What’s the difference between an MOT and a service?

[A question that we are quite often asked is about the differences between an MOT and a car service.

In short, these two checks performed on your vehicle are not the same.

Whether you lease or own your vehicle, you need to ensure that both of these are carried out regularly. The checks performed during an MOT are different to those carried out when you take your car to a garage for a service.

Both the MOT and service are important, though only the MOT is a legal requirement that you can be fined for ignoring.

MOT - What's checked on an MOT - Man with empty pockets

In this article we are going to take a look at the differences beween a service and MOT and why it’s necessary you get both of these carried out on your vehicle.

If you would like to know who is responsible for ensuring these services and checks are carried out on your lease vehicle, please visit our article “Who repairs a lease car?” to gain more insight.

Want to know more about the vehicle leasing options available? Download our FREE guide to leasing.

What does MOT stand for?

For anyone who was hoping that MOT stood for something exciting, we hate to disappoint, but it literally stands for Ministry of Transport.

When you take your car in for its MOT it is being graded against the qualifying structure that has been laid out by the Ministry of Transport.

The primary focus of the checks carried out during the MOT is the safety features of the vehicle.

An important thing to be aware of when you’re booking your car in for an MOT is that only garages that have been approved by the Ministry of Transport can issue a legitimate and valid MOT test certificate.

It is illegal for any private vehicle that is three or more years old to be driven on public roads in the United Kingdom unless it has been issued with a VT20 or VT30 safety certificate (MOT test certificate).

Once you have had an MOT your certificate is valid for 12 months. It is vital that you keep a record of the date when your next MOT is due.

What is the penalty for driving without a valid MOT?

As we have already mentioned, it’s illegal to drive a private vheicle on public roads in the UK without a valid MOT certificate (if your vehicle is 3+ years old). Knowingly doing this is breaking the law and can have serious consequences (especially if you work in an industry where a driving licence and vehicle are necessary).

Your car insurance is also invalid if you are involved in an accident and your MOT is invalid (for whatever reason).

If you are stopped by the police and are unable to provide evidence of a valid MOT you are automatically issued with a fixed £60 penalty notice.

However, it is also possible that you will be presented with any or all of the following:

  • A fine of up to £1000
  • Charge of 6-8 penalty points
  • Potential impounding of your vehicle

There is one exception to the above and that is if you are stopped when you are on the way to the garage to get your MOT. In this instance you will be asked to provide evidence of your appointment.

What is checked during an MOT?

The MOT checks core elements and safety features of the vehicle from the inside to the outside, as well as checking parts of the engine.

External checks

  • The registration plate and mirrors are in good condition and attached securely.
  • The lights are checked to ensure they operate correctly and have the correct colour and aim.
  • Wipers and wiper blades are checked to ensure they’re operated properly.
  • The windscreen is checked for chips and cracks. The maximum damage size is 10mm in the driver’s line of vision, or 40mm elsewhere in the remaining area swept by the wiper blades.
  • The vehicle structure is not suffering from serious corrosion or damage in core areas. If the vehicle is found to have any sharp edges this can lead to an MOT fail.
  • The MOT tester will check that the doors open and close correctly. They will also check that the latch is secure in a closed position.
  • Wheels and tyres are checked for condition, security, tyre size, type and tread depth.
MOT - Mechanic handing car keys back to owner with car in background

Under the bonnet

During the MOT, specific features under the bonnet of your vehicle will be checked, such as:

  • The condition of the brakes, ensuring that they perform efficiently.
  • Exhaust emissions, This check is to ensure that the vehicle is functioning within specified guidelinces and also that the exhaust is fitted securely, has no leaks and silences effectively.
  • The fuel system is checked for leaks.
  • The fuel cap fastens and seals securely.
  • The steering and suspension components are checked for their condition and correct operation.

Interior checks

The MOT check looks at a limited number of interior features of your vehicle, including:

  • Safety and security of the front seats.
  • Ensuring that all seat belts in the vehicle (including those in the rear) are in good condition, operating safely and correctly.
  • The horn is checked for operation for effectiveness.

What’s included in a service?

