What is the ‘MOT’?

Introduction to the UK MOT

What is the MOT? The following article gives an introduction to and explanation of the UK MOT Test.

All EC states must comply with a Directive to ensure that vehicles using public roads are mechanically safe and operate within emissions limits.

In mainland Britain, cars and light commercial vehicles must be Tested when they are three years old (except for taxis) and annually thereafter (this varies throughout the EC).

The MOT is designed to examine some important safety and emissions aspects of your car’s operation to see that they meet certain legal requirements at the time of the Test.

Passing the MOT does not indicate that the vehicle will remain roadworthy until the next Test in a year’s time.

In some Countries the mechanical and emissions Tests are separate. The UK MOT now covers over 150 checks of safety-related and emissions systems.

[MOT User Guide – DVSA]
Sections 45 to 48 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provide the legislative basis for MOT testing.  The purpose of the MOT test is to ensure that cars, other light vehicles (including some light goods vehicles), private buses and motor bicycles over a prescribed age are checked at least once a year to see that they comply with key roadworthiness and environmental requirements in the Road Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations 1986 and the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 as amended. A Test Certificate is issued following successful completion of an examination.

The Test Certificate relates only to the condition of testable items at the time of the test and should not be regarded as evidence:

      • of their condition at any other time;
      • of the general mechanical condition of the vehicle; or
      • that the vehicle fully complies with all aspects of the law on vehicle construction and use.

The test does not require the dismantling of parts of the vehicle although doors, boot lids and other means of access will normally need to be opened. In the case of motor bicycles, cover panels may also need to be removed or raised to examine the vehicle structure.

Detailed legislation on vehicles exempt from the MOT is set out in the Motor Vehicles Test Regulations 1981 regulation 6 (as amended), and in the Road Traffic Act 1988 Section 189.

Examples of vehicles exempted from MOT testing include electrically propelled goods vehicles, track laying vehicles, vehicles constructed or adapted to form part of an articulated combination, works trucks, trailers, pedestrian controlled mechanically propelled vehicles and electrically powered pedal cycles.

Legislation also exempts vehicles used in particular ways (e.g. travelling to and from test) or particular places (e.g. some islands) from the need to have a valid MOT test certificate.

It should also be noted that even when a vehicle is not required to have a test certificate it must still be maintained in a roadworthy condition.

The MOT test is conducted principally at private garages and by some local authorities.

These are authorised, or designated as appropriate, by DVSA, and known as Vehicle Testing Stations (VTS). VTS and their staff are subject to inspections by DVSA to ensure that testing is properly carried out using approved test equipment.

Only specifically approved people may conduct tests, sign official test documents, and make database entries.

VTS may only test those classes and types of vehicle that they are authorised to test and which are of a size and weight that can be accommodated on the authorised test equipment.

Where can I get an MOT?

There are over 22,000 garages throughout the UK [searchable list here] authorised by DVSA to carry out MOT Testing. These Vehicle Testing Stations (VTS) are authorised to carry out MOT Testing on various classes of vehicle (see MOT Test Classes).

VTSs will display the blue MOT ‘triple triangle’ logo. A non-authorised garage may have the MOT Test carried out on your behalf, but they must take it to an authorised VTS to have it carried out. If your MOT is carried out in this way you will be charged for VAT on the Test Fee. An MOT Testing Station may charge less than or up to the maximum allowable fee for the MOT Test, but may not charge more.

Diesel engined vehicles may only be MOT Tested at a VTS which is approved to carry out Diesel Testing.

What if my MOT certificate has already expired?

You are allowed to drive directly to a Vehicle Testing Station for a pre-booked MOT Test.

Diesel engined vehicles may only be MOT Tested at a VTS which is approved to carry out Diesel Testing.

MOT Computerisation

DVSA is the government agency responsible for the MOT, and they (as VOSA, the agency’s previous incarnation) commissioned Siemens (now called Atos) to computerise the MOT Test. From the vehicle owner’s point of view this simply means that instead of the MOT Tester writing the results of the Test onto a form, the results are entered directly into the main computer from his or her terminal at the Testing Station. DVSA believed that computerisation would significantly improve the security of the Test certificates and reduce fraud, as well as bringing many other benefits.

