Currently reading: MOT checklist: complete blueprint to passing
Make sure you're ready with our comprehensive guide to your car's annual MOT check-up

The MOT test can make many car owners nervous. One in 10 vehicles fails its first, which could cost hundreds of pounds in repair bills, or, in some cases, take your pride and joy off the road for good.

But there's no need to stress about it, because once you're familiar with how vehicles are tested, it's easy to tell if your car is likely to pass or fail before you head to the test centre and get any potential faults rectified.

Keep reading for our comprehensive MOT test checklist or use the sections below to learn more about the MOT.

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What is an MOT? | How much does it cost? | How can I check if my car is MOT'd? | How do I check my MOT history? | Is my car exempt from MOT? | Most common reasons for MOT failure lllegal MOTs

MOT Checklist


Often overlooked, your car’s numberplate is one of the easiest things you can check to avoid a failure or advisory. To pass, it must be the right colour (usually black on yellow at the rear, black on white at the front), be fully legible (no significant cracks, scrapes or fading) and display the correct registration format for your car’s year. 

The DVSA also advises that the characters on your numberplate must be in the correct font and that the plate itself must be sized appropriately. 

Lights and indicators

Every test will include a test of your car’s headlights, which should be aimed properly, switch correctly between dipped beam and full beam and have clear, unmarked lenses. 

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The indicators will also be tested at this stage, with a failure issued for any non-flashing bulbs.

The numberplate light, reversing lights and any foglights will also be checked. 

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Brake lights

Any vehicle with improperly functioning brake lights is dangerous, so they should illuminate clearly when pressure is applied to the brake pedal during the test. 

The ‘presence, operation, condition’ rule comes into play here, as well: if your car has a centrally mounted third brake light (which it doesn’t legally need), this has to work. The basic rule is: if it’s there, it needs to function. 


Car tyre tread depth is integral to a car's safety and can be one of the most costly failures to fix. It doesn’t take much to check beforehand, though: the minimum average tread depth allowed on UK roads is 1.6mm, or roughly the same as the border of a 20p coin, so if you’ve got one in your pocket, run it down every groove and you will see how much life is left in your rubber. 

Bald tyre

While you’re there, check the sidewalls for bulges and cracks, as these are not only MOT failure items but highly dangerous at any speed. 

Windscreen wipers

Your front wipers should be in good working order and be capable of effectively clearing dirt from the windscreen. This means the blades themselves mustn't have any tears or cracks that leave smears across the glass in rainy conditions.

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Rear wipers aren’t tested, but if your car has one and it isn’t working, it’s best to get it fixed in any case, for peace of mind. 

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Windscreen washer jets must be angled and pressured correctly. It might surprise you to know that even showing up with an empty screenwash tank can result in an MOT test fail, so raid your garage shelves for a bottle of screenwash.

Seats and seatbelts

Seatbelts save lives, which is why they’re thoroughly checked during an MOT test. The belts themselves must extend and retract as intended, be in good usable condition (ie not about to rip) and clip securely into the fastener. 

An older car might fail its test if the seatbelt anchorage points (usually the top and bottom of the B-pillar) are excessively damaged or corroded, as this significantly reduces the device’s ability to keep the occupant in place during an impact. 

Fuel and engine oil

This might seem obvious, but it’s a good idea to make sure your car has enough fuel for the MOT test to be carried out. The tester will run the car for a few minutes during the emissions test and will likely move it around the workshop for different parts of the process. 

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The same goes for oil. Check your car’s dipstick before heading to the garage to make sure the engine isn't in any danger of running dry. An MOT tester is within their rights to refuse to test any car with low fluids. 

What is an MOT?

The MOT is your car’s annual roadworthiness examination and is carried out in accordance with the latest regulations issued by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). 

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All vehicles more than three years old must have a valid MOT before being driven on public roads, and you can be fined up to £1000 for driving a vehicle after its certificate has expired. Insurance companies are also within their rights to invalidate a damage claim if the policyholder can't produce proof of their vehicle’s roadworthiness. 

To pass, a vehicle must conform to a strict set of safety and emissions criteria, with precise requirements varying according to its size, age and class. If any faults are identified as dangerous or illegal, the vehicle will automatically fail, but less significant shortcomings - such as a nearly worn-out tyre or rusty exhaust - will be listed as an ‘advisory’ and will likely need to be rectified before the next MOT test. 

Drivers can visit any one of around 20,000 licenced MOT stations in Britain, with the average test lasting around 45 minutes.