There are three types of car service that have been designed to cover various stages in the car’s life:

  • An ‘anytime’ service covering essential car care should be undertaken as often as required.
  • An interim service should be carried out at 6 months or 6,000 miles.
  • A full service is carried out at 12,000 miles or 12 months.

Having a regular service ensures that your car continues to run as it should, it also helps to identify potential problems before they become an issue that can cost a lot to repair.

Another benefit to having regular services is that you are helping it to stay in good condition. A full-service history on a vehicle helps to keep its value higher, too. If you plan to re-sell your vehicle in the future, you should try to maintain regular servicing to ensure you can sell it for the best possible price.

If you would like to know whether the lease on your vehicle includes regular services, you can find out all about that in our article “What’s included in my lease?”.

External checks

  • Exterior lights are checked for brightness and operation – All service options
  • Doors are checked for secure locking –Interim and full service
  • Boot is checked for secure locking – Interim and full service
  • Fuel cap is properly secured – Interim and full service
  • Mirrors are clear and operational – Full service
  • Full tyre inspection (tread, pressure and alignment check) – Interim and full service

Under the bonnet

  • Replace engine oil and filter – All service options
  • Top-up windscreen washer fluid – All service options
  • Replace fuel filter (diesel vehicles) – Full service
  • Replace air filter – Full service
  • Visual brake check – All service options
  • Full brake inspection – Full service
  • Fuel pipes checked for routing, damage and corrosion – Full service
  • Engine is checked for transmission and rear axle train drive – Full service
  • Driveshaft joints and gaiters checked for wear and damage – Full service
  • Exhaust system and mountings checked for wear and tear – Full service
  • Battery – All service options
  • Battery wiring – All service options
  • Electrics checked (including battery, alternator, starter motor) – All service options
  • Coolant level tested for strength and condition – Interim and full service
  • Brake fluid checked for boiling point and condition – Interim and full service
  • Bonnet catch checked to ensure it operates properly – Interim and full service
  • Brake pipes and hoses – Interim and full service
  • Power-steering fluid checked and topped up if required – Full service
  • Auxilliary drive belt checked and adjusted, if required – Full service
  • Radiator and coolant hoses – Full service

Interior checks

  • Instruments (e.g. gauges and warning lights) checked for operation – All service options
  • The horn – All service options
  • Windscreen wipers – All service option
  • Interior lights – Interim and full service
  • Clutch operation – Interim and full service
  • Seat belts – Interim and full service
  • Reset service light – Interim and full service
  • Climate control / air conditioning system – Interim and full service
  • Engine diagnostic codes – Interim and full service
  • Steering, suspension linkages and ball joints for wear, damage and condition – Interim and full service

Additional checks

  • Suspension – check shock absorbers & springs – Interim and full service
  • Visual brake check – All service options
  • Full brake inspection – Interim and full service
  • Fuel pipes are checked for routing, damage & corrosion – Interim and full service
  • The engine, transmission and rear axle Train Drive are checked – Interim and full service
  • Driveshaft joints and gaiters are checked for wear and damage – Interim and full service
  • Exhaust system and mountings – Interim and full service
  • Replace engine oil and filter – All service options
  • Top up windscreen washer fluid – All service options
  • Replace fuel filter (diesel vehicles) – Full service
  • Replace air filter – Full service

Looking for a new vehicle? Get in touch with our team of vehicle experts and let them help you get behind the wheel of your next car. Call us now on 01903 538835 or request a callback.

What’s the difference between an MOT and a car service?

There are a number of key differences between an MOT and a service. The first is that having a valid MOT test certificate is a legal requirement if you intend to drive on public roads in the United Kingdom.

Also, the checks that are carried out during an MOT are different to the things looked at when your vehicle has been booked in for a service.

An MOT is carried out primarily to confirm that your vehicle is safe and roadworthy, while a service is carried out to ensure that your car continues to be safe and roadworthy.

Despite an MOT being carried to ensure safety – we have already mentioned that it’s based on basic safety standards as set out by the government – some rather important elements, such as fluids and pipes aren’t included in the checks.

Given that possession of a valid MOT test certificate is a legal requirement, we would recommend that you book your vehicle in for a test in plenty of time.

We would also recommend that you ensure your vehicle has regular services so that your vehicle remains in good condition whether you own it, or are leasing.


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