When is a Car MOT-Exempt? Explained

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Discover when your car might be MOT-exempt. Learn the criteria for exemption, the types of vehicles that qualify, and how it affects your car maintenance.

Most passenger vehicles older than three years are required by law to pass an annual MOT test to certify their roadworthiness. The DVLA does not, however, require a car MOT certificate under certain circumstances. In this article, we'll take a closer look at when a car is exempt from MOT testing and why.

The MOT test is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness, and exhaust emissions. It covers lights, tires, brakes, steering, suspension, and 20+ other components.

The test's purpose is to ensure vehicles on the road are safe to operate and don't pose a risk to the driver, passengers, or other road users. It also helps you catch issues wth your car early, before they become larger, costlier problems.

Driving without an MOT will get you a £100 fixed penalty notice, fines up to £1,000, and up to 3 points on your licence.

So, it's in your best interest to know once and for all whether your car is MOT-exempt.

Overview of MOT exemption rules

Like we said, most cars will need a valid MOT certificate to be legally driven on UK roads. There are five main exceptions to this rule:

  • Vehicles under three years old
  • Vehicles over 40 years old
  • Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) vehicles
  • Electric goods vehicles registered before 1 March 2015
  • Tractors
  • Lorries, buses, and trailers

Let's dive into the specifics of each.

Vehicles under three years old

If you're driving a new car, you don't have to worry about an MOT test until three years past its first registration. You'll still need to keep your vehicle in good condition and make sure it's roadworthy, but you won't have to present it for an MOT test.

It's important to remember, however, that MOT exemption is only allowed in this category for up to three years following a car's first registration. If you purchase a used car pay close attention to when it reaches (or if it's already reached) that three-year threshold.

Note: In Northern Ireland, vehicles don't require an MOT certificate until their fourth year.

Vehicles over 40 years old

If your vehicle is older than 40 years, it's considered 'historic'. When a historic vehicle has had no "substantial changes" (e.g., replacing the chassis, engine, or gearbox) in the last 30 years, it doesn't require an MOT test.

What constitutes a "substantial change"? Anything that changes the way the vehicle works or alters its original safety or emissions standards. Cosmetic changes, like paint jobs or interior revamps, usually don't count.

Keep in mind this is a rolling exception. If your car was first registered on, say, 1 July 1984, your MOT requirement will cease once July 2024 rolls around.

Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) vehicles

A Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) is a declaration made to the DVLA that a vehicle is not being used on public roads. When you declare your vehicle a SORN, you won't have to pay road tax or present it for an MOT test.

However, if you plan on using the vehicle again, you'll need to have it taxed and MOT'd before hitting the road. If you're headed to a pre-booked MOT test, you can legally drive a vehicle to the testing facility as a SORN, without a valid MOT certificate or road tax.

Electric goods vehicles registered before 1 March 2015

Electric goods vehicles registered before March 1, 2015, are exempt from the MOT test in the UK. This exemption was established as part of the broader regulatory framework governing vehicle testing and certification.

The rationale behind it pertains to the relatively low environmental impact of these early electric vehicles, their limited number, and the specific uses they were typically put to. Many are urban delivery vehicles with lower mileage and slower speeds, which doesn't necessitate the same frequency of testing required for other vehicle types.

Lorries, buses, and trailers

There is no MOT test for heavier commercial vehicles, such as lorries, buses, and trailers. However, these vehicle classes are required to take a special 'annual vehicle test'.

For a full list of MOT-exempt vehicles and their conditions, refer to DVLA Form V 112 ("Declaration of exemption from MOT").

Are there exceptions to the MOT exemption rules?

There are a few specific exceptions to the 40-year MOT exemption rule. Your classic car is not MOT-exempt if...

  • it's had substantial changes made to it within the last 30 years.
  • it has a 'Q' number plate.
  • it's been reconstructed (per DVLA's definition).
  • it's a 'kit conversion' car (built from components from different vehicle makes and models).

Examples of substantial changes to your vehicle include:

  • Chassis and monocoque bodyshell replacements not of the same pattern as the original 
  • Alterations to steering and suspension
  • Changes to the number of cylinders in the engine (in most cases)

For the full rundown, check out the UK government's advice pamphlet on this subject.

How can I check if my car qualifies for MOT exemption?

The easiest way to check if your car needs a valid MOT is to use our free MOT status and history check tool. All you have to do is enter your vehicle registration, and we'll show you your car's:

  • Current status
  • Upcoming MOT expiry date
  • MOT history
  • Any advisory or failure notes from previous MOT tests
  • Requirements for the next MOT test

How to declare MOT exemption for your vehicle

If you qualify for MOT exemption, you'll need to complete a DVLA Form V112 ("Declaration of exemption from MOT"). This form includes an explanation of the criteria for exemption, along with fields to fill out your vehicle registration, personal details, and which category your vehicle qualifies for exemption under.

