MOT Tests

If you don’t know when your MOT is due …

If you don’t have the date or last mot certificate for any reason, you can check the status of your vehicle quite easily on the government’s DVSA website… https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-status

(Check that you are using the official DVLA government website with the gov.uk web address. A Google search may well bring up some other sites that might try to charge you for their “service”. The official https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-status site is free to use. DON’T EVER pay for free information!!)

While there you can register for future text and email reminders… https://www.gov.uk/mot-reminder … and the DVLA will email you a month before the due date.

(Various free road tax reminder systems can prove a useful memory jog.)

What’s on the test?

In the last few years the MOT test has become increasingly complex in a determined effort to make our vehicles and our roads safer.

MOT, from the initials of “Ministry of Transport”, the test was introduced in 1960 and was initially very simple.

Currently, 3 years after first registration, and every year thereafter of a car’s life, it must be tested by a government approved inspector using a long list of criteria and a specialist set of equipment in a defined area of a garage.

This apparent complication has led to many drivers believing that the MOT process is now entirely out of their control.

You can download a full list from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/car-parts-checked-at-an-mot/car-parts-checked-at-an-mot

What can I check myself?

The truth is that, yes, much of the process – which now typically takes up to an hour and costs around £60 – is out of the average driver’s experience and knowledge, and the number of first time failures is steadily rising each year.

BUT, a close look at the reasons for those first time failures, certainly the top ten, are all too avoidable and are often costly neglect of basic checks that anyone can do at home.

Your very own pre-test, possibly the day before the test takes place, (or sooner if you think you might find bigger issues), would give you time to fix any minor problems that ARE easily solved.

Among the most common failures are:

  • defective bulbs
  • damaged wipers
  • lack of washer fluid
  • dirty lights
  • worn out or damaged tyres
  • cracked windscreens
  • and – given the potholes on our roads – multiple suspension problems

The pre-test we are suggesting might take you about an hour, but, at home, cannot be a complete test. You (almost certainly!) don’t have an exhaust gas analyser, or a 4 post hoist, so there are things you can’t test, BUT you can test the simple stuff that include the commonest failures.


DON’T go under the vehicle. You may have a trolley jack, axle stands or ramps, but it takes an expert to recognise a defective brake pipe or a worn brake disc. Not an expert? Don’t attempt it.

DON’T open the bonnet without removing the ignition keys. You are safer if the keys are in your pocket! You can put them back in to test the lights, horn, indicators, etc, but we’ll come to those later.

DON’T do brake, tyre and exhaust checks unless the car has cooled down.

UKMotorTalk suggested Pre-MOT Checks


Sometimes your car might be trying to tell you something!
Sometimes your car might be trying to tell you something!

Simple blown bulbs are a very common MOT failure, some 20 per cent of the total.

Turn the ignition on just far enough so all the lights come on. DO NOT start the engine, you don’t need to!

Walk around the car and check that all of the lights operate correctly:

  • headlights
  • side lights
  • headlight main beam
  • rear lights
  • indicators including side/mirror repeaters (put on your hazard lights so they are all flashing)
  • rear fog light(s) – Some cars have one rear fog light, some two. It is worth knowing how many YOUR car should have!
  • front fog lights (if you have them)

Any dud bulbs will be a MOT failure. Mark them with a small piece of masking tape so you know which ones to go back and replace.

Some lights are slightly (but only just!) more difficult to check, but the MOT Tester will so you should too!

To test the brake lights it is obviously simpler if there is a second person who can press the brake pedal while you check the bulbs including any high-level brake lights that your vehicle has.

If you are operating single-handed, find a stick/pole of the appropriate length that you can wedge tightly between the pedal and the front of the driver’s seat. You can then see if the bulbs are ok.

Headlamp aim/alignment is a common fail, but it is difficult to check to the same exact standards the MOT Tester will apply. Many Testers will be friendly and make any adjustments needed (for free) as part of their method. It is a 2 minute job if you have the official chart, tools and knowledge to do it.

Lenses – A common problem with clear plastic lenses is oxidisation and a build up of caked on material that can cause them to become dull, yellowed, and not so “clear”. Extreme cases of this can cause an MOT failure, but you can easily buy a “headlight restoration” kit to clean them. Prices, techniques and effectiveness may vary, but elbow grease is not usually supplied!

DO NOT USE coarse abrasives, it is a very gentle process.

Windscreen and Wipers

Check the windscreen for cracks or chips.

If there is any damage 40mm or bigger, ANYWHERE on the screen, this will fail an MOT.

