How do I prepare for the MOT test?

How do I prepare for the MOT test

Every car owner, at one time or another, faces the inevitable MOT test. If it’s your first time, the experience can seem daunting.

Questions may arise: Is my car in optimal condition? Have I overlooked any critical issues? What happens if my vehicle is declared unsafe? While these concerns are valid, rest assured that with a bit of preparation, you can significantly improve your car’s chances of passing.

Surprisingly, a substantial number of vehicles fail the MOT test due to minor issues, many of which could have been easily addressed by their owners in advance. Hence, it’s crucial to be proactive and inspect your car before taking it to the garage.

While certain assessments and repairs might require the expertise of a professional mechanic, there’s a myriad of checks you can conduct on your own to ensure your vehicle is in prime condition for its MOT. Let’s delve into them.

What is an MOT test?

The MOT, which stands for Ministry of Transport test, is a regulatory procedure designed to ensure that vehicles on the road adhere to critical safety and environmental standards.

Every vehicle is mandated to undergo this assessment three years post-registration and subsequently, once every year.

This system ensures that only roadworthy vehicles, complying with specific safety and emission standards, are operational on public roads.

How does the MOT test work?

When your car’s MOT test is due, it’s essential to choose the right place for the assessment. Not every garage is authorised to conduct the MOT test.

MOT approved test station logo

Authorised testing centres are recognisable by a distinctive blue sign featuring three white triangles. This sign is a clear indication that the facility is equipped and certified to conduct official MOT tests.

Once your vehicle is in the testing bay, it undergoes a meticulous examination. The aim is to identify any minor, major, or potentially dangerous faults that might jeopardise safety on the road.

The scope of this examination is comprehensive, covering nearly all vehicle components except for the engine, clutch, and gearbox.

How much does it cost?

At present, the upper limit for a car MOT test fee stands at £54.85. While no one is particularly fond of incurring expenses, it’s pivotal to view this cost in context.

If you’re caught operating a vehicle without a valid and up-to-date MOT certificate, the consequences can be financially steep, with fines reaching up to £1000.

Once your vehicle’s MOT expires, driving it on public roads is illegal. The only exception to this rule is if you’re en route to a previously scheduled MOT test or driving to a garage for necessary repairs.

Always prioritise safety and compliance to avoid potential legal ramifications.

Pre-MOT checks

Before heading for that all-important MOT, there are simple yet effective steps you can take to bolster your vehicle’s chances of a green light.

These checks act as a preventative measure, helping you address minor issues before they become bigger problems and ensuring you maintain that all-important MOT schedule.

  • Cleanliness Matters: Presenting a tidy car is crucial. Not only does it reflect responsibility, but a cluttered boot or a car masked in dirt can lead the examiner to reject the MOT before it even begins.

  • Licence Plates: They aren’t just for aesthetics. Make sure they’re clear and readable. A simple wipe can make all the difference.

  • Wiper Wellness: Windscreen wipers should be free of tears or damage. They play a pivotal role during unexpected rain or debris situations.

  • Let There Be Light: Every bulb counts. Enlist the help of a friend or a loved one to ensure all lights, from indicators to brake lights, shine bright and right.

  • Tyre Check: Familiar with the 20p test? If not, it’s a simple way to measure tyre tread. Alongside tread depth, make sure they’re inflated to the right pressure. Both are vital for safety and performance.

  • Fluid Fundamentals: It’s not just about fuel. Ensure your screenwash, brake fluid, and oil levels are topped up.

  • Honk If You’re Ready: A working horn is more than just a tool for traffic frustration. It’s a safety feature, so give it a quick beep to ensure it’s operational.

  • Mirror, Mirror: All mirrors should be firmly fixed and free from cracks or damages. They’re your eyes to the world behind you.

  • Verify Your VIN: The Vehicle Identification Number in your car’s V5C logbook must align with the one stamped on your car. It’s the car’s unique identifier, after all.

  • On-the-Go Repairs: If you spot an issue but are pressed for time, don’t fret. Mobile mechanics offer the convenience of home or office-based repairs, covering a plethora of vehicle issues.

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Remember, being proactive can save you both time and potential re-test fees. It’s always better to be over-prepared than caught off guard!


The brakes, working hand in hand with your tyres, are arguably the most pivotal safety component of your vehicle. A successful MOT requires they be in tip-top shape.

During the MOT, cars are generally placed on rollers to ascertain the efficacy of the brakes in decelerating. Balanced brakes ensure the car halts in a straight trajectory.

Other essentials include an adequately intact pedal rubber, a fully functional ABS warning light for cars equipped with anti-lock brakes, and a handbrake or parking brake robust enough to hold the car stationary, even on steep terrains.

