MOT stands for Ministry of Transport, it is an annual test that is required for all cars on the road in the United Kingdom, that are more than three years of age. The test was designed to evaluate a vehicles road-worthiness, legality and safety.
The test evaluates multiple parts of the car for safety and road worthiness such as the suspension, wheels, tyres and brakes. The cars electrical systems are tested (such as brake lights and headlights) as well as the emissions from the exhaust pipe being measured. Once these tests and full inspection of the car under-body has been performed the car will be either awarded an MOT certificate or failed. Cars which fail will then have to be re-tested following repairs being carried out, this must be done within 10 working days to obtain a reduced or free partial re-test. After 10 working days have elapsed the car must be subject to a full-cost MOT test.
Classic vehicles, registered more than 40 years ago, are exempt from the MOT test as long as no 'substantial changes' have been made in the past 30 years.
Making a List and Checking it Twice
It is always advised to check over your car on a regular basis, things like oil and coolant levels as well as tyre tread are vital to your cars day-to-day running and as such, are essential to be correct for your MOT.
As an extended check before your MOT there are a number of things I would recommend checking:
Lighting - Front and rear lights all working correctly, test against a wall or with a friend, don't forget your indicators. Braking - Check the thickness of the pads and condition of both the pads and the discs as well as noting the car's nature when braking, meaning not deviating from a straight line when braking. Wheels & Tyres - As well as the tread depth, check the sidewalls and tread of the tyre for cracks, perforations and imperfections, also check the wheel alignment ensuring the car travels in a straight line when no steering is applied. Fluids - Specifically before your MOT I recommend checking fluids that aren't part of your weekly checks, so brake, power steering and gearbox fluid (where applicable), it may also be worth changing coolant or engine oil if the quality is visibly starting to deteriorate even if levels are fine. Visual check - Lastly a good visual check over the whole vehicle, particularly checking for rust, wear in suspension parts and any loose or worn parts in the engine bay.
If you aren't confident in checking your car's condition before your MOT, you could always take it to your local garage for a pre-MOT check. Most garages offer these as they do not need to be MOT certified to carry out these checks. You can also get your exhaust emissions tested ahead of time. Knowing any issues before your MOT test can help to address any large issues and ensure that your car is not stuck out of action in the case of failure.
Choosing an MOT Centre
Choosing the correct garage to take your vehicle to can make the difference between passing and failing, as well as affecting the price of both the MOT and any repairs that are required. While garages have to be certified to perform an MOT check, this does not mean that they are all equally trustworthy. Some garages may attempt to charge you more than is required for the repairs, particularly if it is clear that you do not understand the issues that have surfaced in the case of an MOT failure. The cost of the MOT itself and the labour costs will vary from garage to garage, often dependent on the location of the garage and the reputation they have. The cost of the MOT however does have a limit set by the government (currently £54.85 for a car), meaning you should not be over-charged for the test itself.
I personally like to check the garages reviews, available on sites like Google and Facebook. Reading reviews from previous customers can allow you to get an idea of the quality of the garages work and how their pricing compares to other local garages. If possible, I would go for garages that have been recommended by friends or motoring enthusiasts, for example those on car forums and Facebook pages. Finding a garage should not be difficult, there are currently over 20,000 authorised garages that can carry out an MOT test.
Keep your Emissions in Check
Common Causes of MOT Failure
A car can fail an MOT due to any one, of thousands of possible faults, here I will go through some of the top issues that are currently causing car to fail their MOT and possible checks/ remedies.
Lighting - Nearly 20% of MOT failures are caused due to issues with the car's lights. This could be headlights, taillights, indicators or even number plate lights. This is often due to blown bulbs, so it is always worth checking all lights before your test, a blown bulb will cost very little and will likely be simple to replace. Also check lenses for misting and cracks as these can cause your vehicle to fail also.
Suspension Issues - Over 10% of failures come from worn suspension components, particularly from components that are beyond their usable condition, parts such as worn-out bushes and leaky shock absorbers. These parts can usually be checked visually as well as by moving the parts in question with the car up on ramps or jack-stands. If you are unfamiliar or not confident checking these parts then most garages will do this for a reasonable price.
Brakes - Again around 10% of MOT failures are caused by issues with a car's braking system. These are commonly caused by parts that have worn-out and hence no longer offer the performance suitable for driving on the road. As such, make sure that you are checking the wear of your cars brake pads and discs, as well as the general condition (rust uneven wear, etc...). This is something that is heavily safety critical and is therefore recommended that you check much more often than once a year for your MOT.
Tyres - Lastly, another common fault and a significant one, as the tyres are the only contact point between your car and the road. Failures here are most commonly caused due to insufficient tread depth, an easy check at home before you go for your MOT test. Insufficient tread (below 1.6mm across the centre three-quarters of the tyre) can cause dangerous situations due to lack of ability in icy and wet conditions. Other checks should be made on the condition of the tyre, check that there is nothing puncturing the tyre, no cracks in the tread or sidewall and that the pressures are as stated in the car's manual.
Unplugged your Airbags?
How Modifications Can Cause Failure
Things that you change or a previous owner has changed on your car can also cause a failure on the MOT test, ensure that you are modifying your car safely to ensure issues are kept to a minimum. Also, closely inspect any car you are potentially buying for modifications that are dangerous or would cause an MOT failure. Here are a couple of common modifications that may come back to bite you:
Exhaust systems without a catalytic converter - A common modification, especially for those who are looking to extract more power from their cars engine. Stock catalytic converters are restrictive items that vastly reduce the ability for exhaust gases to escape quickly, making removal a popular modification, with big power gains available on turbocharged cars particularly. However, removal of the catalytic converter causes the emissions (usually filtered) to proceed directly out of the exhaust pipe, this not only causes more emissions but will also cause you to fail your MOT. The best solution to this is to fit a 'sports' catalytic converter (also called a 200 cell cat), these allow for better airflow through your exhaust system without releasing all of the nasty emissions directly from the engine.
Airbags - Issues with the airbags are caused when you begin to change parts of the interior, particularly the steering wheel. A common replacement, especially for vehicle used on the track is to replace the large airbag-equipped steering wheel for a smaller wheel without an airbag. This removal of the airbag will cause on MOT failure, it will also have large repercussions for your face, should you have an accident in your vehicle. It is always recommended to use the standard steering wheel or an airbag-equipped replacement where available. For cars used only on the track, you could go ahead and change the steering wheel along with changing to many other parts not legal for the road and use a trailer to transport the car to and from the track.
Just a few final words of advice, before you go ahead and book your next MOT test. As long as you have checked the main issues and have a good understanding of how your vehicle functions, you will hopefully have no unexpected issues to cause an MOT failure.
One thing I would recommend before you take your car in for its MOT is to make the car look and appear cared for, not something that is tested but something that may give the tester the image that you care for your vehicle and will keep it safe for road-use. To achieve this I recommend giving your car a good clean inside and out, check that your levels are all well within recommended levels so don't turn up with your oil on the minimum line for example. A car that is as close as possible to the factory specifications will likely be the safest and best running version.
Another tip I would have, particularly for people looking to purchase their next vehicle is to check the car's MOT history. This is available on the GOVUK website. I personally find this a great view of how the car has been treated over previous years; a car that always passes its MOT first time without many advisories is likely one that is maintained to a high standard.
Please share your MOT tips in the comments below along with any funny stories from your experience...