How to pass an MOT test
By Daljinder Nagra
Annual MOT tests can seem like an inconvenience, but they’re vital to keep your car legal and roadworthy. This guide explains what to do to increase the chances of your car passing first time.
If your car is more than three years old, an annual MOT inspection is a legal requirement to ensure it’s roadworthy. The maximum fee a garage is allowed to charge for an MOT is £54.85, but you’ll often see them advertised for around £35-£45 in order to attract and retain business.
This can seem like just another expense, but an MOT can be helpful in revealing potential problems that could affect the safety of your car further down the line. Furthermore, failure to have a valid MOT makes your car illegal to drive (unless you’re on the way to get it tested), and it usually invalidates your insurance.
Around 40% of cars submitted for MOT testing end up failing. However, you can maximise the chance of your car passing first time by carrying out a few basic checks, inside and out, to ensure it’s not caught out by a minor fault.
New cars don’t need an MOT until they’re three years old – to browse our latest recommendations, take a look at all our Best Buys.
Tyres and wheels
Car tyres must be the right type and size. If you have fitted a space-saver spare tyre onto one of your wheels, replace it with a standard wheel and tyre before the test.
Check that all tyres have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm right the way around and across the central three-quarters of the pattern. A quick way to check is to insert a 20p piece into one of the tread grooves. If the outer edge of the coin is completely obscured then the tread depth is sufficient.
Also look for significant lumps or cuts in the sidewall, which could render it unfit for purpose.
Spare tyres aren’t checked as part of the MOT test, but those stored externally will need to be fastened securely.
All of your lights (including headlamps, parking lights, reversing lights, indicators and registration plate bulbs) need to be the right colour and in good working order for your car to pass the MOT test.
Clean them, and then get someone to try them while you walk around the car. If they flicker when tapped lightly with your hand, they probably need tightening into position or replacing altogether. If you find a bulb has blown, it’s a good idea to change it before the MOT test.
Wipers and windscreen
The wipers and washers should work well enough to allow you a clear view of the road. Wipers that smear could potentially be worn out, so replace them before the MOT.
Make sure you top up the washer bottle (some garages will charge for this) and use a pin to unblock the jets if necessary.
It’s also important to make sure your windscreen is in good condition before the MOT test, particularly the area that is swept by the wipers. Remove any stickers that could obstruct your view and look out for chips or cracks longer than 1cm (about the size of a 5p coin).
Make sure your registration plates are in good condition and are tightly fastened to the car. All the letters and numbers should be easy to read from 20m away. Bear in mind that the police may view the use of unusual fonts as an attempt to obstruct the law.
If you’re unsure of whether your number plate meets the legal requirements, visit the DVLA website before going for your MOT test.
All doors must open and close freely for your car to pass its MOT test. Once shut, they should remain firmly closed. Front doors should be able to open from inside and outside the car.
Walk around your car and look at its general condition. The body should be free from excessive corrosion or damage – particularly anything that’s likely to affect the braking or steering.
There shouldn’t be any sharp edges exposed that could be a danger to other road users. If there are, your car could fail its MOT test.
Under the bonnet
Pop up the bonnet and make sure the brake fluid reservoir and oil are topped up. Sufficient levels of both oil and fuel are required for the garage to conduct an emissions test. Your car may be turned away if not properly topped-up.
From March 2013, MOT testers look for whether certain dashboard warning lights are illuminated or inoperative. These include the power steering indicator and brake fluid warning lamps, so check your lights all come on then go off when you turn the ignition.
Your car must also have a fully functional speedometer in order to pass the MOT.
Before the MOT test, take a look at the front seats to make sure they’re securely anchored and don’t move around when they’re not supposed to. Front and rear seatbacks should be able to be locked into the upright position
Frayed or damaged seatbelts are a definite no-no. Before you head to the test centre, check they work properly and make sure they are firmly fixed to the seats or the structure of the car itself, and that they click into place securely and release correctly.
Give your horn a quick toot to make sure it’s in good voice. The horn should be audible and easily accessible from the driving position.
Check your mirrors. A car must have an internal rear-view mirror and at least one driver’s side mirror to pass the MOT. They should be positioned to be clearly visible from the driver’s seat.
Mechanical checks are the hardest to conduct yourself, but there are problems you can identify early on – giving you the chance to shop around for the best repair prices before the MOT test.
Suspension is a difficult component to check yourself, but you can do a quick test by applying your weight to each corner of the car and then releasing. If the suspension is OK, any body movements should settle down quickly.
You may also be able to hear suspension problems in the form of creaks or knocks when you drive or manoeuvre the car, particularly over an obstacle such as a speed bump or as you drive up a kerb or onto a driveway.
There shouldn’t be any parts of the exhaust or mountings missing, so ensure nothing’s hanging loose. Be on the lookout for any major leaks and check the silencer is working.
To make sure everything is in order before the MOT test, start the car up and listen for excessive or unusual noise, which could be a sign of a ‘blowing’ exhaust (small holes caused by corrosion).
Your car must meet the legal requirements for exhaust emissions to pass its MOT test. These depend on the age of your car and the type of fuel you use.
You can’t check this yourself, but if there’s lots of smoke coming from the tailpipe, then it’s more likely there’s a fault.
Check that the fuel tank and all visible components, such as hoses and pipes, are secure and free of leaks. The fuel cap should fasten tightly and be undamaged – a split seal could be enough to make your car fail its MOT.
MOT testers need to be able to open the fuel cap, so make sure you provide the key if there is one.
Check the footbrake and handbrake function properly. There shouldn’t be any visible leaks from the brake pipes.
Wheels aren’t removed during the test and the tester will only look at what is visible and easily accessible. You can also quickly examine the brake discs for any signs of warping or scoring. If you have ABS, make sure the warning light works.
MOT tests FAQs
- Where should I get my car’s MOT done?
Any local MOT centre should be able to conduct a proper test, but the same rules apply as to finding a good garage – search for reviews, ask friends and family where they get their cars tested, and consider checking Which? Trusted Trader to find a suitable test centre.
- What happens if my car fails the MOT test?
If your car has failed and needs work doing on it, in most cases you’re allowed one free MOT retest as long as your car doesn’t leave the MOT test centre – ie. you have to ask the MOT garage to make the repair.
For a select few failure points, such as emissions or headlight aim, you’re allowed to take your car elsewhere to be repaired. You will still be entitled to a free partial MOT test, provided that you return to the original test centre before the end of the next working day. If you fail to return in time, you’ll have to pay the full amount.
- I think the MOT test result is wrong, what should I do?
If you don’t trust the garage you’ve chosen, you’re free to take your car to a different MOT test centre for a second MOT test, but you’ll have to pay the full fee.
Alternatively you can appeal the test result – to do this you’ll need to fill in form VT17, which is available from any MOT test centre, and contact the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA, formerly called VOSA) within 14 working days of the test.
The DVSA will then arrange to check your car within five days. You’ll have to pay another full MOT test fee but this can be refunded if your appeal is successful.
If your car has passed the MOT test, but you think it should have failed, let the DVSA know as soon as possible. It will carry out a free check for you if you contact it within a certain time (three months for corrosion, 28 days for other problems).