What does MOT stand for? MOT terms explained

Ministry of Transport, believe it or not!

Alongside tax and insurance, an MOT is one of the most important things car owners need to arrange. If your car is over three years old, you’ll need an MOT check every single year. But what does MOT stand for?

MOTs are something all drivers have to deal with, so it’s good to understand the terms you’ll come across. 

Here, we’ll provide all the definitions you need to know. And we’ll also discuss your MOT certificate and what the test involves.

What does MOT stand for?

MOT is an acronym standing for “Ministry of Transport”. That’s it!

But why Ministry of Transport?

In 1960, the Ministry of Transport launched new vehicle safety test regulations. Part of this involved ruling that all cars over 10 years needed annual checks for roadworthiness and safety. These tests became known as an MOT.

In 1967, the government reduced the testing age to three years, which remains in place today. 

The Ministry of Transport’s name has since been changed to the Department for Transport, but the MOT name has stuck. However, the issuing authority has changed to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Let’s dive a little deeper into what MOTs involve.

What is an MOT in the UK?

An MOT is an annual check that your car meets minimum standards for road safety and emissions. It takes about an hour and ensures your safety as well as the safety of others on the road.

Almost all vehicles in the UK (with very few exceptions, like caravans) need a valid MOT. This includes motorcycles, vans and commercial vehicles.

The MOT test involves “basic” checks like whether your vehicle identification number (VIN) is visible and your number plate (or registration plate) is legible and firmly secured. Your MOT tester also checks:

  • Sidelights and headlights
  • Windscreen, wipers, and washer fluid
  • Steering and suspension 
  • Seats and seatbelts
  • Fuel system and exhaust emissions
  • Doors, bodywork, and mirrors
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Brakes and brake lights

You can view the full MOT checklist here.

It’s useful to remember you can do lots of these checks yourself before sending your car for its MOT. For instance, it’s easy to see if light bulbs work. If not, you can buy replacements. Other simple jobs include making sure your number plate isn’t covered in mud and topping up your washer fluid. 

With a little preparation, you’ll avoid paying for professionals to complete these simple tasks. And you’re more likely to avoid having to rebook and pay for another MOT test.

What does MOT status mean?

“MOT status” refers to whether your vehicle has a valid MOT or not.

If you’ve got a new vehicle, your first MOT test is due three years after its registration. For cars over three years old, your MOT is due a year after its last test. If your car failed its MOT (and has a “no MOT status”), you’ll need to go for a test straight away.

You can check the MOT status of any vehicle online, as long as you know the number plate. This handy gov.uk checker tells you if a vehicle has a valid certificate and the date it expires.

Remember, just because your car has an MOT status, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to drive. Regular maintenance and servicing are still important to ensure your car runs safely, smoothly and efficiently.

What does MOT stand for in a car service?

At some garages, you can book your car for a service and MOT at the same time. These tests are known as “MOT services”.

If you see MOT on your car service report, this just refers to whether your car has a valid MOT or not. It’s no different to any other time you see the word MOT.

When you get a regular car service, the garage performs a series of tests on your vehicle. As well as changing the oil, looking under the chassis, and cleaning the car, they also normally test things like the lights, horn, washers, wipers and brakes. 

As many of these things are also tested in an MOT, it’s a clever way of seeing what’s working (and fixing any problems) before the MOT itself.

What is an MOT certificate?

If your car passes all its MOT checks, you’ll get an MOT pass certificate. Otherwise known as a VT20, this is a piece of paper with a few key bits of info. Here’s a sample of what an MOT test certificate looks like. It covers information about your vehicle and about the test.

The information about your vehicle includes:

  • Vehicle identification number: A 17-digit number stamped into the chassis of your car.
  • Your vehicle’s registration number: A unique 11-digit number, also found in your vehicle’s V5C log book.
  • Make and model: The brand and specific model of your car, for instance a Peugeot 208.
  • Vehicle category: Most passenger cars are listed as M1, with a full list of categories available from the Vehicle Certification Agency.
  • Mileage and mileage history: Current mileage, as well as the mileage on your last three MOT tests.

Information about the test includes:

  • Pass: This shows that your vehicle has passed all its MOT checks. 
  • Pass with defects: A pass with defects means that your MOT has identified small problems. These might include “minor defects”, such as the wipers not working, or “advisories”, which are things you’d want to address quite quickly (like tyres worn close to the legal limit of 1.6mm).
  • Date of the test and expiry date: When your test happened and the deadline for your next MOT.
  • Location of the test: The place where your MOT took place.
  • Testing organisation and inspector name: The company in charge of your MOT and the person who performed it.
  • MOT test number: A unique 12-digit number, which is useful if you need to apply for a replacement MOT certificate.

Note: If a garage’s computer system isn’t working, they can still issue a ”contingency MOT certificate”.

What if your vehicle fails its MOT test?

If your car fails its MOT, you’ll also get a certificate. This is known as a VT30, or an “MOT Test Failure Certificate”. It lists any faults and defects at the top. 

These might include:

  • Dangerous defects: You must not drive until these are repaired. For instance, if your tyre threads are below the legal limit.
  • Major defects: Problems needing immediate repair. This could be a faulty brake light, for example.
  • Minor defects: Things needing repair as soon as possible, though not immediately. For instance, your brake fluid is low.

You’ll fail your MOT if your car has major or dangerous defects.

Can you legally drive without an MOT?

In short, no. Driving on public roads without an MOT is illegal. 

No MOT status also means you can’t tax your car. You might struggle finding car insurance with no MOT as well. The only exceptions are if you’re driving straight to your MOT test or if your vehicle is exempt. That’s it. 

If you’re driving to a test, this must be pre-booked at an authorised test centre. You’ll also want to keep proof of your booking handy in case you’re stopped.

If you’re caught driving on UK roads without an MOT, you risk substantial penalties. Fines for a “no MOT status” range from £100 to a maximum of £1,000. 

If police also deem your car “unroadworthy” these fines increase even more. Fines of up to £2,500 apply to cars with dangerous defects. 

You’ll also get three penalty points on your licence for each fault. Yes, you read that right. Three points for every single fault.

If you’ve got a broken light or a couple of worn tyres, this adds up fast. With enough faults (or if you already have points on your licence), you could end up with a driving ban of up to two years. Driving disqualifications apply if you get 12 penalty points (or more) within three years.

How can I find an authorised MOT test centre?

There are over 23,000 authorised MOT test centres in the UK. A full list is available on the gov.uk website and it’s updated every three months. 

If you’re unsure whether your garage is an approved MOT test centre, check it against this list.

Alternatively, you can use the Motor Ombudsman’s interactive map to find recommended garages providing repairs, servicing, MOTs, tyres, and more.

Quickfire summary

MOT stands for “Ministry of Transport”. 

This government department originally managed MOT tests, but today the DVSA is in charge.

These annual checks ensure your car is safe on the road. It’s illegal to drive without one.

After your MOT, you’ll get a certificate stating whether your car passed or failed. It lists things needing repair as well as information about your vehicle.

You can check whether your car has a valid MOT and find an approved MOT centre on the UK government website.

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