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What Happens if Your Car Fails the MOT Test: Tips & Help

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated November, 9, 2022

Just like any other test, the MOT check has two possible outcomes: your vehicle will either pass or fail the inspection. 

If it passes, you have another year until you have to take the test again. 

But what happens if your car fails its MOT? Can you drive a car with a failed MOT? How much time do you have to retake the test?

Let’s get started with the most important question.

What Happens if Your Car Fails Its MOT? 

The MOT is a legal requirement for all cars older than three years (although some older vehicles are also MOT-exempt) and it tests whether your car is safe enough to be driven on public roads.  

If the test centre discovers serious problems with your vehicle, your car will fail its MOT and you will be issued a ‘refusal of an MOT test certificate’, also known as form VT30, outlining the reason or reasons for the MOT failure. 

You must then fix all the defects listed on the certificate and take the test again. There are some situations when a partial retest is possible, but it is only available for certain issues repaired within one to ten days. 

Your failed MOT test will also be recorded in the MOT database, which means the police will have this information when they stop you.

Failing the MOT is not uncommon and no reason to panic—as a matter of fact nearly 2 million cars failed their MOT in 2020. However, it is important to know what happens after an MOT failure. 

How are issues categorised on your MOT certificate 

Since the 2018 rules on MOT failure were introduced, MOT testing issues have been classified as ‘dangerous’, ‘major’ or ‘minor’, the first two of which result in a failed MOT test

Dangerous issues

An issue categorised as ‘dangerous’ on your MOT means that the car is not roadworthy and should not be driven away from the testing station. If you get this grade on your MOT result and want to carry out repairs at another garage, you will need to have the car towed. Dangerous defects include things like the tread depth being lower than 1.6mm, brake lights not functioning or a loose steering wheel that is likely to become detached.

Major defects

A ‘major’ problem with your car, such as oil dripping from the steering box or high emissions, can also result in an MOT fail and should be repaired as soon as possible. However, these defects do not make the car unroadworthy—in other words, if no ‘dangerous’ issues were flagged and your MOT has not lapsed, you can leave the test centre with your vehicle to get it repaired. 

Minor defects

Issues listed as ‘minor’ or ‘advisory’ on your MOT certificate are not considered serious enough to fail the MOT. Nonetheless, they should be addressed when possible.

Can You Drive Your Car if it Fails Its MOT?

This depends on how serious the issue or issues flagged during the MOT test are. 

According to MOT fail rules, you can drive your car away from the testing station with a failed MOT only if

  • Your current MOT has not expired
  • There were no ‘dangerous’ issues listed on the refusal certificate. 

Unless you meet these two criteria, you need to leave your car at the test centre to get it repaired or tow it to another garage. 

If your MOT has lapsed and you failed the test, you are allowed to drive to and from the garage for repairs or to a new pre-arranged MOT appointment—provided the vehicle is in roadworthy condition. 

It is important to note that all vehicles on the road must be safe to drive, regardless of whether or not their MOT certificate is still valid. If you drive a vehicle deemed unroadworthy, you could get a hefty fine of up to £2,500, 3 penalty points and a driving ban. In some cases, you might even get prosecuted. 

How does a car’s MOT failure affect insurance?

Your insurance is not likely to cover a vehicle with a failed or expired MOT test. This translates to more legal trouble since you are technically breaking the law twice, i.e. for driving without car insurance and for driving with an invalid MOT. In this case, the police could prosecute you or seize your uninsured vehicle, with the latter being more common than you’d think—for instance, 137,410 vehicles without insurance were impounded in 2019

It is best to check your policy or contact your insurer if your car failed its MOT. Some insurance companies might provide you with third-party cover or temporary car insurance while you are getting repairs, whereas others might reject your claim or offer a partial payout only. 

Getting the vehicle repaired and retested

This again depends on how the issue(s) were classified on the certificate. If any ‘dangerous’ problems are listed, you should leave the car at the same test centre. They can repair the defects within ten working days and you will not have to pay for another MOT check. 

If the issues discovered are classified as ‘major’ you can drive the car to another garage and bring it back to the original testing station within ten working days for a retest. You will be charged a discounted price, usually half the regular MOT fee. 

It is better to get started on repairs as soon as possible. Keep in mind that if major repair work is needed such as electrical rewiring or having special spare parts ordered, it might take longer to fix your car. 

