When is it legal to drive without an MOT certificate?

An MOT checks your car’s safety and roadworthiness, but is it a requirement and what happens if you don’t have one? Learn everything you need to know about the certificate with the Insurance Factory.

If you’ve been living abroad and only recently moved back to the UK, you might need to refresh your memory on the rules of the road before you buy a new car. In fact, UK drivers that passed their test years ago are still sometimes uncertain of the exact regulations.

You need to tax your vehicle, get car insurance for expats if you don’t have it, brush up on the Highway Code, and book in an MOT for your car when it’s due.

European countries have varying rules when it comes to how frequently they test the roadworthiness of their cars, so if you’ve been living abroad for a while, you may have forgotten all about the UK’s annual MOT inspection.

Fear not! Discover what this test checks for nowadays, how much it costs, and what can happen if you get behind the wheel without one.

Quick refresher - what is an MOT?

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport and is a test that checks your car is fit to be driven on the road. If your vehicle passes the exam, you get an MOT certificate that’s valid for 12 months. After that year passes, you need to get it checked again.

In some special circumstances, like taxis and private hire cars in London, vehicles are required to have two MOTs a year. Check the rules and regulations in your area, especially if you drive one of these types of vehicles.

Don’t confuse an MOT with a service, which checks the mechanical functions of your car. The main focus of the MOT is safety and to make sure your vehicle meets the legal requirements stated by the government to remain on the UK’s roads.

How much is an MOT and how long does it last?

As you have to pay for an MOT annually, you might hope that it won’t cost you a lot. Luckily, the government puts a limit on what a servicing centre can charge, which is £54.85 for a car.

Different garages and service centres charge varying rates, but they can’t go above the set limit. However, this cost is only for the test itself, and if your vehicle doesn’t pass, you’ll have to pay more to fix every part of the car that it failed on to continue using it on the road.

With older vehicles, this can be well into the hundreds of pounds, and some drivers find it more cost-effective to buy a new one.

Very old vehicles may also mean you pay more for car insurance for expats as they aren’t deemed as safe and secure as modern options.

How long is an MOT test?

Most MOT assessments take around an hour, but this doesn’t mean it’ll take 60 minutes from the moment you drop it off at the test centre. Check what time your vehicle will be ready when you book so you can plan your day around it.

If your car fails the MOT and needs repairs, it’ll likely need to spend a lot longer in the test centre or garage. This can take a few days if extensive work needs doing.

You shouldn’t need to pay to take an MOT again if the garage that performed the test can make the changes itself and within 10 working days.

What do you need to take to an MOT

The service centre needs a few documents to perform the test. Before you leave home, make sure you have:
  • a copy of the appointment confirmation
  • your vehicle registration document or logbook (V5C)
  • the MOT certificate from last year – if you have one

What does an MOT test check?

The MOT checks various parts of your cars’ exterior, interior, and functions to ensure it’s roadworthy. It doesn’t assess the engine, clutch, or gearbox.

A comprehensive list of what gets tested is available on the government website, but certain focus points include:
  • Brakes
  • Tyres
  • Exhaust emissions
  • Windscreen
  • Steering
  • Suspension
  • Mirrors
  • Seatbelts
  • Lights
  • Doors
  • Horn
  • Registration plates
  • Washers and wipers

After checking all the required parts of your vehicle, the test centre will pass or fail your vehicle. It’s important to note that even if you pass, it doesn’t mean your car is in perfect condition.

The certificate might say it’s safe enough to be on the road, but it may also list faults as either ‘advisory’ or ‘minor’. Advisory can include issues like tyres being worn close to the legal limit and means you need to keep your eye on them.

A minor is any small defect that you need to replace or repair as soon as possible.

Can you drive after you fail an MOT?

If your car doesn’t pass the test, you’ll need to get those parts repaired. If the issue isn’t dangerous, you can drive your car, but only until the valid MOT runs out.

If the garage decides the problem is something dangerous, you can’t get behind the wheel again until it’s fixed. Sometimes, the test centre is able to make the repairs for you. If they can’t, you’ll need to have your car towed to a garage that can.

