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9 Things to Check Before an MOT

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated November, 16, 2022

Did you know that almost 2 million cars fail their MOT —most of the time for things that can easily be inspected at home? 

To avoid this situation here is a list of 9 things to check before an MOT is due.

What to Check Before an MOT?

All cars older than three years are legally required to take the MOT test every year to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy. This also applies to any of the 705,000+ electric vehicles in the UK and to those who have forgotten to renew their MOT on time

The list of things checked on an MOT includes brakes, wheels and tyres, steering and bodywork as well as interior components like seats, seatbelts, and warning lights. Some of these can only be inspected by a licensed tester, but you can check others by yourself at home. If you find that something is not in working order you could replace or resolve the issue before the actual test and save yourself the trouble and the cost of taking the MOT twice.

So, a few weeks before you head to your nearest testing centre, look over the following to make sure your car is in the best possible condition come inspection time. 

1. Lights & indicators 

All the lights should be in working order including headlights, fog lights, brake lights, hazard lights, sidelights and rear lights—down to the light on your number plate. Keep in mind that in addition to non-working lights, an MOT test will examine the alignment of headlights (so they do not blind oncoming traffic) as well as whether the lights are secured, so check for wobbly lights on your vehicle.

Tip: If you can’t get a friend to help you check the brake lights, try backing up the car and check whether the lights are working in the reflection. 

2. Tyres and wheels 

Tyre issues are one of the most common causes of failed MOT tests. To pass the inspection, your tyres need to be securely fitted to the car (no bolts missing), be properly inflated (according to the recommendations in the vehicle manual) and have no bulges or cuts. Testers will check if the same-size tyres are fitted on each axle and whether or not you have a spare wheel (although the spare wheel will not be checked so having it mounted on the outside of the car is enough). 

Also, check the wheels for cracks or damages to the rims. 

There should also be a minimum of 1.6mm of tread forming an uninterrupted band around the central three-quarters of the tyre.

Tread depth is not just an MOT test requirement—UK driving laws specify that all vehicles must have the correct tyre size, type and tread depth. Failure to comply with the last one could lead to a £2,500 fine and three penalty points per tyre. 

Tip: Use the 20p test to check the tread depth—put the coin in the tread groove of the tyre. If you cannot see the outer ring of the coin, then your tyres are over the 1.6mm minimum requirement. On the other hand, if the coin’s exterior ring is visible, you need to replace the tyres. Alternatively, you can use a tread depth gauge to check this. 

3. Brakes

As with tyres, your brakes need to be fully functional for your vehicle to pass the MOT test. 

How to tell if there is an issue with your brakes?

Usually, if the vehicle pulls to one side when the brakes are applied or there is excessive wear on the brake pads or a pitted brake disc, it might be an indication that the brakes need to be replaced. 

Functioning brakes are not just an MOT requirement, they ensure that you and others on the road are safe.

Tip: Don’t forget to test the handbrake too. Do it on an incline to check whether it is strong enough to stop the car from moving.

4. Windscreen and wipers

In order for your car to pass the MOT test, the windscreen should not have any chips or cracks bigger than 40mm or larger than 10mm on the driver’s side (this refers to the 290mm area directly in front of the driver). 

Apart from checking the windscreen for damages, you also need to examine the wipers and washers—they need to be in working order to provide a clear view of the road. In other words, check everything around the wipers—make sure the washer feed isn’t blocked, the rubber blades aren’t splitting and there is enough screenwash (it may sound unimportant, but drivers have actually failed an MOT test due to an empty screen wash container).

5. Fuel and engine oil

One of the most essential checks before an MOT is making sure there is enough fuel and oil to run the necessary emissions tests. 

To check if the oil level is adequate, open the bonnet, remove the dipstick from the engine, wipe it and then put it back in the engine and pull it out again. The oil level should be somewhere between the minimum and maximum marks on the dipstick. If it is too low, fill it up—the entire process doesn’t take more than 5 minutes but can save you the effort of retaking the test. 

6. Exhaust 

Next on the list of things to check before an MOT is the exhaust. If your car is making any excessive noise or unusual rattling sound, there is fuel or oil leaking from the exhaust or smoke, you could have an issue with the exhaust system. It would be best to take the vehicle in and have it checked before taking the MOT test.

7. Number plate

The numbers on the registration plate must be clean and easy to read, as well as comply with legal requirements. Just give the number plate a quick wash, or better yet, give the entire car the once over. A vehicle doesn’t have to be clean when getting tested, although it never hurts to show it off in the best light. 

8. Mirrors 

Mirrors are among the things checked on an MOT so make sure you replace any mirrors that are chipped, cracked, smashed or unsecured. 

9. Interior Checks

Seatbelts, seats, the horn, and warning lights on the dashboard are also included in the test. 

Seatbelts should lock in place, the horn should be loud enough for other vehicles to hear, whereas warning lights should light up when you put the keys in the ignition and go out once you start driving—if any of the lights stay on it could indicate an error that needs to be fixed prior to the MOT test. 

Luckily these are all very easy to check. 

Final tip: Get the car serviced

It’s a good idea to get your car serviced once a year, so put it on your list of things to do before an MOT. This is the most effective technique to ensure that everything is in working condition and, as a result, increase your chances of passing the test.

What’s more, a car service can inspect some things you cannot check by yourself.  For instance, checking whether the airbag or the steering is defective by yourself can be difficult (both of which will result in a failed MOT test). 

Last but not least, regularly servicing your car can help you avoid costly repairs—according to car running stats, these can go up to £833 depending on the vehicle and manufacturer.

Why Do Vehicles Fail the MOT?

These are the most common reasons why vehicles fail the annual MOT inspection. 

  • Lighting and signalling: 18.9%
  • Suspension: 13%
  • Brakes: 10%
  • Tyres: 7.7%
  • Issues affecting the driver’s view of the road: 7.2%

What happens if my car fails an MOT?

Should your vehicle fail the MOT test, the testing centre will issue a VT30 ‘Refusal of an MOT Test Certificate’ outlining the reason or reasons for the failed test. You can then contact a licensed garage, resolve the issue and schedule a retest. 

Bear in mind that if you do not resolve the issue within 10 days, you will be charged the full test fee. 

Your car needs to pass an MOT test, otherwise, it cannot be driven on the road. In fact, driving without car insurance or an MOT is illegal and can result in penalties or a driving ban. 

Wrapping Up

Doing a quick inspection of your vehicle before the test is due is well worth it. Go through the list of things to check before an MOT and if you find that something is not up to the mark, try to resolve it as soon as possible. Remember: having a well-maintained and fully-functioning vehicle is not just a requirement for passing your MOT, it is also important for your personal safety and the safety of other motorists on the road. 

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.