A thorough examination extends to the discs, pads, and callipers, as well as the accompanying pipes and cables. Under the hood, both the brake servo and master cylinder undergo scrutiny.


Bodywork’s integrity is essential. Sharp protrusions or edges, which can be a result of wear, corrosion, or accidents, are impermissible as they pose threats to pedestrians.

Rust, especially in older vehicles, is an MOT red flag. Corrosion on crucial components like the steering and braking systems is a direct fail. Similarly, rust spots located within 30cm of these vital parts could spell trouble.

Doors and openings

Doors must pass a twofold test: they need to open effortlessly from both inside and outside, and all openings, encompassing the bonnet and tailgate, need to latch securely.

Exhaust and emissions

For vehicles running on fuel, emissions undergo stringent tests with specialised devices affixed to the car’s exhaust. Stricter norms are in place for newer models, ensuring they’re eco-friendlier.

Obvious smoke billowing from the exhaust, or an exceptionally loud noise, can be grounds for MOT failure. So, those with a penchant for loud vehicular roars, be cautious! Additionally, the integrity and security of the exhaust system and fuel filler cap are examined to prevent potential leakage.


The horn’s criterion is straightforward: it should function and be sufficiently loud to alert other road users. And for those thinking of jazzing up their vehicles, remember, ‘novelty’ horns playing melodies or multiple tones won’t pass muster.


The lighting system of a car is intricate but paramount. Every light, ranging from the headlights and tail lights to indicators (including hazard lights), side lights, brake lights, and rear fog lights, needs to be operational.

Cars manufactured after 1986 must have functioning rear fog lights, complete with an indicator on the dashboard signalling their activation.

Headlight alignment is meticulously checked, and if required, adjusted to prevent blinding oncoming vehicles. Moreover, vehicles manufactured post-1 April 1980 should be equipped with two red rear reflectors, enhancing visibility and safety.

Seats and seatbelts

Ensuring that you’re comfortably and safely seated is paramount. Seats must be firmly anchored, and for cars manufactured after 1965, seatbelts are mandatory (even if it’s an old-timer, equipping it with seatbelts is highly recommended).

The belts should be robustly attached, with the clip or locking mechanism intact and functional. Beyond the attachment, the overall condition matters; no fraying or damage should be evident.

Inertia-reel belts, in particular, must retract smoothly and fit snuggly around the driver, ensuring maximum safety.


Navigating the complexities of steering checks can be daunting. The tester will assess the steering wheel and column, ensuring both are in optimal condition and correctly fixed. Excessive ‘free play’ or slackness in the steering system is a big no-no.

Other critical components like the steering bearings, bolts, clamps, gaiters, and universal joints are meticulously inspected. For modern cars equipped with power steering, its functionality is tested with the engine humming, ensuring the wheels don’t scrape the bodywork when turned to their limits.

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Tow bar

For those who tow, be it trailers or caravans, the tow bar’s stability and integrity are under the scanner. It should be robust, free from significant damages, and show no signs of corrosion.

Vehicle identification

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), also synonymous with the chassis number and featured on the V5 registration document, is crucial. It should be displayed prominently and be easy to read. Typically, you’ll find it at the windscreen’s base or as a stamped detail on a metal panel nestled under the bonnet.

Wheels and tyres

While it might sound fundamental, each of the four wheels must be firmly attached to the vehicle, leaving no room for missing bolts. The rims undergo an examination for potential distortions, cracks, and the overall health of the wheel bearings.

On the tyre front, there’s a legal mandate: the tread depth must span “At least 1.6mm across a continuous central three-quarters of the tread’s breadth, encircling the tyre’s entire exterior.” Tyres approaching this limit might get you an advisory heads-up about an impending replacement.

Additionally, tyre integrity is crucial. They should be free from bulges or cuts, and uniformly sized tyres should grace each axle. While the spare wheel isn’t subjected to the MOT test, if it’s externally mounted, it should be securely fastened.

Windows and mirrors

The windscreen’s condition is often a stumbling block for many during the MOT. Any chips or cracks within the area the windscreen wipers sweep should be under 10mm. However, outside this zone, a leniency up to 40mm is granted.

Wipers should glide smoothly, and their rubber blades should be devoid of wear and tear. Simultaneously, rear-view mirrors must stand firm, and any damage shouldn’t compromise the driver’s field of vision. After all, a clear view is pivotal for safe driving!

What should I expect on the day of the MOT?