Smaller cracks, chips or other damage can also cause a failure, especially if it is within the area directly in front of the driver, and within the sweep of the wiper blades.

If in any doubt, it is worth asking a windscreen expert.

Are the wiper blades worn, torn or otherwise ineffectual?

They are easy to replace yourself, but if you are not confident, your local parts shop will often do it for you for just a few pounds.

You should also check that the washers work clearing the screen, and that the washer bottle is full (or at least not empty!).


Do a visual check that all four wheels appear undamaged.

Check the wheel nuts are all present and appropriately tight. (Don’t overtighten though – ideally if you don’t have a torque wrench reckon on hand tight only but get your tyre supplier to check asap.)


Check all four tyres sidewalls and tread as far as you can see for cuts, splits or other damage- usually caused by ‘kerbing’, but also large potholes.

Check tyre’s tread depth with a gauge or a twenty pence piece. If the lettering on the coin is sunk within the tread depth you should be ok.

The law requires 1.6mm depth over 75 per cent of the tread width. Far better and safer is an absolute minimum of 2mm. The deeper the tread the better.

Check tyre pressures are in line with the plate inside one of the car’s doors, or the car’s handbook.

Tyre pressures are not checked by the MOT Tester so will not cause an MOT failure directly, BUT, very under- or over-inflated tyres will, over time, wear unevenly so may cause a fail on tyre wear.


The brake pads thickness can sometimes be assessed by peering through the holes in your alloy wheels with a torch. Generally 3mm is a minimum.

Unfortunately, if you have steel wheels with covers you can’t do this quite so easily.

When you are driving, if you feel grinding or shuddering or noises when braking, it is worth getting them checked by a mechanic as soon as possible. They’ll not only fail an MOT Test, they might be dangerous.

The Handbrake can be simply checked. If it holds the car on a hill it’s probably ok! If you struggle with hill starts and the car rolls backwards, it might be a sign that things need to be looked at by a mechanic.

Ideally you shouldn’t need to pull up the handbrake more than 3 notches. (If it is many more than 3, the brake cable will need some adjustment or replacement.) Go on try it! On this test I don’t mind hearing the ratchet, but if you do it regularly it is considered a bad habit. Stop it!


Rust, if excessive, or in the wrong places, could be a failure for structural reasons.

Check the door bottoms and sills for rust.

To repeat DON’T get under the car but if you lay down next to the car on an old piece of carpet you can look under the car with the beam of a good torch.

You can visually check the silencer, parts of the exhaust system, the door cills and the wheel arches.

If you spot anything substantial, consult an expert as soon as possible.

Dashboard Warning Lights

When you turn on the ignition, you will notice that modern vehicles go through a self-testing process before you drive away. Usually ALL of the dashboard’s lights will come on, and then after only a second or two, turn off.

If, however, any dashboard warning light comes on and STAYS on, (think ABS, Airbags, Emissions, etc), that is a automatic fail.

These are, naturally, not usually things that the average motorist will be able to fault find and diagnose themselves, so a trip to your local independent garage that has a decent plug in fault reader is probably necessary as soon as possible.

General Wear and Tear

Check all seat belts and catches. Do they retract, lock and release easily. Are they frayed?

Check all mirrors (inside and out) are clear, clean and have no visible defects.

Check that both number plates are clean, undamaged and legal, NOT spaced to suit your name or with a fancy script!

Your MOT tester will thank you if your car is presented clean rather than covered in mud as it makes their job more pleasant.

Shop around for the MOT costs. Garages can reduce their prices to compete for follow on business, including having the vehicle serviced at the same time.

If your car fails the test AND if you leave it with the garage to repair there is no retest fee if it passes within 10 days.

If you take the failed car away, to another garage, or to fix it yourself, depending on the timescales, a full retest fee may be charged.

The retest rules are complex and best read on the official site: https://www.gov.uk/getting-an-mot/retests

BUT, if the fail is regarded as dangerous the garage can refuse to let it leave without repairs.

There are essentially 3 levels of failures and just 1 level of pass. 

  • Major failures require immediate attention. 
  • Minor fails can accumulate to a more major fail.
  • Advisories are items the tester notices that may require attention in the near future. 

Hopefully you won’t find anything major that needs attention and you’ll soon have a clean and clear MOT.

But remember your MOT only means your car was compliant with the law on that day. 

Also remember that the MOT DOES NOT include the state of the engine, gearbox etc.

Don’t get caught out… Check you are legal…

One thing that hasn’t changed is that you can still be fined up to £1000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MOT Certificate!!

Check out FORECOURT FIXES to guide you through the basics.

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