What is an MOT Test?

4th May 2023

The MOT test checks the road-worthiness of all vehicles in the UK. The letters MOT stand for "Ministry of Transport". The name comes from a previous name for the Department of Transport. Even though the department name has changed, the name of the test has not. The test was first introduced in 1960 to check the brakes, lights and steering, but now covers a wide variety of safety and functional features.

When Do I Need One?

An MOT test is required on most vehicles in the UK, once they reach three years old. In Northern Ireland vehicles can be four years old before they require an MOT test. Once a vehicle reaches that age an MOT test must be performed every year.

An exemption exists for vehicles registered more than forty years ago, but is unlikely to apply to vehicles that make up a company's fleet. The only other time you can drive a vehicle without a valid MOT test is on the way to a test centre in order for one to be performed.

What Do They Check?

The MOT test is made up of ten sections, each of which requires inspections to a separate function of the vehicle.

1. Brakes

The brakes should be checked for their condition and operation. This includes checking parking (hand) brakes, anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic braking systems (EBS).

It includes checks to make sure brake pedals and levers are functioning, even down to the fact that the grooves and grips on a pedal are not work smooth.

For air and vacuum braking systems, the pressures are checked. This also includes checks of brake valves and pressure storage reservoirs. Brake pipes, hoses, cables, disks and pads are all checked.

Brakes will also be checked for performance and efficiency, using something like a rolling brake tester.

2. Steering

The steering is checked for operation, to ensure that the steering control has adequate control over the wheels, making sure that the system is not too tight, to loose or that any part of the linkages are damaged or missing.

Electronic power steering (EPS) is fitted to most modern vehicles and is checked to make sure it is functioning. If the system isn't functioning then the vehicle could fail the test if the steering is adversely affected.

3. Visibility

Many aspects of driver visibility are checked. This includes checking the condition of the windscreen and side-windows, as well as mirrors, windscreen washers and wipers.

4. Lamps, Reflectors and Electrical Equipment

There are a range of lighting systems checked for functionality; head-lights position lamps, running lamps, brake lights, indicators, hazard lights, reverse lights and fog lights. They even check the lights that illuminate the front and read number plates. Head-lights are also checked to ensure they're aligned properly, to prevent dazzling on-coming drivers.

Other electrical systems are also tested to ensure they are functioning properly, such as; trailer electrical sockets, the electrical wiring throughout the vehicle and the batter, or batteries.

5. Axles, Wheels, Tyres and Suspension

The axles, wheels, tyres and suspension are all checked to make sure they enable adequate control of the vehicle. The tyres are checked for the depth of their tread, as well as any deformities that could indicate structural damage that may result in the tyre failing.

Checks to the suspension cover a number of components; springs, shock absorbers, suspension arms, rods and joints. For vehicles where they are fitted, such as buses, this also includes checks to gas, air and fluid suspension systems.

6. Body, Structure and Attachments

Checks to the body, structure and attachments is also where checks to the exhaust system are performed. It also includes checks to the interior of the vehicle, making sure that doors and their catches, seats and floor are all in good condition.

This section also includes inspection of the fuel system as well as the tank, pipes and hoses.

Towing hitches and spare wheel carriers are also checked, if they are fitted.

7. Other Equipment

Other equipment provides something of a catch-all section for any parts that aren't covered under any of the other, more specific, sections listed above. This includes seat-belts, airbags and any supplementary restraint systems (SRS).

As well as checking that seat belts are fitted and adequately secured, Isofix mounting points for child seats are also checked.

Other checks are performed to the horn, speedometer and anti-theft device, if fitted.

8. Nuisance

The last section that applies to personal and smaller commercial vehicles is nuisance. This section covers the noise that the vehicle generates, as well as the functioning of any noise suppression systems, such as baffles and silencers.

It also covers exhaust emissions, including catalytic converters, oxygen sensors and exhaust gas recirculation valves.

9. Supplementary Tests for Buses and Coaches

This section covers additional checks performed on equipment that is specific to buses and coaches. It covers items like emergency exits, steps and stairs, as well as passenger grab-handles.

10. Seat Belt Installation Checks

This section includes supplementary checks to any seat-belts that may be fitted to buses and coaches.

More Information

For more information on the checks performed as part of an MOT test, see government guidance on MOT inspections for private passenger and light commercial vehicles.