An MOT test centre can’t prevent you from leaving in your car, but if it fails the test due to major problems, you’ll get penalised accordingly.

Expect a hefty fine and for your tax and car insurance for expats to become invalid.

What’s the penalty for driving without an MOT?


If you get stopped by the police and they ask to see your MOT, you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you can’t produce a valid paper or online certificate.

You can receive a fine of up to £1,000 for driving without an MOT.

If the police see your vehicle as unroadworthy, things can get even worse. Expect a fine of up to £2,500 and three points on your driver’s licence.

That’s not all.

If you already have points, a damaged tyre or two, and a broken light, you could get a driving ban of up to two years.

What does this mean? It can affect your ability to get to and from work, take children to school, attend social events and more.

It might even increase the cost of your future car insurance for expats as you’ll have to apply as a convicted driver.

Do all cars need an MOT to be on the road?

Generally speaking, all cars need a valid MOT certificate to be on the road, or you face serious consequences like those mentioned above. There are a few exceptions to the rule, though, that can make it even more confusing for drivers returning to the UK.

When can you drive without an MOT?

You can only legally drive your car without a valid MOT if:
  • Your vehicle is less than three years old
  • You’re on your way to a pre-booked MOT test
  • You own an exempt car

Cars less than three years old

When you buy a brand-new car, you don’t need to get an MOT until it’s three years old. As its third birthday approaches, book your vehicle in for a test. Sometimes, you need to arrange an MOT a few weeks ahead, so stay on top of this to avoid driving illegally.

Of course, if you want to have an MOT to check your vehicle’s roadworthiness before this date, that’s absolutely fine – there’s just no legal requirement to do so.

Driving to a test centre for a pre-booked MOT

You can legally drive to the service centre or garage for an MOT as long as the appointment is pre-booked.
If you’re stopped along the way, you might be expected to produce evidence that it’s booked, so have a confirmation email or other proof to hand. Don’t be surprised if the police officer who pulled you over asks for the name of the test centre so they can call and confirm your pre-booked MOT.

How far can you drive to the test?

The centre is allowed to be a ‘reasonable’ distance from the start of your journey, and you must go straight there – so don’t stop at the shop along the way!

A common misconception is that there’s a grace period to book your MOT once it becomes invalid. So, if your current certificate runs out on a Friday but your test isn’t booked until Monday, you cannot drive over the weekend in between.

What classifies as an exempt car?

If you own an exempt vehicle, you don’t need an MOT certificate to drive. These include:
  • Tractors
  • Electrically powered goods vehicles registered before March 2015
  • Certain historic vehicles

Historic (or classic) vehicles include those built more than 40 years ago or those that have had no ‘substantial changes’ made over the last 30 years.

You can see a full list on the MOT exemption form (V112). You need to fill this out if you own one of these to apply for vehicle tax exemption.

Once your application is successful, you don’t need an annual MOT but must keep your vehicle in a roadworthy state. If you don’t do this and are found to be using a vehicle in dangerous condition, you may get fined up to £2,500 and get three penalty points on your licence.

When is the earliest you can get an MOT?

Once you get an MOT certificate, it lasts a year. You can get the next one up to a month, minus a day, before the current one runs out and keep the same renewal date.

This means that if your MOT ends on the 20th June, you can get an MOT as early as the 21st May and keep the same renewal date for the next year. You may get one earlier, but the renewal date will change, so it’s not really worth it if you can avoid it.

Is your car insurance valid without an MOT?

Whether you have car insurance for expats, convicted drivers, or any other cover, heading out on the road after your MOT runs out means it’s likely to become invalid.

This means if you’re in an accident or your vehicle suffers damage, the insurer can refuse to pay for repairs or supply a replacement.

This can have a detrimental effect on your bank balance if you cause damage to other vehicles or people and it’s considered your fault. You’ll need to pay out to the injured parties from your own pocket.

