Most motorists have a couple of standing appointments in their calendar: the day their MOT is due, and the day they tax their car. But are the two connected? Can you tax a car without an MOT certificate?
In short, yes, they’re connected. And no, you cannot tax your car without an MOT.
If your vehicle is more than three years old, you must have a valid MOT before you try to pay tax on it. And once you understand what this tax actually is, it’s easy to see why these two annual expenses are linked.
Let’s take a closer look.
Do I need an MOT to tax my car?
In every part of the UK, you need a valid MOT to pay tax on your vehicle.
This is because your ‘car tax’ or ‘road tax’, isn’t technically a regular tax. It’s known as vehicle excise duty.
Excise is a different kind of tax that you pay on things that can damage people’s health or harm the environment. Excise is included in the price of things like plane tickets, alcohol, and tobacco as well as on fossil fuels like heating oil, coal, and gas.
Although the money raised by ‘road tax’ was ringfenced for maintaining the roads when it was first introduced in the 1920s, modern vehicle excise duty is paid into a general pot of government money. It goes towards social security and public services – which include the road network.
But what does this have to do with your MOT?
Put simply, the more environmentally damaging your car is, the more vehicle excise duty you have to pay to keep it on the road.
Several checks are done during your MOT to check that your vehicle is running efficiently.
The technician will check:
- Whether your exhaust system is intact and securely attached to the vehicle, or whether it’s broken and leaking.
- How clean your catalytic converter is.
- Whether there’s excessive smoke coming from your vehicle.
- The level of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide in your vehicle’s emissions. They measure this against the legal limits for your type of vehicle.
You’ll need to make sure that your vehicle’s oil is topped up before you take it for its MOT. And if you notice that your exhaust is becoming noisy or smoky, it’s worth getting it fixed straight away, as your car can fail its MOT for problems with the exhaust.
The more pollution your car produces when it has its MOT, the more tax there is to pay. This is the reason why many electric car owners don’t currently have to pay vehicle excise duty (although this will be changing in 2025). Some other vehicles – like classic cars, mobility vehicles, and agricultural vehicles – don’t have to pay tax either.
But the thing is, you still have to fill out the forms, even if you know that you won’t have anything to pay. And to fill out the forms for an older vehicle, you need your MOT to be up to date.
How can you tax a car without an MOT?
There are some situations where you might have a car with an expired MOT that needs to be taxed before you can start driving it again.
This is more likely to happen if you have a SORN (a statutory off-road notification) for your vehicle. This means that you won’t have to pay tax because you won’t be using the road. You’ll usually apply for a SORN if the vehicle isn’t insured or taxed, or if you’re simply not able to drive it for a long time and want to save some money.
According to gov.uk, you can drive a car with a SORN to an MOT appointment (although depending on the circumstances, you might also want to pay to have it towed there).
In fact, it’s the only situation where a vehicle with a SORN is allowed to be driven on the public highway. If your vehicle passes its MOT, you’ll also be able to drive straight home again, as long as you travel with proof that you were at an MOT appointment in case you get pulled over.
You should also bear in mind that it can take a day or two for the MOT information to be updated in the database, so you might not be able to pay your vehicle excise duty and start driving on public roads as soon as you get the all clear from the MOT test centre.
But as long as you take things a step at a time, it’s possible to get an untaxed vehicle with an expired MOT back on the road again.
What happens if you don’t tax your car?
The DVLA estimates that about 2% of vehicles are taxed incorrectly, despite some serious penalties.
If you drive an untaxed vehicle, you can be given a fine of either £1,000 or five times the amount of tax you should have paid (whichever is higher). You could also be taken to court.
Plus, if you don’t tax your vehicle, your insurance policy might not cover you if you’re involved in an accident. This means that any damage you cause to your vehicle or someone else’s property will have to be paid for from your own pocket.
Every day, vehicle excise duty is checked by about 11,000 ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras on the UK’s road network. They match the number plates of the vehicles on the road against the government’s database, and fines can be automatically issued by post.
What happens if I get caught without an MOT?
If you drive without a valid MOT certificate – for example, because you haven’t booked your appointment – the standard fine is £1,000.
However, the penalty is much higher if you drive a car that you know has failed its MOT. If you drive without fixing a major or dangerous fault, it can be seen as endangering other road users. In this case, you could be fined up to £2,500, get three points on your licence, and be banned from driving.
How long can you drive after your MOT expires?
You are not allowed to drive without a valid MOT. This means that to keep your car on the road, you should get your MOT done in the days before your old certificate expires.
If you know you’ll be away on the day your MOT runs out, or if it works better with your budget, you can always book your MOT up to one month before your previous certificate is due to expire.
There’s only one circumstance where it’s OK to drive on public roads without an MOT, and that’s if you’re on the way to the test centre.
If you’re in this situation, you must travel with proof that you’ve booked your appointment (like a printout of a confirmation email) and you must take the most direct route possible.
If you get pulled over on your way to your MOT appointment, you need to be able to prove where you’re going and show that you’re going straight there.
Can I tax my car without an MOT certificate? The final word:
You can’t tax a car without an MOT certificate, and you can’t drive on the public highway without tax. This is an area where it pays to be organised. The fines for missing your deadline, and the risk it might pose to you and other road users, mean that there’s a lot at stake.
And if you’re ever unsure of when your tax or MOT is due, It’s easy to go to the gov.uk website, enter your registration number, and get the answer in seconds.