Difference Between a Car Service and MOT: Complete Guide

Difference Between a Car Service and MOT: Complete Guide

With various car servicing terms and levels, knowing which is which can sometimes be confusing. Is there even a difference between a service and an MOT? Or are they two names for the same thing?  

Don't jump to conclusions! MOTs and services are different checks with different purposes. Ensuring you get both correctly means staying on the right side of the law and increasing your car's value and life expectancy.  

In this guide, you'll discover the key differences, what MOT stands for, what's included in an MOT, and how long an MOT lasts. All crucial topics drivers should know! Now, let's dive into the action.

What Is The Difference Between An MOT And A Service?

The simple difference between an MOT and a service is that an MOT checks if your car is road-worthy, whereas a service ensures your car is at optimum performance. 

Both an MOT and a service test have similar areas, but you must remember that an MOT test is to confirm your car's roadworthiness. The priority is to check crucial safety and control features like tyres, brakes, suspension and steering. Servicing is undertaken to prolong the life of the engine and other components. Here, you’re also replacing components, improving the car’s economy and lifespan. These are important but not necessary for roadworthiness.

Whilst different, there are some crossover points between MOT testing and servicing, as a full service will often involve checking tyres, brakes, and other components. This could help prevent your car from failing an MOT.

What is an MOT?

An MOT test is a government-regulated inspection that all vehicles within an age bracket must pass to be driven on public roads. It is most commonly conducted at a local independent garage or main dealer. 

What does MOT stand for?

MOT stands for Ministry Of Transport.

The Ministry Of Transport is a body first created in 1960 to bring more regulation and structured guidance on the roadworthiness of private vehicles. The MOT test is a vehicle assessment conducted by a garage approved by the MOT’s guidelines.  

What does an MOT consist of?

An MOT consists of a checklist of criteria that determines your car's fit for the road.

MOT tests are pretty comprehensive. The test's main aim is to grade your vehicle's safety and roadworthiness so the engine, clutch, and gearbox (other than safety issues such as oil leaks) are not inspected.

Most MOT tests include checks on:

  • Brakes
  • Tyres
  • Seat belts
  • Lamps and reflectors
  • Exhaust, emissions, and fuel
  • Driver’s view of the road
  • Structure and body of the car
  • Steering and suspension

Important areas of the test are suspension components and structural sections such as the chassis, brakes and tyres. The MOT also includes an emissions test. You can see the full MOT testing criteria on the government website. 

What are common reasons for a failed MOT test?

Tyres, windscreens, brakes, lamps, reflectors, and electrical equipment are the most common reasons a car fails an MOT test.

If in doubt, double-check these aspects before the big day. This will improve your chances of passing the test. Failing an MOT isn’t the end of the world, as everything is fixable. However, you can fix small issues and save yourself future stress. 

Is an MOT a legal requirement?

Yes. You need an MOT by law if your car is over three years old but younger than 40. Driving without an MOT will invalidate your insurance and land you a hefty fine of up to £1,000.

A few vehicles need to be tested after one year. This includes ambulances, taxis, and playbuses. The Gov UK MOT fees table can help determine if your car needs a quick check.

How long does an MOT certificate last?

An MOT lasts one year.

Once the MOT certificate has run out, it's illegal to drive or even park your car on a public road. If kept off-road for any period, it should be registered as SORN.

It's possible to extend this period if you get your car tested one month before your current MOT is due, giving you a 13-month validity period. This is also advisable as it gives you more time to resolve any issues.

What should you do if your MOT runs out?

You must register your vehicle as ‘off the road’ if your MOT has expired or is due to run out. You should then book an MOT test. When your vehicle has passed its MOT, you can tax it again.

Remember, you can’t drive or park your vehicle on the road if your MOT isn’t valid. If caught, you might be prosecuted. The only exceptions for driving with a run-out MOT include driving to or from a service or pre-arranged MOT appointment.

What is a service?

A car service aims to improve your vehicle’s health and longevity via an extensive range of checks.  

Cars have many complex mechanisms and systems; routine maintenance must be completed to keep these working correctly, including changing filters and other consumable parts. These are done at set intervals, commonly referred to as service intervals.  

There are different levels of servicing, from half services to complete services, the difference being the parts that are changed. 

What does a service include?

A car service usually includes:

  • Oil and oil filter
  • Air filter
  • Cabin/pollen filter
  • Spark plugs
  • Fuel filter
  • Coolant flush
  • Air conditioning flush
  • Gearbox oil and filter
  • Cambelt change or cam chain adjustment
  • Tyre rotation
  • Differential oil

Whilst this is a long list, there may still be other areas that need regular maintenance on your particular car, so it’s always best to check the manual for exact servicing guidelines.

Some of these checks may only be included in a full service, whilst others are carried out at every stage. When in doubt, ask your local garage what’s offered before booking in.

Is servicing a legal requirement?

There is no legal requirement to have your car serviced regularly. However, it is recommended to keep your vehicle healthy. 

There are laws that state your car should be roadworthy, but it is very unlikely that any service items will interfere with your car's roadworthiness - at least not in the short term!

Should I get my car serviced?

Yes, there are many benefits to servicing your car. In most cases, paying for regular service from a garage is cheaper than waiting for issues to arise independently.

Servicing can also identify possible problems that may cause an MOT fail, allowing you time in advance to plan the repair work, if necessary, without the car being off the road. This also reduces the chance of a surprise breakdown and last-minute costs.  

Overall, regular car servicing is always advised. Try to get booked in if possible.

For more information on servicing, check out this article here.

The difference between a car service and MOT: The bottom line

Car services and MOT tests are integral for keeping your car safe and roadworthy. Hopefully, this blog has inspired you to book your vehicle for a thorough check-up. Don’t want to forget your next MOT or service? Bookmark the page to remind your future self, or send it to a friend!

Find a service without a hefty bill. Split the cost of a service and MOT into interest-free repayments at 1000s of reputable repairers. 

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