  • Arrive on time for your appointment. Give yourself extra time in case there are delays. Being late may mean having to reschedule.
  • You will be asked to produce your vehicle’s registration document. Make sure you have this ready.
  • A tester will perform a visual inspection of your car first, checking things like lights, tires, seatbelts etc. Any issues identified will need to be fixed before proceeding.
  • Your car will then be driven onto the test centre’s lift for the underside inspection. The tester will check components like the brakes, suspension, fuel system etc.
  • Emissions will also be tested by placing a probe in your exhaust pipe while the engine is running. This checks for CO2 and smoke emissions.
  • If any faults are found, you will be advised of the issues and given a failure notification. You can still drive your car away but will need to have repairs done and return for a retest within a certain timeframe.
  • If your car passes, you will be issued an MOT certificate which is valid for 1 year. The test centre will also affix a paper MOT disc to your windscreen as proof the test was done.
  • Be prepared for potentially needing some repairs done if issues are found. Have a budget in mind just in case.
  • The whole process usually takes under an hour if everything goes smoothly and no repairs are needed. Enjoy your newly MOT’d car!

The outcome of your MOT

The MOT examiner will check for minor, major, and dangerous faults on your vehicle.

  • Minor faults refer to defects that need repairing soon but are not an immediate safety concern. If you only have minor faults, your vehicle will pass the MOT and you’ll receive a new MOT certificate valid for 1 year. However, it’s advisable to get those minor issues fixed promptly to prevent them from worsening.
  • Major faults are more serious defects that could affect the vehicle’s safety, increase pollution, or cause further deterioration. If you have any major faults, your vehicle will fail the MOT test. You’ll need to get the issues repaired and have your vehicle re-tested before getting an MOT certificate.
  • Dangerous faults are those that pose a direct and immediate risk to road safety or the environment. If the examiner finds any dangerous faults, you’ll fail the MOT and also receive a refusal to issue an MOT certificate. This means you won’t be allowed to drive the vehicle away until the dangerous defects are fixed. You’ll then need a retest before being issued a pass certificate.
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So in summary – minor faults means you pass but should still get repairs done soon. Major or dangerous faults lead to an MOT failure and retest being required after fixing the problems. Ensure you understand which category any advised repairs fall into.

What does an MOT advisory note mean?

An MOT advisory is something noted by the examiner during the test that doesn’t constitute an immediate fail, but should be monitored and addressed in the near future.

Some examples of common advisories are:

  • Brake pads or discs that are worn but not below the legal limit yet. The examiner can advise when they will likely need replacement.
  • Tyres that have plenty of tread left but are aging and showing small cracks in the sidewalls. They’ll require changing soon.
  • Fluid levels that are topped up but borderline low. Could indicate leaks needing repair.
  • Suspension components starting to wear but not considered dangerous yet. May need repair before the next MOT.
  • Minor bodywork damage like small dents or rust patches. Not an issue now but may worsen over time.
  • Reversing lights that work but are slightly dim. The bulbs may need replacing soon.

Essentially advisories are early warnings about things that could develop into failures in future tests if not addressed in time. It’s strongly recommended to keep on top of them.

While your car may legally be OK to drive with the advisory defects present, getting them repaired quickly is the wise thing to do. It prevents bigger problems down the line and makes sure your car stays safe and roadworthy.

Common MOT fails

The three most common reasons for MOT failures are faults with lights, suspension and brakes according to the RAC.

MOT defect category % of defects
Lights & Signals 29.6%
Suspension 20.2%
Brakes 17.2%
Tyres 10.4%
Driver’s View 8.7%
Fuel & exhaust 5.4%
Steering 3%
Seat belts 2.2%
Body 1.9%
Reg & VIN 0.9%
Wheels 0.5%

Tips for your future MOTs

Here are some tips for passing your future MOT tests:

  • Conduct regular maintenance and servicing on your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s schedule. This will help identify and fix minor faults before they become major.
  • Check things like tire tread depth, windscreen wipers, lights, seat belts etc yourself on a regular basis. Look for any signs of damage, wear and tear.
  • Review your last MOT certificate and focus on addressing any advisories or minor faults that were detected. Fixing these promptly will prevent them from escalating over time.
  • Book your MOT with enough time to have any necessary repairs done if faults are found. Avoid leaving it to the last minute.
  • Ensure the vehicle is clean when presenting it for the test, as dirt and clutter can obscure issues.
  • CheckWarning lights can indicate problems – get these investigated.
    If your vehicle is over 3 years old, have a pre-MOT inspection done by a garage. They can uncover issues early.
  • After the test, keep the MOT certificate safe and set a reminder for when the next test is due.
  • Drive carefully and avoid bad habits like kerb mounting, harsh braking, and incorrect gearing. This causes excessive wear.
  • Maintain proper levels of oil, coolant, brake fluid and screenwash. Top up where needed.

Following these tips will help ensure your vehicle is always roadworthy and prepared for each MOT test when it comes around.