What happens during a car MOT?

Find out what a tester looks for when they carry out your car’s annual MOT inspection, a vital aspect of road safety.

A male car mechanic checking under the bonnet of a car

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All cars over the age of three have to undergo an annual MOT inspection to make sure that they are roadworthy and meet the legal emissions levels. It’s an important safety check for your car and supports road safety for other road users . But if you’re a car owner, you might not know what actually takes place during an MOT check. 

There are over 30 individual checks included in an MOT inspection. Knowing which aspects of your car are inspected can help you to make sure that your car has the best possible chance of passing first time. 

So let’s take a look at what takes place when your car is put through the MOT.

What does MOT stand for?

Although many people talk about ‘the MOT test’, the initials MOT actually stand for Motor Ordinance Test.

Close up of a male car mechanic checking items off a checklist

Do all cars need to have an MOT?

Brand new cars don’t need to have an annual MOT as they are thoroughly checked before they leave the factory. However, once your car approaches three years old, you will need to book it in for its first MOT inspection.

If your car has already had an MOT, you can book its next test up to 30 days before the expiry date while still maintaining that expiry date.

The MOT is a legal requirement and your car’s insurance policy will be invalid if you don’t have a valid MOT certificate. It’s really important to make sure that your car is checked by an approved vehicle technician who has passed the MOT qualification and has the required specific testing equipment.

So if you don’t have a personal recommendation for a local MOT tester, it’s a good idea to choose one that has excellent online reviews like Elite MOT Centre in London

You can be fined up to £1000 if you drive your car on the road without an MOT. However, if your MOT has expired you can drive it to the test centre for a pre-booked test.

What is involved in the MOT?

During your MOT, the tester will carry out over 30 checks which can be divided loosely into six sections. 

The interior of your car

Your car seats will be checked to make sure that they are stable and secure, and that the driver’s seat can be adjusted properly. The various buttons and levers in your car will be examined to make sure that they work, together with the horn, brakes and steering wheel.

The inspector will check your safety belts to make sure that they are not damaged, fasten easily and work properly with a sharp pull. 

Your windscreen and windows will be checked to make sure that the driver has good visibility and the wipers work. Your car will fail the MOT if there is any damage in the driver’s central viewing area which is more than 10mm wide, or if there is any damage above 40mm wide in the whole of the area covered by the windscreen wipers. It will also fail if the windscreen wipers don’t work or have tears in the wiper blades.

If your car is too dirty or cluttered inside, the MOT inspector can refuse to continue the test.

Close up of a male hand checking the tread on a car tyre

The exterior of your car

The MOT inspector will walk around the vehicle, examining it closely. They will check the car’s wheels and tyres, looking for any bulges, splits or cuts in the tyre’s sidewall. They’ll also check that your tyres have legal tread depth and are inflated to the correct pressure.

It’s a good idea to check your car tyres over before you take it in for an MOT inspection.

The shock absorbers will be checked to make sure that the car returns quickly to its normal position after you push down on it. And the inspector will check the doors and boot of your car to make sure they open and close properly.

All of your car’s lights and indicators will be checked to make sure that they are working. A blown bulb is a common reason for a failed MOT, so it’s worth checking them before the inspection.

A male car mechanic checking under the bonnet of a car

Under your car’s bonnet

The tester will check the general condition of the brake, exhaust, and steering systems. They will also check your car’s oil level, as well as the coolant in your car’s radiator and the screen wash.

It’s a good idea to check the levels of all of these fluids before your car’s MOT.

Under the chassis

Next comes the part of the test that you can’t really prepare for at home!

Your car will be put on ramps over an inspection pit and the tester will take a good look underneath it. The brakes, fuel lines, wheels and suspension will be examined to look for any signs of damage.

The tester will also check the structural integrity of your car’s frame to ensure that it’s safe to be driven.


As well as the visual checks, your car’s brakes will also be tested to make sure that they work properly. 

This is a vital safety check and both your service brake and the handbrake must meet the required standards for your car  to pass the test.

A female car mechanic checking the emissions from a car exhaust


Finally, the inspector will run your engine for a predetermined length of time. They’ll check the revs when your car is idling and measure the particles output by the exhaust system. 

Make sure that your car has adequate fuel and oil before you send it in for the MOT. Your test can be cancelled if the levels are too low to test your car’s emissions.

The required emissions limits are quite strict and your car will need to meet these standards to pass the MOT. The inspector will also check that the car hasn’t been altered by installing any tampering or ‘cheat’ devices.

What if my car fails the MOT?

If your car fails the MOT, you will need to get the faults fixed. The tester will give you a VT30 certificate which explains the reasons why it failed. 

Dangerous faults

You cannot drive your car until any dangerous faults have been repaired. It will need to be towed if you want to move it from the MOT centre.

Major faults

You can drive your car away with a major fault if the previous MOT is still in date and the car is roadworthy. If the car is roadworthy but the MOT has run out, you can only drive it to get the faults fixed or for a pre-booked MOT inspection.

It is illegal to drive your car without an MOT for any other reasons or while it has dangerous fault. If you do, you could be fined up to £2500, have points added to your licence or even be banned from driving.

The MOT is an important part of making sure that your car is safe to drive on the roads. So it’s vital to make sure that your car is tested regularly.

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