more likely to pass going to a council centre, since the centre has no financial interest in ordering repairs. It's up to you which one you pick (provided it’s not your wife's cousin's friend's son).

#3 Find out the MOT cost

MOTs may be compulsory, but this doesn’t mean the Government is going to fork out for your car to be checked over! 

The good news is that it's actually not too pricey. The cost of an MOT test will vary depending on the type of vehicle you have, but there is a maximum cost you can be charged. 

For Bill on his motorcycle, it'll be no more than a cool £29.65. For frantic parents Sandra and Rob with their 8-passenger seat minivan, it'll be a maximum of £54.85.

#4 Conduct a pre mot checklist

Nobody wants to head in for an MOT with failure at the back of their mind. A pre MOT check is the best way to get an idea how your car’s MOT will go, as it involves checking over many of the same components your mechanic will.

With some of the most common MOT failures being issues that are incredibly simple to fix (like checking nothing obscures your view of the road, topping up screenwash and brake fluid, and shining your registration plates), carrying out your own brief MOT test beforehand can save you a world of time and money. 

Check out our guide to doing a pre MOT check to help you on your way to an MOT certificate.

#5 Gather things to take with you

Luckily, if organisation isn’t your forte, you don’t have to worry about gathering every single car related paper you’ve got. 

In this lovely digital age, the list of what you need to take to an MOT is relatively short. Your test centre will likely be able to access all the documents they need online, so there's really no need for you to go armed with a full ring binder.

There are exceptions. For example, if it’s your car’s first MOT, or its first MOT since changing the registration plates, you’ll need to bring your V5C logbook. 

To avoid any doubt, check in advance with your testing centre whether they require you to bring original documents with you.

#6 Decide how you'll kill time

It typically takes 45 to 60 minutes to carry out the full MOT,  so you’ll want to decide in advance how you're going to spend the time. If you’re within walking distance of a garage, it’s an ideal way to tick something off your list on your lunch break.

But if your garage is out in the sticks with no data coverage, you may want to bring company or some reading, as they won’t actually let you sit in the car while they run their checks. 

Relax, and take advantage of the free tea and coffee (and hopefully biscuits).

After the MOT test

If everything goes to plan, you’ll not have to do much when your MOT test is done. If any issues are flagged, you’ll have to think about what to do.

#1 Have a plan of action for failing 

If you’re given a big fat MOT fail, you’ll be handed the dreaded VT30 "refusal" form, highlighting all the reasons you failed. Your plan of action from there will depend on how severe your car defects are.

Under new MOT guidelines, you’ll fail under either a dangerous or major category. If the reasons you failed fall under the major category, you can still drive your car around if your current MOT is still in date. With dangerous faults however, you should absolutely not try to drive your car. You’ll face serious consequences and endanger yourself and other drivers.

Driving without an MOT carries many risks. If your MOT has expired, it's 100% illegal to continue to drive your car, so hitting the open road anyway could result in fines of up to £1,000 and your car even being impounded. If you’re caught in the driver’s seat of a car with dangerous faults, you’re going to face even greater consequences. THe only exception is if you’re driving to your MOT test.

But whichever category you fail under, it’s not the end of the world. If you organise repairs to be made and arrange a partial retest within the next 10 days, you can avoid paying full whack for a whole new test. Beyond 10 days, you're liable for the cost of a brand new test. 

If, for any reason, you believe that the MOT wasn't carried out properly, you can file a complaint with the DVSA. They'll get back to you in 5 days to discuss it. If they think you have a valid concern, they'll recheck it, but you still need to cover the cost of this new test. Annoying, but it could save you hundreds on unnecessary repairs.

#2 Celebrate passing

Alternatively, if you prepared well and passed, you’ll get a lovely VT20 MOT Test Pass certificate. 

But just because you have a valid MOT doesn't mean that your car is perfect for the next year. You'll still need to have it serviced and maintained regularly to keep it in prime shape for your next MOT.

If you passed but had "minor" faults, you'll be given an MOT Advisory Note alongside your new MOT certificate. These repairs aren't urgent, but they're recommended to ensure your car is in good condition.

Now it's time to sign up for your MOT reminder and wait until next year rolls around!

To keep your car in ship-shape all year round, follow our car maintenance checklist! We've also gathered some excellent car maintenance tips from experts and rounded up some brilliant car maintenance apps that will help keep you on track.