MOT checklist – how to prepare for the check

August 8, 2021 by Zoe Hicks – 9 mins read

Price is a starting point, but to help you narrow down your choices further, you need to focus on the following three factors: 

Explanation of MOT

MOT stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’ – and therefore, an ‘MOT test’ is a Ministry of Transport test. MOT is nothing but an annual test of the vehicle’s roadworthiness, safety and exhaust emissions. Usually, the MOT test is done for vehicles that are more than three years old. When your car is three years old from the date of registration, it will need its first MOT test – and then it needs to be retested every year on the anniversary of its last MOT test. It entails an extensive check of internal and external parts to make sure that they are all working at the standard level.

Once passed, you will get an MOT test certificate with the date of the test on it and the date of expiry, so you know when the vehicle requires a new MOT. If you choose, you can get the vehicle retested up to a month before it expires and keep the original renewal date. More recently, a vehicle’s emissions and electronic systems have come under greater scrutiny. An MOT test now covers 20 different parts on or in the car – each with numerous sub-points. An MOT is a helpful indicator of whether or not work on a vehicle has to be done, but it’s no substitute for having your car serviced, carefully maintained, and periodically checked before long trips. As a driver, there are a few easy things you can do to improve your vehicle’s chances of passing its MOT.

Preparation for MOT Test

Many vehicles fail an MOT for small issues which can easily be prevented before the test. You might be surprised at what can fail an MOT – some problems are relatively minor.

It’s a good idea to prepare an MOT checklist a couple of weeks before the date of inspection to make sure your vehicle is in the best possible condition it can be. It will allow you to proactively fix the issues and avoid any inconvenient circumstances if the vehicle fails the test.

 However, if your car fails its MOT, then you cannot keep your renewal date.

Interior checks of MOT

Your vehicle may be unable to satisfy an MOT if it is extremely dirty or cluttered to the point of obscuring a tester. An examiner may refuse to perform an MOT if the boot is cluttered and the car is excessively dirty. It can be prevented with a quick spring cleaning.

The driver’s seat should be able to adjust backwards and forwards, so double-check. Seatbelts must also be the correct length and function properly, so give them a firm tug to ensure that they lock properly if you come to a rapid halt. Belts must be properly secured, including the clip/locking mechanism, and in good working order. Belts with inertia reels should also be able to retract appropriately to fit around the body.

Remove any obstructions (sat naves, phone holders, etc.) that might impede the driver’s view of the road. Stone chips and cracks can also cause MOT failure – so if you can see any, it’s worth talking to your insurer to see if you have a glass cover so you can have repairs carried out before your test. 

A simple one: the horn must work, and be loud enough to be audible to other vehicles. Also, ‘novelty’ car horns that play multiple notes or tunes are not allowed. Push the horn to make sure it works – without it, your car will fail its MOT.

Your handbrake should hold the car stationary – even if it’s on a sharp incline. Find somewhere you can safely test this – as it may need an adjustment by a garage if it’s not performing as it should.

Along with your tyres, your brakes are the most safety-critical components of all, and they must work properly to pass the MOT.

Testers usually put the car on rollers to check the brakes, decelerate it effectively, and that they’re correctly balanced – i.e. that it stops in a straight line. The pedal rubber must not be worn to excess and the ABS warning light must work if anti-lock brakes are fitted. The handbrake/parking brake must work and hold the car firmly, even on a steep incline.

Brake condition is also assessed by examining the discs, pads and callipers, plus the relevant pipes and cables. Under the bonnet, the brake servo and master cylinder will be examined, too.

Changes to MOT failure rules now mean certain warning lights can result in an MOT failure. Testers have to make sure lights that indicate there are problems with electronic stability control, safety restraint, anti-lock braking, and tyre pressure monitoring systems are not permanently illuminated. If they are, you should talk to a garage about putting them right before the MOT.

Steering faults are not easy to check or fix yourself. The tester will ensure the steering wheel and column are in good condition and properly fixed, and that there isn’t excessive ‘free play’ in the system. The steering bearings are inspected for wear, while the bolts, clamps, gaiters and universal joints should also be checked. The operation of power steering (fitted to virtually all modern cars) is tested with the engine running. The wheels must not foul the bodywork on full lock.

A speedometer is required to be fitted in all road-going cars, and part of the MOT check will make sure it is visible and illuminated when the lights are on. Damage to the speedo doesn’t matter – as long as it is accurate and readable.

Exterior checks of MOT

While you’re cleaning your car, make sure the number plates are clean. They need to be readable for your vehicle to pass the MOT.