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When do I need to get an MOT? 

Your car is legally required to have its first MOT by the third anniversary of its initial registration and then every year after that. 

An MOT will last for one year, and you can see the date it runs out on the pass certificate. 

There are proposals by the government to push the first MOT to four years after a model's initial registration, amid the growing popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles and the introduction of new vehicle technologies. The proposals also include extending the time between a car's MOT to two years, rather than annually, given improvements to car safety and build quality. The government has said that if both moves are made, it will save motorists around £100 million per year in MOT fees - but no final decision has been made on this yet.

How much does an MOT cost? 

As of 2010, the maximum fee a garage can charge for an MOT test is £54.85 for cars and light vans. This price covers all aspects of the procedure, including administration charges, material costs and labour. 

If a vehicle fails its test, it can remain at the garage for repair and be submitted for a free partial retest within 10 working days. When this time has elapsed, however, it will need to undergo the whole test again wherever it is taken.

If an owner chooses to repair the vehicle themselves or take it to a different garage, it can be retested within the 10-day period for half the original cost. 

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Drivers should note that a retest discount is only applicable once. If your vehicle fails twice, you have to pay the full cost of the next MOT test. 

How can I check if my car is MOT'd?

Most garages will offer to send you a free reminder text in the run-up to your scheduled MOT date, but running a vehicle’s numberplate through the government's online MOT checker will tell you when its current certificate expires. 

How to check your MOT history online

The MOT checker can also be used to review previous MOT tests, with comprehensive information available on past advisories and failures. This is useful if you need to remind yourself of what needs fixing before heading to the garage or if you’re deciding whether or not to buy a second-hand car. 

Particular attention should be paid to the history of non-consumable parts like the suspension mounts, chassis and lower body, as failure in these areas will be costly to repair and likely fatal for older cars.

It’s worth remembering that items such as tyres, ball joints, headlights and brake pads wear out anyway and should be replaced as recommended. 

Is my car exempt from an MOT?

Cars that are less than three years old don't need to be put through an MOT test, as it’s assumed their condition will not dangerously deteriorate while they’re still ‘new’. Any areas of concern will likely be pointed out to an owner and repaired during a dealership check-up or service anyway. 

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Similarly, vehicles manufactured more than 40 years ago are classed as ‘historic’ and aren't officially required to be tested. However, they can still be deemed unsafe by the police and taken off the road. 

To claim historic exemption, a vehicle must be largely in original condition, with no substantial modifications made to the bodywork, suspension or powertrain.

Many classic car owners choose to have their car tested anyway, just for peace of mind, which is generally accepted to be the best course of action. 

What are the most common reasons for MOT failure?

It might surprise you to learn that the most common reason for MOT failure is also one of the cheapest faults to rectify. Official data from the DVSA shows that around 19% of vehicles fail for a lighting issue, which can usually be attributed to nothing more than a blown bulb. Best practice is to check that the indicators, headlights, brake lights and reverse lights all function correctly before the MOT test.

Suspension faults are the second most common but can be much more expensive to fix. Testers won’t like leaky shock absorbers, cracked springs or corroded mounting points, so get underneath with a torch and look for any signs of imminent failure. Also, keep an ear out over potholes and speedbumps, as worn bushings and loose top mounts will make a loud knocking noise. 

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Brakes and tyres are another area where your car can let you down, but luckily it should be quite obvious if you’ve got a problem here. Running a 20p coin around the tyres will give an idea of their life expectancy and checking the inner and outer sidewalls will reveal any dangerous bulges or cracks. You can usually tell the condition of your brakes by their performance and any sound they make, but it doesn’t take too long to remove the wheel for a close inspection of the discs, drums, pads or shoes. 

Finally, making sure you can see while driving is an absolute must. Get rid of anything that could obstruct your view of the road ahead – phone holders, air fresheners, sat-navs and stickers – and ensure there are no chips or cracks in the windscreen itself.

Illegal MOTs

MOT fraud in 2021-2022 was up 102% compared with 2017-2018. Government findings even uncovered examples of garages offering MOT certificates without even seeing the vehicle in question.

The government is attempting to crack down on this by investigating all reports of MOT fraud with inspections and surveillance of garages

Join the debate

Add a comment…
NewellCronin 10 January 2024

Moving on to the lights and indicators, the article mentions getting over it that the headlights will be tested for proper aim, correct switching between dipped beam and full beam, and clear lenses. 

jackcharland 10 November 2023

Hi, it's a great list for me.

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