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Pre-MOT checklist: get your car ready

If you dread your annual MOT, you’re not alone. Run through our checklist to prepare your car for its MOT and increase its chances of passing the test first time.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 25 March 2021  | 5 min read

Covid-19 and MOTs

MOTs haven’t been granted another extension, so your car will need its MOT when it becomes due.

You shouldn’t take your car for its MOT if you or another household member have coronavirus, or if the NHS Test and Trace service says you’ve been in contact with someone that has it.

Around one-in-three cars fail their annual MOT on the first go, according to Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data.[1] No wonder it’s such an annual source of anxiety for drivers.

But you can massively improve your chances of a first-time pass by just running over a few basic checks of your car before the test.

1. The battery

Your battery needs to be secure and the MOT tester will check any visible wiring. If you notice any battery movement or damaged wiring, get this remedied before the test.

You can check your battery condition while you’ve got the bonnet open. Here’s how: 

2. The tyres

Tyre defects are the reason for 12% of initial MOT faults.

Check the pressure is correct and that they have enough tread.

3. The brakes

Although 17% of MOT fails are caused by problems with the brakes, it can be difficult to detect problems before your MOT. 

Listen for any unusual scraping or squealing noises while driving and make sure your brakes and handbrake isn’t stuck on – don’t drive the vehicle if you think this has happened. Ask a mechanic to come to you. 

4. The wipers

A surprisingly high number of MOT faults – 8% – are caused by visibility and it covers quite a number of easily fixed problems.

Things like chips or stickers in your field of vision can trigger a failure so remove anything blocking the windscreen and get large chips repaired before your test.

Check the windscreen washers work, the reservoir is full, and that the windscreen wipers are clean and aren’t broken or damaged. 

5. Bulbs and warning lamps

Lamps, reflectors and electrical equipment are responsible for 27% of all defects in initial MOT failures, making them this by far the most common reason to fail.

Get someone to walk round your car while you’re in the driving seat to help you check headlights and rear lights are working and they’re the correct colours.

If any bulbs are out, get those changed immediately. 

Next, turn your engine on and make sure there are no warning lights illuminated on the dashboard. 

Don't forget to clean your car

After all your other checks are done, make sure your vehicle is clean and tidy, and that the windows, doors, boot, and bonnet release work.

An MOT tester can refuse to even start the test if your car’s filthy and full of junk – and they can’t commence the test if they find it impossible to access the seats or engine bay.

You might also want to check that the:

  • number plates, windscreen and mirrors are clean
  • horn works 
  • seat belts move smoothly, the safety mechanism should work and there shouldn’t be any damage
  • steering wheel isn’t loose and the wheels don’t touch the bodywork on full lock
  • fuel and oil are the right level, and that the exhaust works

If it’s your vehicle’s first MOT, you should take its V5 vehicle registration log book with you. 

What the mechanic usually checks during an MOT

  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Recall work
  • Registration plate
  • Lights
  • Steering and suspension
  • Wipers and washers
  • Windscreen
  • Horn
  • Seat belts and seats
  • Doors
  • Mirrors
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Brakes
  • Fuel system
  • Exhaust system
  • Vehicle emissions

When do I need to get an MOT test?

If your car is more than three years old and built on or after 1 January, 1960, it legally needs to pass an MOT test every year – and it’s your responsibility to get it tested.

The test is a set of checks to make sure your car meets the legal standards and is safe to drive. 

It’s different to a vehicle service, and a pass isn’t a guarantee that your car won’t break down soon after, just that it’s roadworthy at the time of the test.

Without an MOT your car insurance is invalid. And driving without valid insurance carries an unlimited fine plus penalty points.

You won’t get a reminder sent to you – so put it in your diary to make sure you don’t forget.

How do I know when my MOT is due?

You can check online when your vehicle is due for an MOT. You just need to know it’s registration number. 

You can book an MOT test up to one month before your vehicle’s current MOT expires. 

Is there a grace period for an MOT?

No. It’s illegal to drive a car that has an expired MOT – you can be fined up to £1,000.

You also can’t tax your car without a valid MOT certificate.

What happens after the test?

You’ll be told the result of the MOT, which will be either a:

  • Pass
  • Pass with advisories /minor faults
  • Fail due to major or dangerous faults

What if your car fails its MOT?

You’ll be given a VT30 form, which is a 'refusal' of an MOT certificate. If your vehicle has any dangerous faults you won’t be able to drive it until they’re repaired. 

Major faults need to be fixed immediately too, but you might be able to drive it to another garage for repair, as long as its current MOT certificate is still valid. This would only be the case if you took it for an MOT earlier than its due date.

What happens when I pass my MOT?

You’ll be issued with an MOT certificate which will state that your vehicle has passed and the date of the test. It’ll also list any faults or advisories. 

If your vehicle passes with minor faults – for problems that aren’t major enough to earn a fail – you can drive the vehicle but you’ll still need to get the faults fixed. 

Your vehicle might pass with advisories. This means that the tester has noticed wear or damage on a component that isn’t defective yet, but it won’t be long until it does need repair. 

If your vehicle has passed without any faults or advisories – congratulations!

Not happy with your MOT test result?

If you don’t agree with your MOT result – whether it passes or fails – talk to the test centre before any repairs are started. You can complain to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) if you’re not happy with how the test was carried out. 

Frequently asked questions

  • Can I drive without an MOT?

    No, you can’t legally drive without a valid MOT certificate unless you’re taking your vehicle to a pre-booked test. 

    If you have a vehicle you don’t intend to drive, you must keep it off the road and make a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).

  • My car has been recalled. Will it fail its MOT?

    Yes, your vehicle could fail its MOT if it has a recall notice and you don’t get the work done. MOT testers will usually check for recalls during the test. 

  • Where should I get my MOT done?

    You can find MOT test centres online, but the best place to go is somewhere you trust or a reputable garage that’s been recommended to you. 

  • How much does an MOT cost?

    It depends on the type of vehicle and the garage you attend, but there’s a maximum amount that you can be charged: 

  • Are there MOT exemptions?

    Yes, cars that are 40 years old or more are exempt, unless the vehicle has had substantial changes.

  • How long does an MOT take?

    Not long – around 45 minutes to an hour.

  • Why do most vehicles fail their MOT?

    According to the RAC, the three most common MOT failures are faults with lights, suspension and brakes.

  • Can you fail an MOT on tyre pressure?

    Yes, if your vehicle has a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) warning light on the dashboard, it’ll automatically fail. 

  • What happens if you miss your MOT?

    You won’t be able to legally drive your vehicle on the road, and you risk a £1,000 fine if you do. 

    Driving without a current MOT means you’d be driving around without valid insurance which is also illegal and could see you liable for expensive repair costs if you were involved in an accident.

    Book your MOT immediately if you’ve accidentally missed its MOT deadline.

[1] DVSA: MOT class 3 and 4 vehicles: initial failures by defect category – 2019-2020 Q2

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