All four wheels need to be securely attached to the car, with no bolts missing. Rims might be examined for damage, including distortion or cracks, and the condition of the wheel bearings is assessed. Concerning tyres, the law states that tread-depth must be: “At least 1.6mm throughout a continuous band comprising the central three-quarters of the breadth of tread around the entire outer circumference of the tyre”. If your tyres are close to this limit, you may give an advisory warning that new rubber is required soon.

Testers will also check the tyres for cuts or bulges, and ensure that the same-size tyres are fitted on each axle. The spare wheel is not part of the MOT test, but it must be mounted securely outside the car. Low tread on your tyres can mean an MOT fail. 

You can quickly check them using a 20p coin. Place a coin sideways into the tread of the tyre – if the band that goes around a coin disappears into the tread, the tyre is over the legal limit, but if you can still see some of the band, you may need to talk to a garage about having illegal tyres replaced.

Tyres which are under-or over-inflated can be high-risk – and if the tyre pressure warning light is on, you’ll fail the MOT. Check the pressure in each tyre that matches the manufacturer’s recommendations – and add/remove the pressure as required. Most petrol stations have a tyre pressure machine that you can use to do this.

Test all your lights in turn – including dipped and main beam, fog lights, indicators, and brake lights. You’ll need someone to stand outside as you flash the lights and press the brake. Making sure all your lights work is high on the list of MOT requirements. All lamps must be working correctly, including headlights, tail lights, indicators (Inc. hazard lights), sidelights, brake lights and rear fog lights. The latter are only required on cars built post-1986, and must activate a tell-tale symbol on the dashboard to alert the driver when switched on. The alignment of the headlights is also checked – and adjusted if necessary – to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. All cars built after 1 April 1980 must have two red rear reflectors.

Take a quick look at your wipers and make sure there are no rips or missing chunks from the rubber that wipes your screen. If they don’t work as intended, they can cause your car to fail its test. Windscreen damage is a common cause of MOT failure. Chips or cracks must measure less than 10mm across if within the area swept by the windscreen wipers. Outside this area, up to 40mm is allowed.

The wipers must operate correctly. The rubber blades must be in good condition. Likewise, rear-view mirrors must be secure and not damage that could impair the driver’s vision. Your vehicle’s mirrors should be free from any cracks or damage and should be securely attached to the car. If they’re not, most motoring stores provide replacement glass that can simply be stuck on using adhesive pads.

Sharp edges on the bodywork caused by corrosion or accident damage are not permitted, as they could injure pedestrians. Rust is an MOT issue more generally, particularly for older cars. Excessive corrosion on safety-related parts, such as the steering and brakes, is a no-no, while rust within 30cm of these components may also result in a failure.

Bonnets, doors, and the boot need to open and close as intended – so work your way around the car, making sure they do. Testers will check that the doors can be opened from inside and outside the car and that all openings – including the bonnet and tailgate – can be shut securely.

For fuel-powered vehicles, emissions are tested using specialist equipment connected to your car’s exhaust. The legal limit varies depending on the age of the vehicle, with much stricter standards for newer cars. Visible smoke from the tailpipe may mean an MOT fail – as can excessive noise, so boy racers should beware. The tester will also check both the exhaust system and fuel filler cap. It is fixed securely to prevent possible leaks.

Your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – also known as the chassis number and found on the V5 registration document – must also be displayed and legible. It’s often found at the base of the windscreen or on a stamped metal panel under the bonnet.

Paperwork checks for MOT

Your V5C logbook document shows your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This number is also on a plate on your vehicle’s bodywork – so make sure the two match before your MOT, as discrepancies will lead to failure.

The MOT test

An MOT test doesn’t take very long. The test takes around 45 minutes to an hour, and some owners choose to wait while the vehicle is being inspected. If repairs are required following the test the process will take longer. During the test, the following areas are inspected:

  • Electrical equipment – including headlights, brake lights, indicators and fog lights.
  • Steering – including the strength and condition of the steering wheel.
  • Tyres – including tread depth and condition of the tyres.
  • Suspension – including shock absorbers and any corrosion and wear.
  • Brakes – including the overall condition of pedals and brake efficiency.
  • Seat belts and seats
  • Exhaust and emissions – including checking for any leaks in the exhaust and fuel system
  • Mirrors, wipers and windscreen – including any damages to the windscreen and condition of the wiper blades
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – ensuring the vehicle displays its VIN is important

If you get a phone call from the text centre saying your car’s passed its MOT, then the next step is simple! You’ll need to pick your vehicle up – and when you get your keys back, you’ll also receive a fresh MOT certificate and an MOT report showing what has been tested.



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