If this is the case and you are unable to get the car repaired within ten working days, you will need to take the MOT test again and pay the full fee of £54.85 for cars and £29.65 for motorcycles. An MOT may not be one of the highest car running costs, but since you are given the opportunity to pay less or avoid a second test charge, try and get the repairs completed in the allotted time. 

Another possible option is to take the car to another garage for repairs and bring it back to the test centre within one working day for a free partial retest. In addition to the short timeframe, failed MOT rules specify which items are covered by a partial retest. They include:

  • Access panels
  • Battery
  • Bonnet
  • Bootlid
  • Brake pedal antislip
  • Door hinges 
  • Dropsides
  • Electrical wiring
  • Fuel filler cap
  • Horn
  • Lights (except headlamp aim)
  • Loading door
  • Mirrors
  • Rear reflectors
  • Number plates
  • Seats and seatbelts (but not anchorages)
  • Steering wheel
  • Tailboard & tailgate
  • Towbars (except the body around anchorage points)
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • VIN
  • Windscreen glass, wipers & washers
  • Wheels and tyres 

If the repairs your vehicle needs are not listed above, you cannot qualify for a partial retest and you will need to pay the full fee for another MOT test. 

Finally, you can apply for a SORN for your car if you want to keep it but don’t wish to get it retested. Keep in mind that you will still need to pass the MOT to get your car back on the road after a SORN

Can You Appeal the MOT Decision?

Yes, you can appeal the result with the DVSA, both if you fail the test, or strangely enough, if you passed the MOT but think you should have failed. 

If you want to appeal the results, you should hold off on repairs until the entire process is completed. The car should be in the same condition as on the day it failed the test—if you modify it in any way, such as remapping the vehicle or repairing defects, your appeal might be cancelled. 

The first thing to do if you feel that your vehicle shouldn’t have received an MOT test fail is to talk to the test centre—the entire issue could simply be a result of poor communication. If you are still not happy with the decision, you can appeal by 

  • Downloading and filling in a complaint form with your details, details about the vehicle, the test result and your complaint
  • Sending it to the DVSA within 14 working days from the date you failed the test

The DVSA will consider your appeal and contact you within five days. If your appeal is accepted, the DVSA will refund your test fee. However, if they decide to retest your car, you will need to arrange a date with a licensed testing centre and pay the test fee in full for the second time. 

Alternatively, you could take legal action against an MOT test centre by 

  • Contacting a Trading Standards office near you
  • Reporting the test centre to the police 
  • Starting your personal legal proceedings 

Understandably, the DVSA cannot help you take legal action against an MOT testing station. 

How to avoid an MOT Failure?

Surprisingly, most cars fail their MOT for simple reasons, such as a broken light or an empty screen wash container. 

To boost your chances of passing the test, consider running a few simple tests at home—go through the pre-MOT checklist and fix any issues that might come up before the actual test. Alternatively, you could get your car serviced regularly and thus make certain that it is in the best shape for the annual inspection.  

You should also ensure that you have more time for repairs, which means you should book an early MOT date—usually, a month (minus a day) before your current certificate expires. 

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

Can a garage keep my car if it fails an MOT?

No, contrary to popular belief, a test centre does not have the right to hold your car if it fails its MOT. If no ‘dangerous’ rated defects are uncovered you are free to drive your car to another garage for repairs. Should your car be deemed unroadworthy, i.e. your fail certificate lists a ‘dangerous’ defect, you should not drive your car away from the test centre, although you can have it towed to another garage. 

Can I drive my car if it fails MOT before the due date?

If you fail the MOT and your current certificate is still valid, you can drive the car away to get it repaired, provided it is still safe to drive. Driving with a failed MOT, even one that has not expired, can invalidate your insurance and lead to fines of up to £1,000. 

If my car fails the MOT how long do I have to fix it?

It depends on the defects detected during the MOT check. If it is something simple, you could get the car fixed and take it back for a free partial retest after one day or you could take it back within ten working days and pay a discounted fee. You could also get the vehicle retested after ten days, although you will need to pay for the full MOT test.

What happens if your car fails its MOT on emissions?

One of the new changes to the MOT test in 2018 were stricter MOT failure rules for emissions, in particular for diesel cars. So, if your vehicle does not meet the emissions standards, it will fail the test, with the defect being classified as a ‘major’ issue. You can still drive your car (provided your MOT has not expired), but you need to get the issue repaired as soon as possible.

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.