It may be new to you but if your "new" car is over three years old it requires an MOT certificate. The MOT test is a legal requirement for all cars over 3 years of age and annually thereafter and is simply a safety and roadworthiness check valid only on the day of the test.     

Every year there are around 20 million MOT tests carried out of which 30-40 % end in failure, a figure which rises each year as the test is made tougher and the drive for better road safety seeks to weed out the borderline cases.

Many motorists pay an expensive price for their own lack of understanding of what the testing process involves and how they can improve the chances of passing by carrying out a little basic maintenance.

The majority of failures are due to defects in lights, tyres, brakes and steering, yet, in many cases, the failures are for very minor faults, for example, defective bulbs, wiper blades or, even, no water in the washer bottle, which is also a Road Traffic Offence.

Failure is an expensive way of finding out what is wrong with your car, yet, many motorists seem to do no preparation for the test and only fix the bits that fail.

So, how should you go about the checks? Simply follow this check-list to carry out those checks which can prepare your car for the MOT before it goes in.



Check that all lights and indicators work correctly

  • the  lenses are clean and uncracked and that pairs of lights -  for example brake lights - are of equal brightness
  • the effectiveness of fog and hazard lamps
  • Try reversing the car to 1 metre from a wall or garage door, stop.
  • Try all lights and indicators including brake lights, you will see by reflection if all are working.
  • Turn around and try the front of the car the same way.


  • Ensure that the wipers are not split or perished, are clean and able to clear the screen.
  • Ensure the washer bottle is topped up with a mixture of water and screenwash or, in cold weather, screen antifreeze - NOT radiator antifreeze.
  • Ensure that washer jets are clear - use a pin - and correctly aimed.
  • Mirrors must be clean and clearly visible as must be number plates.
  • Are the number plates legally spaced



  • ensure that seat belts are properly fixed and not dangerously frayed
  • that seat fixings are secure



  • A basic steering test can be done by standing outside the  car, reaching through the window and turning the steering  wheel from side to side.  If the road wheels respond  immediately all should be OK.
  • Grip the road wheels at top and bottom and try to rock them  if there is little play the bearings should be in order.
  • Tyres must be free of cuts and bulges, of the same type on  the same axle and have at least 1.6mm of tread over 75% of  their width.



Check the exhaust system from front to back, there should be no leaks or excessive corrosion. If your car was first registered after January 1993, it will be fitted with a catalytic converter. When checking the car's exhaust pay particular attention to the cat's physical condition. The cat is usually located about halfway along the exhaust system under the car and it can be damaged by excessive speed over road humps or running over debris.

If it shows signs of damage, being bashed or flattened in any way, it may no longer be operating correctly. If so check the exhaust gases at idle and if they look dirty have doubts about it's efficiency, it could well fail the MOT where cat testing is rigorous. It can cost up to £1, 000 to replace a defective cat.



  • Is the bodywork in good order.
  • Are door locks secure.
  • Remember that visibility is now an important part of the test so it's time to dispose of all those stickers and danglies
  • Bounce each corner of the car to see if the shock absorbers settle promptly, if not they may be worn and dangerous.



  • On a quiet piece of road, with no other traffic around, try to stop the car from around 20 mph just with the handbrake. If the car pulls up evenly with just two or three notches of travel all is well.
  • Repeat the test using footbrake only, again the car should pull up straight without excessive pressure.



While looking under, thoroughly inspect, with a torch and screwdriver:

  • for rust on the floor or chassis members
  • that all pipes appear to be sound
  • that shock absorbers are not leaking fluid


Finally, just to make life easier for the tester, give the car a good wash all over, even underneath, with a hose, if possible.

That may have taken an hour or so but if all is well you will be reassured that you won't be one of those chumps who takes his car for it's test completely unprepared only to be surprised when it fails.

If you find any problems at all, remember it is always cheaper to fix them beforehand at your choice of garage and most places can offer a pre-MOT inspection at a very reasonable price

A failure is an expensive way of finding out what is wrong with your car and there may be a similar re-test fee to follow once all of the defects have been repaired.



Article © Graham Benge 2007

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