Once you've filled out the form, you can send it to the DVLA by post.

How do I have to renew my car's MOT exemption status?

To renew your vehicle's MOT exemption status, you'll need to use the V112 form to declare it MOT-exempt. This declaration is typically needed when you also apply for Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) each year. You must tax your car every year, even if the tax amount is £0 and your vehicle is MOT-exempt.

The form requires that you specify the category that applies to your vehicle under the "Reasons for Exemption" section, which includes various categories of vehicles that may be exempt from MOT based on age, type, or usage.

For vehicles of Historic Interest (vehicles over 40 years old), the process involves ensuring that the vehicle has not been substantially changed in the last 30 years. You will need to have the vehicle's log book (V5C) in your name and a completed V112 MOT exemption form.

Again, you'll have to submit this at a Post Office when you apply to have your vehicle taxed.

Can modifications affect a car's eligibility for MOT exemption?

Modifications to a vehicle may disqualify it from MOT exemption if they fall under the category of "substantial changes" and have been made in the last 30 years.

Substantial changes include cars fitted with a new axle, body, chassis, or engine that differs from its original pattern or specification. The "original specification" bit means if you've replaced parts of your car with newer versions of the same make and model, then the change is not considered to be substantial.

Modifications that have been made to the steering and suspension or involve a change of engine capacity may also impact MOT exemption status.

Responsibilities of owning an MOT-exempt vehicle

If your vehicle is exempt, remember that you still have a legal obligation to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy. The V112 form itself must be submitted each time you tax the vehicle or declare it SORN. And, especially if you plan to drive an MOT-exempt vehicle on public roads, you need to ensure it is safe to drive.

MOT exemption or not, it's your responsibility to take care of the following:

  • Regular maintenance checks
  • Servicing your car every 6,000 miles
  • Keeping it in good condition
  • Ensuring all parts are working correctly and safely
  • Promptly making necessary repairs
  • Keeping up with yearly road tax payments (you must tax your car, even if you pay £0)

In addition to being good practice for safety reasons, taking care of your car will help maintain its value, prevent costly fixes later on, and make driving it a joy for years to come.

How MOT exemption affects your insurance policy

Although an MOT exemption removes the requirement that your vehicle pass the MOT test annually, it doesn't absolve you from the responsibility of keeping the vehicle in a roadworthy condition at all times. Insurance companies require that all vehicles, exempt or not, be kept in a roadworthy state to be covered under their policies.

In other words, your insurer may not explicitly require an MOT certificate for legally exempt vehicles, but they do expect the vehicle to meet safety standards that would typically be checked during an MOT. If an accident occurs and it's found that the vehicle wasn't roadworthy, it could invalidate the insurance claim.

Even if your vehicle is MOT-exempt, we strongly recommend undertaking regular checks and maintenance to ensure it remains in good condition. This includes checks on brakes, lights, tyres and other critical areas.

Some vehicle owners voluntarily submit their vehicles for an MOT for their peace of mind and to get an expert opinion on the vehicle's condition.

What happens if my MOT-exempt car fails a voluntary MOT?

If your MOT-exempt car fails a voluntary MOT, a few implications are involved, primarily revolving around the legal requirement to keep your vehicle in a roadworthy condition:

  • Legal obligation to repair defects. If your MOT-exempt car fails a voluntary MOT test, it is legally considered unroadworthy, just like any vehicle that fails a compulsory MOT. MOT exemption does not change the requirement that all vehicles driven on public roads must be in a roadworthy condition. So, you cannot drive your car until fixing the issues and passing a retest.
  • Insurance implications. Operating a vehicle that is not roadworthy can invalidate your insurance. If your MOT-exempt car fails its MOT and you choose to drive without addressing the issues, and you are then involved in an accident, your insurer might not cover the damage.
  • Voluntary repairs. Although the MOT is voluntary for exempt vehicles, once you are aware of the defects (as noted in the failed MOT), it's in your best interest to address these issues. Continuing to drive a vehicle known to have defects that affect its roadworthiness can lead to legal consequences under road safety laws and costlier repairs later on.

Continued voluntary testing. You might choose to continue annual voluntary MOT tests as a good practice to ensure your vehicle remains safe and to have peace of mind about the vehicle's condition.

Where can I find more info on MOT exemptions?

For more information on MOT exemptions, you can visit the UK government's official website. They have a comprehensive FAQ section that covers various scenarios and questions related to MOT exemptions for vehicles, including guidelines on modifications, responsibilities of vehicle owners, and consequences of driving an unroadworthy car.

If you're a classic car owner, you can also visit the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) website for further guidance on MOT exemptions and how to ensure your vehicle's roadworthiness.