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Do Classic Cars Need an MOT: Rules & Exceptions Explained

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated November, 10, 2022

Do classic cars need an MOT test in the UK?

The short answer is no—owners of cars built 40 years ago do not need to take the annual MOT test or pay vehicle tax.  

However, the situation is not always so clear-cut as there are many exceptions to the rules and then there are exceptions to the exceptions. 

Keep on reading for more information on the MOT test and classic cars.

Do Classic Cars Need Mot?

In general, historical cars are exempt from the annual MOT test, provided that they were made or registered 40 years ago and have not undergone any substantial changes in the last 3 decades. The vehicle also needs to be safe to drive, i.e. be in roadworthy condition

This is a relatively new rule, implemented in 2018—previously only vehicles manufactured before 1960 were not required to take the yearly MOT inspection. Now, if a car was registered or built in 1982, it no longer needs an MOT certificate (with some exceptions which we will get into below).

What’s more, the 40-year-mark is a rolling date, which means that if your vehicle was built or registered in 1983, it will not need an MOT check from 2023 onwards. You will also be exempt from paying vehicle tax as of 1 April 2023, although you will still need to register the car for tax if you want to use it on UK public roads. 

When does a car become MOT-exempt?

Even if 40 years pass since the car was first registered, the vehicle does not automatically become exempt from road tax and the MOT check. 

You first have to apply for a tax vehicle exemption, also known as putting your car in the historic tax class or having it declared a Vehicle of Historic Interest (VHI). This can easily be done at your nearest Post Office—you will need to bring your log book (V5C), a valid MOT certificate or a completed V112 form showing that your vehicle is exempt from the MOT check. 

Can you take a classic car to an MOT after it’s been declared a VHI?

Yes, even if your car does not need an MOT legally, you can still get it tested to ensure that everything is in order. 

Alternatively, you could go through the pre-MOT checklist and test some of the most common issues at home or get it regularly serviced. Either way, a classic car with an MOT exemption must be in roadworthy condition, otherwise, you risk facing fines up to £2,500 and 3 penalty points against your license. 

When Does a Classic Car Need an MOT?

There are some instances when a classic car may still need an MOT test even if it was registered 40 years ago. 

These include 

  • The vehicle has not been declared a VHI
  • The vehicle has been substantially altered in the past 30 years. Substantial changes to a classic car include:
    • Replacement of the chassis or sub-frame
    • Changes to the type or method of suspension
    • Changes to the type or method of steering 
    • Changes to the original engine

Acceptable changes, on the other hand, include

  • Alterations made to preserve the vehicle when no original parts were available 
  • Changes made when the car was still in production (or within ten years since production stopped) 
  • Changes made to the axles and running gear to boost safety, efficiency or environmental impact 
  • Changes made while the car was used for commercial purposes 

These changes are considered non-substantial, i.e. vehicles that have been modified for any of the reasons listed above are still exempt from the MOT check. 

Different rules apply to cars with 

  • Q plates (i.e. vehicles whose age or identity cannot be confirmed), 
  • Kit cars or self-build vehicles,
  • Reconstructed classic vehicles (as defined by the DVLA),
  • Kit conversions that have modified the appearance of the vehicle.

These vehicles, however, can still be exempt from the MOT inspection if they are taxed as a VHI and have not been modified in the past 30 years. 

How do I know if my historical vehicle has been substantially altered? 

If you are not certain whether your historic vehicle has been modified according to MOT standards, contact the previous owner, talk to a local enthusiast or consult a historic vehicle expert for more information. Bear in mind that if you cannot prove that the car has not undergone any substantial changes, you will need to continue getting an annual MOT test.  

What other vehicles are MOT-exempt?

The following vehicles do not need an MOT

  • New cars, i.e. vehicles that are not older than three years 
  • Motorcycles and scooters that are not older than three years 
  • Electric vehicles transporting goods registered before 1 March 2015
  • Tractors 
  • Public service vehicles built before 1960 that have not been substantially altered
  • Vehicles with a maximum speed of 15.5mph or less, such as some mopeds and electric scooters  
  • Trolleys, hackney carriages, trams, or police vehicles 

Goods vehicles with a gross weight of over 3,500 kg, buses and public service vehicles with 8 passenger seats or more are not exempt from an annual MOT check if they have been substantially changed in the last 30 years or are used laden or towing a laden trailer (for goods vehicles). Several more exceptions apply, so make sure to check the government’s MOT guide for more information

Why Is There an MOT Exemption for Classic Cars? 

One of the reasons behind the MOT exemption for classic cars is the assumption that historical vehicles are generally well-maintained. In fact, it is believed that most classic car owners are hobbyists who tend to keep their vehicles in good nick without being motivated by a formal inspection. 

Furthermore, historical vehicles are used for short journeys only and as such do not pose as big of a safety risk as modern cars do. Finally, the checks carried out during a modern MOT test may not be relevant for cars manufactured 40 years ago. 

Does this mean there will be more classic cars on the road?

There are around 250,239 cars in the country that were originally registered between 1960 and 1978—116,927 are declared as off road with a SORN (most of which are VW Beetles and MGB cars) which means that many of these drivers can now take these vehicles out on the roads again

Should classic cars be MOT-exempt?

There have been some objections to the classic car MOT exemption with many people citing safety concerns. Almost 2 million cars fail the MOT a year, while according to the Sunday Times, one in 5 classic cars didn’t pass their MOT between 2019 and 2021. On top of that, older vehicles are prone to issues such as degradation of tyre suspension, corrosion as well as electrical faults which may put the drivers and others on the road in danger. 

It is now up to the drivers to decide if and how often they will use their historic vehicles, as well as how responsible they will be with maintenance and servicing.

If you are the proud owner of a 1982 classic car you can take it out on the road without worrying about vehicle tax and MOTs, but make sure it is in working order or go for voluntary MOT testing to avoid endangering yourself and others.

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

Are classic motorcycles exempt from the MOT?

Yes, the MOT for old cars rule applies to all lightweight passenger vehicles that are older than 40 years and have not been substantially altered in the past 30 years 

How does an MOT exemption affect car insurance?

Vehicles that are exempt from an MOT check still need to have at least third-party insurance to be legally driven on public roads. If your car is kept in good condition and there are no noticeable defects, there should be no changes to your classic car insurance policy. 

Do classic cars need an MOT if they are 25 years old?

Yes, cars made 25 years ago still need an MOT test. Some would define a classic car as being at least 15 years old and having a list price of £15,000 or more, however, to be tax and MOT-exempt a vehicle must be older than 40 years and not be substantially modified in the last 30 years.

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.