Computerisation of GB’s 19,000 (Approx) Testing Stations was completed by the end of March 2006. While members of the public will still receive a paper document from the Testing Station following a vehicle Test, the legal ‘proof’ of the MOT is now the electronic record of the Test held on the DVSA computer.

Members of the public can confirm that a vehicle has a valid MOT by either contacting DVSA on 0870 330 044 or visiting their website at www.motinfo.gov.uk.

Other MOT Developments

Automated Test Lanes (ATLs)
Automated Test lanes which don’t require the use of an assistant on the majority of vehicles have recently been introduced. These incorporate ‘shaker’ plates to Test the vehicle’s steering and suspension systems and also have fully automated roller brake testers.

Additionally, since the summer of 2006 existing Testing Stations have been permitted to update their current equipment to enable one-person operation by retrofitting similar steering and suspension Test equipment.

Any car registered for use on the road in the EC must pass some kind of mechanical and emissions test – known in the UK as the ‘MOT’, after the old Ministry of Transport, which instigated the Test. In the UK cars must be Tested at the end of their third year (if imported, measured from date of manufacture), and yearly after that. The EC directive allows variations on this from state to state.

An initiative announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to change this to allow cars to be Tested after four years and two-yearly after that, was judged by government advisors to be ill-advised as it would allow potentially dangerous cars to remain on the roads for up to two years.

In some states the mechanical and emissions Tests are separate, and the combined cost can be up to £50 (the current maximum fee chargeable in the UK (for a cars and light vans) is reviewed every year.

Click here for complete list of current MOT charges (and proposed increases if available)

The UK MOT now covers over 150 checks of safety-related and emissions systems.

Modern Cars with catalytic converters are permitted less than 10% of the hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions of older cars.

‘Computerisation’ of the British MOT Test was completed in March 2006, reducing the importance of the paper MOT certificate (although a ‘receipt’ will still be issued for the Test).

The only people who are authorised to examine your vehicle for MOT and approve the MOT computer entry via a smart card and pass code are called, officially, Nominated Testers – better known to motorists as MOT Testers.

They may only examine specified items, and in a manner laid down in a document officially known as ‘The MOT Inspection Manual’, generically known in the trade as ‘The Tester’s Manual’.

The Tester can only fail an item if the fault found is listed in the Manual under the heading ‘Reason for rejection’ which he must find very specifically on the MOT computer’s failure menu.

Whereas the MOT was originally a British test specified by the Ministry of Transport, as it was then called, it is now specified by the EU. However member states do have a degree of flexibility so the ‘MOT’ varies in detail from one member state to another.

For example, a French or Spanish registered vehicle, if being driven in the UK, may be MOT Tested here and given a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ according to its condition, while the owner of a UK registered vehicle would find it difficult, if not impossible, to have thier vehicle tested in other EU states, making it necessary to return to the UK to stay ‘legal’.

An important aspect of the MOT is that the vehicle’s equipment is Tested, by and large, to the standard to be expected during its year of manufacture. For example, the brakes and emissions of a 1919 Morris will not be Tested to the same criteria as a current model Mercedes.

Testers are not permitted to dismantle any item during an MOT Test, hence if the amount of wear on brake shoes, for example, cannot be determined by direct observation because they are enclosed by the brake drum, then provided the braking efficiency is to the required standard then they will not result in a failure, even though the brake shoes may be on their service limit.

It is important to realise therefore, that a recently passed MOT does not imply that a vehicle may safely be driven without service for another whole year (indeed, any subsequent suspicion of problems with any of a vehicle’s safety systems should be immediately investigated).

Further, if the Tester believes an item which he cannot see (or is not authorised to Test) may be in a dangerous condition, he may not ‘Fail’ the item, although he may ‘Pass and Advise’ – issuing a pass for the vehicle but making a note on the computer about a possible dangerous condition. Following computerisation, motorists have access to this information via the DVSA website.

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