If you get caught driving without an MOT and don’t have valid insurance, you have to pay a £300 fine and can get up to six points on your licence. In serious cases, you could be banned from getting behind the wheel for a set period.

Can you tax your car without an MOT?

No, a valid MOT certificate is needed to tax your vehicle. As everything car tax related is now done online, the system automatically checks that your car has a valid MOT before allowing you to pay for tax.

This means that if you drive your vehicle without tax, you’ll get into further trouble as you’ll have no valid MOT, insurance, or tax. The penalties for driving an untaxed car range from £80 to a whopping £1,000.

If you don’t pass your MOT and decide to sell or scrap your vehicle, you can get a refund for any full months that remain on your car tax.

To do this, you need to contact the DVLA. If you paid tax by direct debit, it gets cancelled right away. If you’re due money back, you’ll receive a refund for any months left on your tax – get in touch with the DVLA again if you don’t get the cheque within 8 weeks.

Do you need to service your car every year?


Unlike an MOT, car services aren’t required by law. However, an annual service makes sure your engine runs as it should and can prevent costly repairs in the future.

A complete service history also helps when selling your car and may even get you a better price.

How can I check when my MOT is due?

If you can’t remember when your next MOT test is due or have lost the certificate and need to find out, you can check the date on the gov.uk website as part of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) services.

The DVLA is a government body that keeps a record of all the drivers and vehicles on the roads in the UK.

You can also find details about your vehicle and your car tax status on their page to make sure you keep everything in order.

What should you do if you lose your MOT certificate?

In the past, if you lost or damaged your MOT certificate, you had to pay for a replacement. Thankfully, times have changed, and car owners can now view and save their certificate in PDF format, meaning you can print it if necessary.

This way, you can keep a digital copy of your MOT certificate on your computer along with documents for your tax and car insurance for expats.

Where do you find a replacement MOT? The gov.uk website provides the service and asks you to enter “the vehicle registration (number plate) and the 11-digit number from the vehicle log book (V5C).” Make sure you have these details to hand before getting started.

You can also head to any MOT centre and get a replacement – it doesn’t need to be the place where you got the MOT originally. You still need the same details as online and the centre may charge you up to £10 for this service.

How to make sure you don’t forget your MOT

When your car insurance for expats is about to run out, the insurance company will get in touch, but it’s not quite the same for MOTs. With a busy life and so many things to remember, it’s not unusual to forget the test and have to suffer the consequences.

So, what can you do to make sure you book your test in time? There are a few ways to set yourself a friendly reminder and stay on the right side of the law:
  • The government website allows you to set up a reminder. Provide your mobile number or email along with your number plate and expect a message a month before your test is due. You’ll get another reminder two weeks before the date if you haven’t yet booked.
  • Make use of the calendar on your phone or other service, like Google, to send you a reminder a few weeks before you need an MOT.
  • If you’re not great at checking your phone and the messages that come through, note it on your physical calendar. A big red “BOOK MOT” should do the trick!
  • Ask a friend or relative if they can set a reminder as an alarm on their phone to let you know when the date is approaching.

Could someone report me for not having a valid MOT?

Yes. Anyone can contact their local police to tell them about someone driving without a valid MOT. The police will want to know:
  • Vehicle make and model
  • Number plate
  • Colour of the vehicle
  • Location of the vehicle

Look after your car with the right insurance policy

To enjoy driving on UK roads legally, you need vehicle tax, a valid MOT, and an insurance policy. If you’ve just returned from abroad, this can seem like a huge task along with all the other relevant paperwork you have to do. 

Searching for car insurance for expats can seem daunting, and you might be expecting a hefty quote if you haven’t built up a no claims discount or haven’t driven for many years.

Don’t worry! Insurance Factory is here to support your return to the UK and help you get back behind the wheel before you know it. What benefits can you expect when choosing to insure your vehicle through us?
  • Specialist cover available for expats and international licence holders
  • A tailored policy based on your requirements
  • A variety of payment options
  • The choice of comprehensive cover

If you’ve been overseas and looking to find car insurance for expats, contact the Insurance Factory team for a quick quote today.