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‘Just the norm now’: Booking MOT test in Northern Ireland proving challenge for many

Average waiting time for test - the equivalent of NCT in the Republic - is currently 71 days, or more than three months, according to Department of Infrastructure

Staring at a webpage willing the number of people ahead in the queue to count down to zero… no, not a battle for concert tickets, but booking an MOT test in Northern Ireland.

The average waiting time for the test – the equivalent of the National Car Test (NCT) in the Republic – is currently 71 days, according to the Department of Infrastructure.

Often motorists cannot book a test before their existing certificate expires and are driving without a valid MOT certificate – which is illegal – and are potentially unable to tax their cars.

“My MOT is next Friday, that’s many weeks after it expired, and that’s just the norm now,” said Alliance Assembly member (MLA) Andrew Muir.


Anecdotally, many drivers in Northern Ireland report similar experiences. This journalist attempted to book a test three months before an MOT was due – the earliest date permitted for bookings – but the only available date was after the current certificate expired.

On the online booking system last week, aside from last-minute cancellations, tests were only available within the three-month limit at three out of 15 test centres. In Armagh, Downpatrick and Omagh the first available test was in May, and June in Newry; none were available at all in Craigavon or Enniskillen.

“It has now become a saga with no discernable plan to turn things around and get us back to the position where motorists can easily book an MOT appointment before their current certificate expires,” says Muir.

In Northern Ireland the MOT test, which checks vehicles meet road safety and environmental standards, is required annually for cars and motorcycles aged four years and older, with other classes of vehicles tested from a younger age.

The delays date back to January 2020, when tests of cars and light vehicles were halted due to faulty lifts in MOT centres; it was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, when MOT testing was temporarily suspended and by difficulties recruiting qualified staff. In the Republic, a backlog at NCT testing centres has also led to long waits for drivers.

Muir, who has raised the issue with the department, says “concerted action is desperately needed, whether it be implementing the pay and grading review for vehicle examiners, targeted use of temporary exemption certificates for younger cars and much more ambitious capital plans to deliver a fit for purpose estate capable of proper emission testing”.

There is also the ongoing effect of the absence of government due to the DUP’s boycott of power-sharing. “Without a functioning Assembly the lack of scrutiny functions has been very clear, alongside the absence of a Minister at the helm accountable for sorting this saga,” he adds.

Nobody from the Department for Infrastructure was available for interview, but in a lengthy statement it emphasised the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) “remains committed to reducing waiting times for vehicle tests”.

A spokesman said that in 2022-23 the DVA conducted more than 1.15 million vehicle tests, the highest recorded, and it had recruited additional vehicle examiners, offered overtime and provided appointments on Sundays and bank holidays to increase capacity.

New test centres due to open in Hydebank this year and Mallusk next year will permit the testing of 200,000 additional vehicles per year, he said.

When vehicles cannot be tested before their current MOT certificate expires, “customers must book the earliest available test appointment” – which may mean travelling to another test centre – and should “regularly check” the booking system in case a slot becomes available.

PSNI Roads Policing Superintendent Gary Busch said that if “police encounter a vehicle with no current MOT, so long as we can ascertain that a vehicle is roadworthy, has a forthcoming MOT test date and is not sorned [declared off the road] then police will not take any further action”.

He added: “Every driver has a responsibility to ensure their vehicle is roadworthy.”

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