Does my car need an MOT?

Published on 14 December 2023

A Ministry of Transport test (or MOT) is like an annual health check for your vehicle where mechanics test it against a list of safety requirements.

But how do you know when your car needs an MOT? How do you go about organising it? And what does the test include? Our guide will help you understand everything you need to know about car MOTs. 

MOT rules discussed in this article relate to England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland has a different MOT system.

Yes, if your car’s three years old or more, it’ll need an MOT every year. 

  • New cars do not need an MOT until they reach three years old.
  • Once your car is three years old, it requires an MOT.

These annual tests must be carried out within a year of the previous MOT, so many people find it helpful to use a diary or a calendar to keep track of upcoming MOTs.

It’s actually much easier than it used to be to remember your MOT now. The simplest way to know when your car needs its next MOT is to use the GOV.UK Check MOT Status tool.

A brand new car needs its first MOT when it reaches three years old. Technically, it’s due the day before the third anniversary of its first registration. That means you can drive your new car for three years without taking it for an MOT. However, there are exceptions for some vehicles:

  • The one-year MOT exception: New ambulances, taxis and private passenger vehicles must have an MOT after one year rather than three. 
Your MOT lasts for one year. Generally, you want to renew it as close to the expiry date as possible. That’s not a legal requirement though. You can choose to renew your MOT earlier, but the most economical way is to keep it closer to the actual expiry date. 

The rules allow you to renew your MOT up to one month before the current certificate expires without losing that original expiry date. So, if your MOT runs out on May 15th you can book your next MOT in for as early as April 16th. The idea is you get as much of the year from your current MOT but still have a few weeks to make any repairs, should your car fail its next MOT. 

You can also book your car MOT early and have the test more than a month before the current certificate expires. But if you decide to do this, you’ll lose the original expiry date. The new expiry date will be within one day of the date of the most recent test. This means you’ll lose weeks of the MOT you’ve already paid for. 

An MOT certificate proves your car meets the road safety and environmental standards set by the government. Put simply, it’s against the law to drive your car on UK roads without a valid MOT.

So, what happens if you fail to renew your car’s MOT? Apart from the fact you may be putting yourself and other road users at risk, you could face:

  • Prosecution if caught driving or parking on the road.
  • Vehicle tax renewals being refused.
  • Fines of up to £1,000 if caught driving without an MOT. 
  • Invalidating your car insurance.

To help you stay on top of it all, we’ve put together everything you need to know about taking your car for its MOT. From tips that can help before you get to test centre, to what happens to your vehicle during the test.

When booking an MOT, you must use an approved MOT test centre. Whether it’s a family-run garage or a national chain, businesses approved to carry out MOTs must display a blue sign with three white triangles.  

The first thing to do is contact the garage or test centre to book. You might have to do it over the phone at smaller garages, but national chains will likely have easy online booking systems you can use. 

Before arriving at the test centre, it’s worth spending some time cleaning and maintaining your vehicle. 

  • Clean your car inside and out to make it a more pleasant experience for the MOT technician. Make sure the number plate is clean and readable.  
  • Top up all your fluid levels – engine oil, coolant and water – so the technician can tell you look after your car and give it what it needs to run well.
  • Make sure your lights are working – including side lights and indicators – and replace any worn out bulbs. 
  • Check your tyres are at the right pressure levels (type your reg into an online tool for the ideal PSI numbers) and check your tread depth to make sure you're within the legal limit. 


When you drop your car off for its MOT at an approved test centre, a qualified technician will test all relevant parts to see if they're working to the legal standard. For cars, this includes checking:

  • exhaust emissions
  • battery
  • seatbelts/SRS
  • Brakes
  • doors
  • electrical wiring
  • exhaust system
  • fuel system
  • horn
  • lights 
  • mirrors
  • seats
  • steering/suspension
  • tyres
  • wheels
  • wipers/washers.

Head to GOV.UK for a full list of the car parts checked at an MOT.

After the test, you’ll be told if your car has passed or failed its MOT. Should your vehicle pass, it will be given one of the following marks:

All standards are met and the technician is satisfied there are no problems. 

Your car passes but the MOT has flagged some potential problems.  

Your car passes but only just – there’s an issue that will need fixing soon. 

Your car may fail the MOT. This means it hasn’t met the legal standards set out by the government to be roadworthy. When carrying out the test, the technician will grade your vehicle on numerous parts and processes. If any of these are listed as ‘dangerous’ or ‘major’ your car will fail its MOT. 

What’s the difference between the two types of MOT fail? 

  • Your vehicle will fail outright, and you can't drive it until it's been repaired. 

  • Your vehicle will fail outright. You can drive it, but it needs repairing as soon as possible.  

  1. The garage will give you a document confirming your car failed. This document is called a Refusal of an MOT test certificate.
  2. You’ll then need to book the car in to repair the ‘dangerous’ or ‘major’ things that caused it to fail. It’s often easier – and cheaper – to do this straightaway and leave your car with the same garage.
  3. Once repaired, you’ll need to have your vehicle re-tested. You may or may not have to pay for this second MOT test.

It's also worth knowing how often you need to service your car and how to keep an eye on the health of your vehicle yourself using a car maintenance checklist.

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