What’s covered in an MOT and Service

Often I’m asked by friends and family about an issue with their car usually followed by the phrase “Why wasn't this picked up in the MOT or Service?”

So let me help clear up the confusion of what is actually being done during your annual MOT and your service.


The MOT is a mandatory annual test on all vehicles over 3 years old concerned with safety, road-worthiness, and exhaust emissions.

An MOT can only be carried out by a qualified tester at a certified garage.

The test checks the following:

  • Brakes, wheels, and tires
  • Steering and suspension
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Seat belts, ABS, and airbag warning lights
  • Windscreen, wipers, and visibility
  • Exhaust and emissions
  • Body structure, mirrors, and registration plate
  • Speedometer and horn

If the car is low on oil or coolant it can pass an MOT. The tester may issue an advisory if he spots it, but their levels are not part of the test.

If the car has an engine fault that does not affect the emissions or the ability to drive safely, it can also pass an MOT. For example, cars with head gasket leaks or knocking crankshaft bearings can pass MOTs.

The condition of service parts such as air and oil filters or drive and timing belts are not checked in the MOT.

I can’t stress this enough: A fresh MOT is no guarantee of a year's trouble-free motoring!

Incidentally, if you're wondering what MOT stands for, its name is an acronym for Ministry of Transport, the grandfather of the Department for Transport.

The Service

Your vehicle servicing is not mandatory, although highly recommended.

Unlike the MOT which is standardised, what happens during a service can vary widely between vehicles and garages.

A basic service can be carried out by almost anyone, although some modern cars may require a specialised tool to reset servicing lights.

The minimum a service usually includes is:

  • Changing the oil
  • Changing the oil filter
  • Changing the air filter
  • Changing the fuel filter

Depending on mileage, it can also include:

  • Changing the spark plugs
  • Changing the drive belts
  • Changing the timing belt
  • Changing the brake fluid

Garages may also just inspect components and advise on their replacement, if required, as part of their service. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Checking the battery
  • Checking the brake fluid
  • Checking the brake pads and discs
  • Checking automatic transmission fluid
  • Checking the tires
  • Checking coolant levels
  • Checking lights

It's important to know what has been serviced on a used car prior to purchase. If the car is due a timing belt change, you could incur a significant cost and this should be reflected in the price.

Equally not knowing what has been previously replaced can incur significant costs on unnecessarily changing parts before their time.

Even with modern low maintenance cars, it’s important that you consult your handbook with regards to service intervals and their recommended checks. Every driver should be able to check their coolant and oil levels.

So with that in mind, keep a record of your servicing, know what you're paying for and get any suspicious noises checked out as soon as possible!

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