Somebody checking the oil in their car engine

What are the new vehicle MOT laws and are you affected?

3 minutes

Big changes to the MOT have recently come into effect, including stricter rules on diesel cars. Follow this guide to make sure your vehicle passes with flying colours.

  • What are the new MOT minor, major and dangerous faults?
  • How the MOT affects diesel and classic car drivers
  • Additional checks to make sure your car is roadworthy

New MOT rules came into effect on Sunday 20th May, which have been touted as the most significant shake up to the test in its 60-year history.

We all know that driving without a valid MOT can lead to fines and hefty penalties, which even your car insurance can't protect you from, but details surrounding the impending policy modifications are less clear cut.

In fact, some motorists have been left scratching their heads about what the new MOT legislation actually means and how it will affect their vehicle when it comes time to renew the 'ticket'.

But fret not – in this article Leon Poultney talks to the experts and breaks down the updates, so you're armed with the right information and avoid any unnecessary expenditure.


Why have the MOT laws changed?

Predominantly they’ve changed to meet a new EU directive, dubbed the European Union Roadworthiness Package, which sees the new dangerous, major and minor fault categories (explained more fully below) brought in line with the rest of Europe.
As the standard of technology in cars has improved, the test has been updated to reflect this, while the most polluting diesel cars will come under the spotlight in an attempt to reduce CO2 levels. 


How has the MOT test changed?

Arguably the biggest change to the MOT test is the introduction of new fault categories, which will replace the pass, fail and advisory notices that were part of the outgoing legislation.
‘There are now three defect categories: dangerous, major and minor,’ explains Neil Barlow, head of MOT policy at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). ‘For dangerous and major defects the vehicle will fail, for minor defects the vehicle won’t fail, and you’ll still be issued advisories for those components that aren’t yet defective, but are wearing or on their way out.’


What are dangerous, major and minor defects?

According to official documentation:

• A 'dangerous' defect has a ‘direct and immediate risk to road safety or has a serious impact on the environment’ and owners ‘shouldn't drive the vehicle until it’s been repaired’.

• ‘Major’ defects are issued if the fault ‘may affect the vehicle’s safety, put other road users at risk or have an impact on the environment’ and owners need to ‘repair it immediately’ before driving away.

• Minor defects will have ‘no significant impact on the safety of the vehicle or impact on the environment’, but owners will be advised to ‘repair as soon as possible’.

Advisories surrounding other problems flagged up will also continue to be issued, which should be ‘monitored’ and ‘repaired if necessary’.


How do the new MOT laws affect diesel drivers?

Owners of diesel cars are in for a harder time due to the new MOT testing protocol, as there are now stricter limits for emissions from diesel cars with a diesel particulate filter (DPF).

This little gizmo, which is fitted to a large majority of modern diesel vehicles, traps soot and other noxious substances in an attempt to reduce the overall emissions.

‘The new regulations state that any diesel vehicle fitted with a DPF that emits ‘visible smoke of any colour’ during tests will get a major fault, thus automatically failing its MOT,’ explains Viresh Chandarana, MD of Carbon Clean UK (@CarbonCleanUK), a company that specialises in cleaning diesel particulate filters.

‘Furthermore, testers must not test any vehicle where the DPF canister has clearly been cut open and re-welded – unless the owner can prove this was done for legitimate reasons, such as filter cleaning – as it’s a sure sign the DPF’s contents may have been removed for illegitimate reasons,’ he adds.


What you should check before taking your car for an MOT

Before they take their car for an MOT, vehicle owners should consider checking:

  • If tyres are obviously underinflated
  • If the brake fluid has been contaminated
  • For fluid leaks posing an environmental risk
  • Brake pad warning lights work and if brake pads or discs are missing
  • Reversing lights work on vehicles first used from 1 September 2009
  • Headlight washers work on vehicles first used from 1 September 2009 (if they have them)
  • Daytime running lights work on vehicles first used from 1 March 2018 (most of these vehicles will have their first MOT in 2021 when they’re 3 years old).

Not keeping on top of any of the above could lead to MOT testers brandishing the faults as ‘dangerous’ or ‘major’, which will lead to the vehicle failing.

Clive Robertson, head of the classic car group at leading international solicitors Healys LLP (@HealysLLP), says that motorists will now have to pay more attention to the health and wellbeing of their vehicles.

‘That the MOT has evolved to recognise new technology and better manufacturing practices is a good thing. However, some of the changes can be seen as potential pitfalls for the uninitiated,’ he says, advising motorists to be aware of the ‘new raft of checks’ that have been introduced.


The new-look MOT certificate

Vehicle owners will now receive a refreshed certificate to reflect the changes, which will make it clear and easy to understand whether the vehicle has passed and if there are any minor defects or advisories that require attention.

On top of this, the online service to check a vehicle’s MOT history (linked above in the defects section) has also been updated to reflect the design of the new certification and divulge the same information.


What do the MOT changes mean for classic cars?

Finally, some potentially positive news, as vehicles registered on 31 May 1978 or before now don’t need an MOT.
You will still have to apply for any tax as normal (although it's likely you won't have to pay this either) but the overall roadworthiness of your vehicle is now down to you.

‘If a vehicle would not pass an MOT, it is not road legal,’ warns Clive Robertson. ‘That it does not need to have an MOT simply means the owner or driver must take responsibility in making sure it is still up to the legal level required.

‘The simplest way to stay safe and legal has to be to keep getting your car MOT tested, even though it is exempt. Surely that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind, especially when weighed against the potential penalties,’ he adds.

Although there’s more for the owner to take responsibility for, the changes to the MOT should improve most cars and their drivers’ safety on the road. But it’s important for diesel and classic car owners to take extra care – or they could face a fine, or a breakdown.