Depending on your viewpoint, the MoT test is either a welcome yearly check of your car’s roadworthiness and street-legality or an annual pain and a drain on your finances. Lucky owners of cars manufactured before 1960 don’t have to endure the 12-monthly checkover – their cars are exempt from compulsory MoT testing, although some in the former camp continue to take their car for the annual inspection for their own peace of mind.
This is an overview of the MoT test as it applies to classic cars, including the important exemptions. At the bottom of this guide we’ve included links to websites that will give you more specific information about all elements of the test.
General points to bear in mind are that you can get an MoT up to a month (minus a day) before your current MoT runs out, and still keep the same renewal date. You can only legally drive your vehicle on the road if the MoT has run out only if you are driving it to or from somewhere to be repaired, or to a pre-arranged MoT test. The maximum charge for an MoT, stipulated by law, is £54.85, although many testing stations charge less.
The best long-term plan of action is to find an MoT tester you can trust who is happy to discuss the requirements of the test and explain any failure points he discovers – and stick with him. In this way, the tester will get to know you and the car, and you’ll be better informed about your car’s state of health. If the tester spots something that isn’t currently bad enough for an MoT failure, he may put an ‘advise’ on the MoT readout to make you aware of the fault and the fact it should be addressed before the next MoT test.
Most pre-1965 cars are not required by law to have seatbelts, but for most post-’65 cars and all older cars that have had seatbelts retro-fitted, the belts must be in good condition with no frays, correctly functioning buckles and solid corrosion-free mounting points. If they are fitted with a retraction mechanism, it must work properly. Since 1965, when cars were first required to have seatbelt mounting-points fitted by law, various other regulations have come in concerning the amount of belts fitted and their type. The seats themselves must also be firmly secured. If you’re unsure of the situation for your car, either ask your MoT tester when you book the test or go to the relevant website at the bottom of this guide.
The emissions test for classics is much more tolerant than for modern cars. Basically, if there’s no visible smoke on tickover (with the choke off) and the exhaust doesn’t kick out excessive carbon monoxide, you should be OK. And if you your car is smoking out the MoT testing garage, it’s time to take remedial action anyway. Exhausts and manifolds should be hole- and leak-free.
All structural areas of the car must be in sound condition, and any mounting points for suspension, steering or seat belts must be solid for 30cm around that area. Bear in mind that the tester will be poking around under the car with a big screwdriver to look for rust holes. Classic failure areas are sills, subframes, floorpans, inner wings, bulkheads and A/B-pillars. Cars with separate chassis should have the body properly attached to the chassis. In addition, there shouldn’t be any sharp or jagged edges on the bodywork that could cause serious damage to a pedestrian in a crash.
Foot and handbrakes need to work properly with no pulling to either side and no binding. There should be no leaks in the brake lines, master cylinder or slave cylinders. All brake components should be securely fitted.
Should work as intended, with no excessive play at the steering wheel or at the road wheels. Generally speaking, steering boxes are allowed a little more play at the steering wheel than steering racks – and some boxes can be adjusted. Power steering systems must be leak-free. All elements of the steering system should be fastened to the car securely. The tester will go through the whole steering system, including all the joints, looking for any slack that will induce a fail. Excessive play in any of the wheel bearings will also cause the car to fail its test.
The ‘bounce test’ is a good way to see if your suspension is working properly. Bounce each corner of the car in turn; if the body carries on bouncing, the shock absorbers/dampers are worn and will cause an MoT fail – there should be no leaks and no play in suspension linkages.
Wheels and tyres
Wheels should be in good condition with no serious cracks or corrosion; tyres should have at least the minimum legal depth of tread – 1.6mm in a continuous band around the central three quarters of the tyre.
Instruments and lights
Headlights must work correctly, with the correct aim on full and dip beam. Rear lights, indicators, brake lights, hazard flashers and numberplate lights must all be working correctly, as should any visual or aural readouts on the dashboard. Windscreen wipers should work correctly with no splits in the blades and windscreen washers should work and be correctly aimed.
Any cracks in the windscreen in the driver’s field of vision will cause a fail, as will a non-functioning horn. The bonnet catch and and that on the bootlid or hatch should open and lock. All doors must work from both inside and out. The registration plate must be appropriate for the year of the vehicle – only cars registered before 1973 can use the old black and white plates. The VIN/chassis plate must be fitted, easily read and tie-in with your previous MoT (usually a computerised check these days). The speedometer must work.